Brian “Hootie” Chase, jackman on the No. 56 NAPA AUTO PARTS Toyota, has used everything he learned on the New England short tracks to build quite a career in the highest level of NASCAR racing.

The York, Maine native, who caught the racing bug in the 1980s when his dad took him to Beech Ridge Motor Speedway in Scarborough, Maine, started tinkering with race cars as a teen 22 years ago.

“I used to work at a service station pumping gas and after hours we’d build street stocks and hobby stocks in the back,” Chase said. “We started building cars for ‘Lightning’ Lenny Boles at Lee USA Speedway in Lee, N.H. Before we knew it, a lot of guys started asking us to do some work for them in the Busch North Series (now the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East), so we started traveling in that series.”

After learning his craft on the northeast short track circuit for a few years, Chase decided to take his skills to the next level.

“I packed up everything I owned in the back of my pickup truck and moved to North Carolina in 1996,” recalled Chase. “It took me about two weeks to find a job.”

The move south has paid dividends.

Chase and his fellow No. 56 over-the-wall crew members have won the first-quarter Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award, which is determined by a vote of each team’s crew chief and given quarterly to the top-performing pit crew in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“The importance of our job nowadays has come full circle since the 90’s,” said Chase, now a 16-year veteran on pit road. “A lot of critiquing goes on these days, and rightfully so, our job is crucial.”

The No. 56 crew’s performance during the season’s first-quarter cemented driver Martin Truex Jr.’s          solid start to the 2012 season. Truex Jr. has mounted four top fives, seven top 10s and an average finish of 10.7 through 11 races.

“The NAPA KNOW HOW pit crew has done a great job this year,” said Truex Jr. “They’ve been very fast, but most importantly, they’ve been consistent. Anytime I come in on green or yellow flag conditions, I can count on those guys to hold their own and make no mistakes.”

In addition to Chase, crew chief Chad Johnston’s over-the-wall pit crew consists of Eric Maycroft (front tire changer), Craig Curione (front tire carrier), Brandon Hopkins (rear tire changer), Adam Mosher (rear tire carrier), and Wes Evans (gas man). Greg Miller is the team’s pit crew coach.

Chase, 36, began his career at Diamond Ridge Racing for a two-year stint that had him jacking on Saturdays in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. He then moved to Joe Gibbs Racing for four years. In 2001, crew chief Slugger Labbe tabbed Chase to jack the No. 15 car at Dale Earnhardt Inc. After seven seasons at DEI, he made the move to Michael Waltrip Racing four years ago.

As the jackman, Chase triggers the start and completion of the pit stop.

“With the new fuel system it’s key to make sure you have enough fuel in the car, so I’m watching the gasman these days and relying on my instincts and peripheral vision with the tire changers,” he said.

With so much pressure on pit crews today, Chase says it’s nice to be acknowledged for quick, consistent performance on pit road.

“It’s a great honor for us and we’re excited to take the award for the first quarter,” Chase said. “Starting the season we set goals for ourselves not to make mistakes, no loose wheels and such. We hired some new guys over the off-season and we’ve come together as a team pretty fast.”

Chase says conditioning and hard work is what keeps the No. 56 pit crew operating at a peak level of performance.

“Mondays we’ll do light cardio, stretching, running, yoga, and drills,” said Chase, talking about his weekly workout regimen. “We do full pit stop practice and weights on Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday we have ‘interleague team’ competition day with the back-up crews followed by more cardio.”

The NAPA KNOW HOW pit crew was presented its award prior to Saturday night’s NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Currently, Truex Jr. and the No. 56 team sit sixth in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings.