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Ormond Beach Observer Monday, Feb. 17, 2014 6 years ago

From the pit: Seabreeze grad returns home for big race


Alan Gustafson, a graduate of Seabreeze High School, works as crew chief for Jeff Gordon.


Alan Gustafson developed an early interest in racing growing up in Ormond Beach, the Birthplace of Speed.

His dad was a racing fan, he says, and the presence of the Daytona International Speedway, as well as local short tracks, also helped build his interest. At 8 years old, he started working on go-karts and now, at 38, he is crew chief for one of the most famous drivers in the world: Jeff Gordon, of Hendrick Motorsports.

As a teenager, Gustafson worked on cars with friends whose families were involved in racing the local short tracks. After graduating from Seabreeze High School, he studied mechanical engineering at Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. But he mostly learned his trade by turning a wrench.

He gained valuable experience working in a Holly Hill garage owned by friend Casey Yunick, son of legendary car builder, Smokey Yunick.

“There was always a race car there for me to work on,” he said.

At the age of 21, Gustafson moved to North Carolina to start his racing career on a Goody’s Dash Series team led by a childhood friend.

Later, he worked for other teams, and then landed a job with Hendrick Motorsports, where he has been for 15 years, now in charge of the No. 24 car driven by Gordon. He started in the chassis shop and worked his way up to shock specialist, race engineer and crew chief.

Gustafson said he has a “huge passion” for technology.

“It’s fun to try to get a competitive advantage based on ingenuity,” he said. “I love using state-of-the-art technology and working with aerodynamics. I love to compete.”

He enjoys the team aspect as well.

“I like the people … the camaraderie of working together,” he said. “I see the human spirit in that environment.”

Gustafson did not work closely with Jeff Gordon when he was the “wonder kid” 15 years ago, but has seen him transition to being a seasoned professional.

“He’s handled it with style and grace,” Gustafson said. “You’d never meet a more dedicated driver. He’s a great teammate and a great friend.”

For young people interested in getting into racing, Gustafson recommends starting at a low level, a short track or a club track, to learn every job from putting on decals to tuning engines.

“Work for free or as an apprenticeship to gain experience,” he said. “It allows you to find out what you enjoy doing. It worked for me.”

Gustafson is gone from home three days a week but said he enjoys travelling and “experiencing different cultures.” Racing has taken him to Northern California and Texas.

Gustafson now lives near Charlotte, N.C., with his wife and two children. He said he would like to move back to Ormond Beach someday, where his parents still live.

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