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Second Daytona 500 win in three years shows moments matter in racing and life

Nicholas Patterson has made it to Daytona's Victory Lane twice in three years.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (BP) — Timing is everything. For Nicholas Patterson it factored heavily in his coming to America. It remains the same for him on pit road every Sunday.

When he was a baby in Romania, a blizzard kept Patterson from being delivered to an orphanage from the hospital. Instead, he ended up being adopted by an American family.

Nicholas Patterson is the jackman, timing his moves perfectly to slide the jack in place before the car even stops.

Patterson grew up a big kid who liked sports, but wasn’t allowed to play them until he was 14. He took to baseball and football in particular, playing both in college.

His size and athleticism translated to the field and now suits him well at the race track.

On Feb. 19 he was in the pit crew that kept Ricky Stenhouse Jr. near the lead of the Daytona 500 to claim the checkered flag. It was Patterson’s second trip to Victory Lane at the famed raceway, having been on the pit crew for 2021 winner Michael McDowell.

For Patterson, it’s a distinction he alone holds over the last three years among NASCAR Cup Series road crew or pit crew members.

It’s hard for the casual fan to understand what goes into being on a pit crew. Patterson is the jackman, which means every time the driver pulls in, he times the car’s approach and sprints his 6’3”, 250-lb frame to the other side while carrying a 22-pound jack.

In a furry of fluid motions, Patterson slides the jack under the car before it even stops, delivers a single pump to lift it up, grabs the new tire dropped off for him by his tire carrier (another crew member), throws it on the hub after his front changer has removed the used tire, unlocks the jack to drop the car, sprints with it to the other side, and repeats the process on the left rear tire.

It happens quicker than your family gives their Chick-fil-A order. His crew’s fastest time this season was 9.39 seconds in Fontana, Calif., on Feb. 26.

“Hand-eye coordination is important,” he told Baptist Press. “But there’s a lot of other things. You have to have a little bit of nerve. There’s a mental side of it where you have to produce the same result over and over again at a high level and at a high speed.”

The Daytona 500 win was special in its own right, but made even more so as it came on the anniversary of his adoption.

Patterson was born 11 days before his sister Chelsea, also from Romania. In the following years their parents, Bobby and Christie Patterson, would add four more children through adoption, all from Russia.

Now married, Chelsea Sobolik and her brother spoke with BP on how their faith remains important and shapes them in their careers. Sobolik was director of Public Policy for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission before accepting the position of senior director of Policy and Advocacy at Lifeline Children’s Services.

Chelsea Sobolik stands with her brothers Nicholas and Alexander Patterson at Nicholas’ wedding.

“I try to approach everything – personally and professionally – with excellence,” said Sobolik, who attends Restoration City Church in Washington, D.C. “I know it’s not just a reflection on our organization, but the Lord. I’m very motivated by issues of justice and seeking to correct injustice.”

Like her brother’s line of work, timing can be critical in the process of advocating policies “that help children, women and families flourish.”

“We may get a call from an office, either on the congressional or state level, who wants Lifeline’s feedback on a bill they’re drafting or resolution they’re composing. That’s usually a pretty quick turnaround,” she said.

Patterson, in his sixth season on the circuit, said his background has been beneficial in times like long breaks in the garage during weather delays.

“Obviously, there are rough people in my line of work, but a lot of really good people. They have a tenderness from a heart standpoint and are open to conversations about raising your kids right and making the right decisions in life,” he said.

“In those times, they see where your values come from.”

He credits another part of his childhood in his current success. When she was 7, Sobolik started taking ballet. A couple of years later her athletic-and-feeling-overshadowed brother decided he wanted to as well. He stayed with it for several years and even appeared in a production of “The Nutcracker.”

“I’ve been very fortunate, very blessed to not have any major injuries, sports-related, and I think that’s due to the flexibility and small motor [movements] that were built over ballet,” he told NBC Sports.

Soon enough, ballet shoes were traded for cleats. His mom could only be protective for so long.

“And now I jump out in front of cars,” laughed Patterson.

More important lessons remained, though.

“Christianity isn’t something I practice; it’s who I am,” he said. “I’m a fairly patient person. It’s something I got from my dad, to not get angry but slow to respond. That’s a large part of my testimony and the way I live my life.”

“It can be easy to get discouraged when people who have power choose not to use it for good,” said Sobolik. “At the end of the day, knowing God is the judge of every person for their actions and deeds helps me reorient.

“God rights all wrongs. It’s a good motivation to evangelize because there are people I interact with every day who, apart from Christ, will be held accountable for their actions.

“On those bad days,” she said, “it’s helpful to remember, in context, the end of our story. God’s love doesn’t rise or fall based on if I had a good day or bad day. God still loves me.”