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From the classroom to pit road in less than a year: Collin Hoeffner's unique path to NASCAR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Instead of teaching about ancient Athens and Sparta last spring, Collin Hoeffner had a different lesson plan for his sixth grade students.

Follow your dreams.

Hoeffner’s dreams sent him from a Stafford, Connecticut, classroom to NASCAR’s pit road last April. The tire specialist for Alex Bowman’s team will experience his first Daytona 500 on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET on Fox).

MORE: Daytona 500 starting lineup

Hoeffner’s path to NASCAR started in fandom, took him to tracks in the Northeast as a driver and crew member before he gravitated toward teaching — only to return to racing after a bet and a text message.

Before he left for NASCAR, he had to say goodbye to his five middle school classes.

“We grow up going through school and there’s dreams on every wall of every elementary school that you go into,” Hoeffner told NBC Sports of his farewell address to his students.

“Follow your dreams. Do whatever you dream. … Coming down (to North Carolina) and going Cup racing was a dream for me as a kid. Then it faded into something I thought would never happen.

“I told (the students) pretty much, ‘How can I tell you to follow your dreams if I’m not going to follow mine?’”

From an early age, racing fascinated Hoeffner. He had a life-size Jeff Gordon poster on his bedroom door. He raced Legends cars, running on what he called a “shoestring budget.” Among those he competed against was Christian Eckes, who has five career Craftsman Truck Series wins, including last year’s season finale at Phoenix.

“By the time we got to the end of 2014, all I could think about was how am I going to beat this guy next week?” Hoeffner said of Eckes.

The following year, Hoeffner’s dad told him he had to go to college upon graduating from high school.

Hoeffner’s plan was to attend the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, North Carolina, but his dad didn’t believe a NASCAR career was the best option at the time. So Hoeffner went to college at SUNY-Oswego.

While Hoeffner’s driving career also was sidelined, he continued to work for a modified team. That team stopped racing in 2016 and although Hoeffner was in college, he got a job working for former Cup team owner Tommy Baldwin’s modified operation.

Collin Hoeffner at car.jpg
Collin Hoeffner at car.jpg

Hoeffner went to graduate school at SUNY-Oswego, studying adolescent education. He had studied history and criminal justice as an undergrad but as he looked to a career, he thought back to those who had impacted him the most.

“Teachers were really an integral part of my life when I was younger,” Hoeffner said. “I was a really good student in the classroom. When I got home, I was not doing homework. My mind was off on other things or we were in the garage.

“I would lie to my dad (about doing homework) so I could spend a few more hours in the shop. That landed me in a lot of hot water. But there were teachers that I had from sixth grade all the way through 12th that I look back on it and these people really impacted my life in some way, shape or form, whether it was to get me to think differently about the world and what I’m going to do in the future, or instilling personal responsibility in myself.”

A teaching career also would allow him to have his summers free to focus on racing. That was the path he chose.

After spending two years as a substitute teacher in Syracuse, New York, he looked for a job in the Stafford, Connecticut school district in October 2022, so he could be close to Stafford Motor Speedway and continue to work with race teams there.

He took a week off in February 2023 to help a modified team compete in the Daytona Beach, Florida, area. While there, he was at a karting track in Orlando when a friend noted that Trackhouse Racing was hiring a crew member to be on the road crew for one of its Cup teams.

Hoeffner was convinced to reach out to Travis Mack, then crew chief for Daniel Suarez’s team. Hoeffner bet a friend $10 he would not get a response to the text he sent Mack since it was the day before last year’s Daytona 500.

Eighty-three minutes later, Mack responded.

Collin Hoeffner text message.jpg
Collin Hoeffner text message.jpg

They traded texts and Mack asked if Hoeffner had a resume. All Hoeffner had was his teaching resume. He wrote out his racing resume while on a picnic bench at that karting track and sent it.

The next day, Hoeffner was in the Daytona airport, located just beyond the backstretch of Daytona International Speedway, to return to Connecticut. He saw the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds take off for the Daytona 500 pre-race flyover before his plane left.

A few weeks later, Hoeffner was hired as a tire specialist/interior specialist for Suarez’s team. Hoeffner joined Hendrick Motorsports after the season, joining the organization of his favorite driver, Gordon. On his first day at Hendrick in early December, the first person Hoeffner saw was NASCAR Hall of Famer Chad Knaus.

“I stood up straight immediately and my eyes widened,” Hoeffner said of the meeting.

Knaus shook his hand and introduced himself. Hoeffner admits he momentarily stuttered in shock at the encounter before responding with his name.

Now, less than a year after teaching social studies, Hoeffner has the chance to be on a winning Daytona 500 team — in his first attempt.

“It has a very great potential to be incredible for a lot of reasons and (winning it) being one of them ,” Hoeffner said. “This is an opportunity for something a lot bigger than just my first win on the team in NASCAR, it’s bigger for Hendrick Motorsports as a whole.”

Before he gets that chance, he’ll stand on pit road with the rest of the No. 48 team for the pre-race ceremonies and soak in his first Daytona 500.

This time, he’ll see the flyover.