You get the job you feel you were born to perform, and you think you’ll wake up every day excited and eager to get to it. You will, most days, but Willy Pelotte knows the nerves drive you to continue getting better. As the engine tuner for Go FAS Racing’s Monster Energy NASCAR team, Pelotte, an Oakland native, battles the butterflies all the time.

“I’m nervous every race. You get more comfortable. This is my third season. You have a checklist of things you do and an order to do it. You get into a rhythm. When (driver Matt DiBenedetto) comes over the radio saying ‘Something sounds funny.’ You’re like, oh, no. that’s my stuff! I’m lucky in that I’ve been doing the right things and nothing has fallen out of place. On my watch everything’s been pretty good,” Pelotte said.

Just 23, Pelotte knew from a young age he wanted a career in racing, and everything he did was geared in that direction. In January of his senior year at Messalonskee High School, Pelotte went to North Carolina to attend the NASCAR Technical Institute. He came back to graduate with his Class of 2012 before heading back to North Carolina. Three weeks before graduation from the NASCAR Technical Institute, the communications coordinator told Pelotte about a job opportunity with Roush Yates Engines.

“When I graduated on Friday, I started working for Roush Yates on Monday,” Pelotte said.

Two and a half years into the gig, Doug Yates asked Pelotte to help him run some errands. Yates needed somebody to go on the road with the 32 car and keep the engine tuned. They needed somebody who was professional and a quick learner and who will work hard under pressure. Yates was offering Pelotte the job. Pelotte was 21.

“I don’t know what he saw in me, but he saw something that I didn’t see,” Pelotte said.

After a year of training, Pelotte joined the 32 team in 2016, with driver Bobby Labonte. The year before, Pelotte earned a Daytona 500 ring for his behind the scenes work in helping Joey Logano win NASCAR’s pinnacle race. Now, Pelotte was one of the guys trying to put the fastest car on the track. Daunting? Of course.

“They can tell you hey, this is what you’re going to see and what you can expect, but when you get there, I was thrown in with the wolves. We first got to the racetrack, and I just kind of stood there. You guys need help? What do you need to me? I knew what I had to do but had to find the good time to do it,” Pelotte said.

Go FAS is a small team, with Maine roots. Owner Archie St. Hilaire is from Old Orchard Beach. On top of that, the team is young.

“Most of the guys who work on our car are about the same age, including Matt. He’s only 26, 27 (DiDenedetto turns 27 in June). We really see eye to eye and have good chemistry,” Pelotte said. “Everything is choreographed. We all have our part to do, but we’re a team. With everybody being young, not everybody’s experienced. There’s guys doing what I do for 20 years. Guys doing what Matt does for 20 years. It’s fun, man, it’s really rewarding but challenging.”

The days leading up to a race are a series of tweaks. When it’s time to practice, DiBenedetto will take four or five laps around the track, then Pelotte will spend even more time with the engine hooked up to his computer. Software tells Pelotte everything going on in the engine, and he can tell the engine exactly how he wants it to run. During an hour-long practice session, the car may only be on the track five minutes.

“The other 55 minutes you’re adjusting everything on the car. Those adjustments take more than he’s on the track,” Pelotte said. “When I’m at the racetrack, I’m the babysitter. I make sure everything’s going OK on the engine. Everything’s going normal, no broken parts. Make sure it has enough horsepower.”

On the morning of race day, Pelotte helps put finishing touches on the car and get it though NASCAR’s inspection. During the race, he’s working with the engineer and crew chief to calculate fuel mileage. There’s no fuel gauge in the car, so they need to know if there getting the most out of the fuel. Temperature and track length can affect how much fuel is used. At the longer tracks, like Daytona and Talladega, less fuel is used than at shorter tracks like Martinsville or Bristol. It’s like when you drive in stop and go traffic. You’ll burn more gas than if you maintain a steady speed.

So far this season, the team’s best finish is 22nd place in Las Vegas on March 4. Last year, Pelotte helped the 32 take ninth at last year’s Daytona 500 and eighth in the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway last July. It’s a strong start to a career on the technical side of racing. Sometimes, though, Pelotte misses the days he was behind the wheel. He brought his go kart from Maine to North Carolina, where he can race on small local dirt tracks. Pelotte’s job takes up so much time, however, opportunities to race are rare.

Pelotte loves what he does, but at the same time, he knows he could have made it easier on himself. Everybody looks back. Not with regret, but with knowledge.

“When I’m 29, I’ll look back at when I was 23 and be like, man, I wish I had done it like this. I’m 23 now, I look back at when I was 15. I was kind of like a hothead driver. I was a kid who gets into the racecar and climbs out and walks away and gets something to eat or hang out with my friends,” Pelotte said. “Sometimes, I look back on it and wish I had stuck around. I wish I had learned what kind of adjustments they were making to the car and what they were doing. I wish I got my hands more dirty than I did. I helped out here and there, don’t get me wrong, but I wish I would’ve helped out more than I did.”

After this weekend off for Easter, NASCAR is back in action next weekend in Fort Worth, Texas. Pelotte will be there, doing his best to make the 32 car a little faster than all the others.

“I wouldn’t change anything. The way these doors have opened and these opportunities have come up. I busted my ass and I had the right people noticing and the right time,” Pelotte said.

You get the job you feel you were born to do, you want to get better at it every day.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.