Peaks and Valleys on Pit Lane with Ray Gallahan

September 14, 2020

"Penske Material" provides an inside look at some of the personalities, stories and moments that make Team Penske so unique. 

Born in Lake Helen, Florida, Team Penske pit crew veteran Ray Gallahan had racing in his blood from an early age. His father, Forest Gallahan, was a stock car racer and engine builder who competed at Barbersville Speedway and New Smyrna Speedway throughout Ray’s formative years.

“Dad had a ‘57 Chevy and a few Chevelles when I was growing up,” recounts Gallahan. “He was a good driver, mechanic and engine builder and racing was really a family deal through my childhood. At one point, dad moved to North Carolina to attempt to run some Grand National (now Xfinity Series) races, but he ran out of money and returned to Florida to compete in the short track stuff again.”

Though the elder Gallahan didn’t have the success he hoped for behind the wheel, his journey in motorsports was far from over.

“I’m extremely proud of the career my dad had and the life he made for himself in racing,” said Gallahan. “Through a Florida short-track connection, he ended up at Robert Yates Racing and then ultimately spent over 20 years in the engine shop at Roush Yates Engines.”

At 6’4”, Ray Gallahan – or “Goose” as he’s known among those he’s worked with – is an imposing figure. To those who know him, however, he’s a gentle giant. Gallahan was a good high school basketball player and he had an opportunity to continue in the sport at some smaller colleges, but he quickly burned out on the demands of collegiate athletics and felt drawn back to his love for motorsports.

“I worked a few jobs prior to going over the wall, specifically at 600 Racing working on Legends Cars,” said Gallahan. “It didn’t take long though to start finding some opportunities to pit cars. I was on a development crew for Jasper Racing, prior to their involvement with Team Penske. I worked on the pit crew for Paul Menard’s Xfinity Series ride at Dale Earnhardt Inc. Then I got my big break on a tryout in 2005 at Team Penske.”

That tryout landed Gallahan on NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace’s No. 2 Miller Lite crew for “Rusty’s Last Call” – the farewell tour for the 55-time Cup Series race winner, 1989 Cup Series champion and Team Penske Hall of Famer. It was an opportunity that Gallahan recalled with a laugh.

“I had no business on that car,” he said. “It was a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong. Amazing experience. But I was 22 years old and in way over my head. “

Over his head or not, Gallahan remained on the No. 2 Team Penske car from 2005-2010, before moving to the new No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil entry in 2011. Gallahan served as jackman on the No. 22 pit crew for drivers Kurt Busch, AJ Allmendinger, Sam Hornish Jr., and ultimately Joey Logano by the 2013 season. While Gallahan experienced many race wins in his time on the No. 22 car, including Team Penske’s second Daytona 500 victory in the 2015 “Great American Race” with Logano, something always seemed to be standing in the way of the NASCAR Cup Series Championship. One of those obstacles included a disastrous penultimate pit stop of the 2014 Championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

“No doubt the seventh pit stop of the race at Homestead-Miami Speedway (in 2014) was the lowest point of my career,” said Gallahan honestly. “It was a great growth opportunity. Most people say they wouldn’t change those things that made them stronger, but I’d take that stop back if you let me. That was a dark spot when that car fell off the jack. The worst part was, I knew we had to make another pit stop and likely wouldn’t be able to climb back into contention after that.”

The 2014 pit road mishap nearly repeated itself for Gallahan and the team in the Round of 12 elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway in 2016. Logano’s No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford fell off the jack and the driver was signaled return to the track. Unfortunately, Logano left pit lane dragging Gallahan’s jack, which resulted in a penalty for the team in a must-win situation. While Logano and the No. 22 team had been unable to recover from the pit lane error in Homestead two years prior, the team bounced back from the penalty and ended the race at Talladega in Victory Lane. As a result, the No. 22 Ford team advanced to the Round of Eight, where they triumphed in the final elimination race at Phoenix to advance to the Championship Four for the second time in three seasons.

“I think what I’m most proud of from the 2016 season was the fact that the last three races of the year I had to use three different jack plates, trying to adapt the dated equipment to the changing ride heights,” explained Gallahan. “Despite all of that adversity, we still made the Championship race and were in contention for the win until the very end. Not winning that race still stings to this day.”

After the Talladega victory in 2016, Gallahan was also given some news that about his role for the future that shook him, but he kept it under wraps for the remainder of the team’s playoff run that year.

“I was told that 2017 was going to be my last year on the 22 car,” said Gallahan. “That one hurt. The brotherhood I had with the guys on that team, everything I’d put into my career to get to that point and it was all about to change. I get it, racing is a business and we had a younger jackman and he wanted to move up in the company. But it still hurt.”

While Gallahan transitioned to another competitive team at Team Penske, joining the No. 12 Ford team with driver Ryan Blaney for the 2018 season, rule changes in NASCAR ultimately brought an end to his successful career as a jackman.

“The cut from the six-man stop to the five-man stop was sort of the end for my career jacking the car,” said Gallahan. “Up and down pit road you saw a changing of the guard. Former tire carriers started training to be jackmen as the role had evolved from just jacking the car to hanging tires on both sides. Into the spring stretch, I knew I wasn’t cutting it anymore, so I voluntarily stepped aside so we could elevate Graham Stoddard. He was a former tire carrier and he fit perfectly into the new scheme of what the position had evolved into.”

Gallahan began a new role as a full-time coach in Team Penske’s athletic department while also working weekends on a development crew as a jackman and mentor. As he started to adapt to the new position, Gallahan felt the pull of racing karma draw him back into service.

A sudden personnel change on the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford team created an opportunity for Gallahan to rejoin his old team with Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon, beginning with the Pocono race in June of 2018. The move was one Gordon felt helped the team as it made its impressive championship run.

“Ray brought positive leadership to the 22 team in 2018,” recalled Gordon. “He understood the need to be supportive of his teammates and to get them in the best mental position to be successful. He’d always been the quarterback of that team and 2018 wasn’t any different. Ray truly believes in Roger Penske’s motto of looking out the windshield and not the rearview mirror. He’s able to put mistakes behind him at the track and in the moment and carry on with his job. Ray has carried that over to his role as a coach now. While he’s home on the weekends, he’s breaking down pit stops during the race and communicating with our guys at the track in real time. He continues to be a great asset to Team Penske.”

As all the pieces fell into place that season, Stoddard joined the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford as jackman to begin the Round of 8 at Martinsville Speedway – the event that locked the No. 22 team into the Championship race for the third time in five years. Had Gallahan not stepped aside for Stoddard to move up earlier in the season, the No. 22 crew may not have realized the potential it had in the former Nebraska linebacker until it was too late.

“Putting Graham with Thomas (Hatcher), Zach (Price) and Dylan (Dowell) was the catalyst we needed,” said Gallahan. “He brought an energy and freakish athletic ability to the team and we waxed everyone on pit road for the final four races.”

Hatcher, who still serves as the front tire changer on the No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Mustang, recalls what Gallahan meant to the team and how he’s still a big part of Team Penske’s success.

“Ray was the leader of the No. 22 pit crew,” said Hatcher. “I was able to spend five years with him on that team. He was a great competitor over the wall that would do anything to make us faster or more consistent. Behind the wall he was the best teammate I have ever had. He was always able to listen and give the best advice to handle situations personally or professionally and you never had to worry about him telling anyone or thinking different of you for it. He is a very godly man that always put his faith first. He’s a man that if you were around him, you wanted to be a better man.

“We all knew going to Homestead in 2018 it was going to be Ray’s last race going over the pit wall and that was even more motivation for our team to perform at the highest level. We were happy for ourselves, but overjoyed for Ray. He’d spent years being arguably the best at his position and had never won a title, so sending him out with the walk-off was a dream come true.”

“Winning the championship (in 2018) was surreal,” said Gallahan. “Even up to the last restart I was talking to that guy in my head, saying 'did you really bring me all the way back to this point to be the bridesmaid again?' I didn’t think we had quite enough car on the final restart, but thankfully, Joey passed the No. 78 and cruised off to the win. It was the perfect way to end my time with Todd, Joey and the 22 team.”

While he’s still fully immersed in racing, Gallahan now spends his race days at home, where his three daughters join him as he breaks down pit stop film during events.

“I’m thankful that they’re big Team Penske fans and they enjoy the racing,” said Gallahan. “It gives us something that we can do together. Being one guy in the house with three daughters and a wife, I’m outmatched and not really good at color matching and the other things that they’re into. I give it my best, but we’ve got the family tie of racing and that’s pretty special.”

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