Robert Best II never stopped dreaming.
He always wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and be involved in the racing game, but breaking into the highly competitive industry is tougher than it seems.
Several odd jobs and plenty of perseverance later has Best living out those dreams as an underneath mechanic for Trevor Bayne of Roush Fenway Racing. He’ll be doing what he loves at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday during the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500.
Not bad for a kid from Arlington.
"It was always in my blood since I was young," Best said. "It kind of developed into a career with different opportunities and meeting different people along the way. It took me in all kinds of different directions."
Boy, did it ever.
Best was born in Corpus Christi and has worked in Missouri, California, and North Carolina, where he currently resides in the town of Salisbury.
He’s worked as a car salesman and a warehouse manager in a lumberyard. But he knew his true calling involved racing, particularly on the mechanical side.
When he was 19, Best walked into former pro racer Lou Gigliotti’s small race shop in Garland looking for work. He was hired to do a number of odd car jobs.
From there he moved to California to work on cars, and then to Columbia, Missouri, where he befriended longtime NASCAR star Carl Edwards. At the time, he helped Edwards work anything and everything, including local late model cars.
When he moved to Asheville, N.C., in the late 1990's, he caught a big break outside the garage when he met his future wife, Jaime, on a blind date. After the couple got serious, she issued a soft ultimatum: we need to live in North Carolina. Those logistical conversations really helped organize what can be a highly complex life.
"It's a glamorous job from the outside in, and it is doing it, too. I love it, enjoy it, wouldn't trade anything for it," he said. "But when I was trying to have a ‘normal’ job and not travel, and she said 'you aren't happy when you aren't [in] racing. I can see it in your daily routine and attitude. Just go be happy and do what you want.' It's the one thing I really commend her on because she knew what she was signing up for when she gave me free rein to do what I want."
The pair decided to move down to Charlotte in 2001 and got married in 2002. You'd think living in an area flooded with professional race teams would make it easier to find work, but Best didn't know anyone.
Eventually, his long-time connection with Edwards paid off. By this point Edwards had replaced Mark Martin on the NASCAR circuit. The driver got Best an interview in 2005 and by 2007, the journeyman mechanic was working a full-time job as a breaks builder on Edwards' team.
After working various jobs on Edwards' pit crew, Best switched to the crew of Greg Biffle and the No. 16 car at Roush Fenway in 2011 where he worked on the car’s rear-suspension systems.
When an opportunity to join the road crew at Roush Fenway Racing opened in 2014, Best jumped at the chance.
Here’s what a typical work week looks like for him during race season.
After a Sunday race, he will get home anywhere from midnight to 3 a.m. depending on how close the race is to the team's home-base in Concord, N.C. After his lone off-day of the week, he will spend all of Tuesday and Wednesday unloading equipment on the cars, make technical adjustments and then reload it.
Thursday is a travel day, where he and much of the crew will either fly or pile into a rental and drive to the site of the next race. Friday morning he'll help unload the car, where it will undergo a technical inspection and safety checks. Each week during practices at the track he is usually laying down underneath the back of the car making measurements.
On Sunday, Best and others make minor tweaks to the car for another inspection before they change into their fire suits. In the moments leading to the start of the race, he'll help bolt Bayne into the driver's seat.
Once the starter's flag comes down and the car comes in for pit stops, Best needs to monitor the left-rear tire and catch the right rear tire as it's coming off so that it doesn't roll out onto the track and incur a penalty for his driver. In order to minimize the noise and confusion, Best and the rest of the crew members have in-race conversations on two radios: one for the driver and the team and one for just the crew.
After the race, he will help load things up and start the process over again.
"Obviously winning is a great accomplishment," he said. “But I enjoy seeing something I poured my heart and soul into, and a driver basically puts his life in your hands and trusts you enough when he's driving into Turn 1 at over 200 miles per hour that nothing is going to fall off. He's basically trusting the guys that work on his car with his life and I get a lot of pride in somebody trusting you that much."
While Best loves pursuing his passion he recognizes how hard a life-style it can be.
"It's the time away from family and friends," he said. "My wife and I enjoy going to craft fairs and concerts, and really just spending time together, but it's kind of few and far between when I can actually join her. But we try and make the most of the time we do have."
Whenever he comes back for the race at Texas Motor Speedway he tries to see two or three friends from the area that he has kept in touch with over the years. He's also still a spicy Texas barbecue man through and through.
But there's one activity that stands above the rest.
"The biggest thing I enjoy when I come home is to go visit my grandparents' grave in Arlington and take flowers, since my parents live in North Carolina," Best said. "It's just nice to reminisce and see how much things have changed over the years."