ERIC PRENTICE, of Perkiomenville, Pa. spends his race weekends as the outside tire changer on the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet driven by Matheus Leist. The 6’4”, 305 lb. Prentice, who turns 43 in May, gave up his full-time position with Team Penske after 12 years in 2010 to spend more time with his young family. He became a ‘weekend warrior’ in 2011 working with Ganassi Racing, and then worked two years with Sebastien Bourdais at Dragon. A short stint with Dale Coyne followed before joining AJ Foyt Racing in 2016. He was on the No. 14 ABC Supply car until switching to the No. 4 this season. We asked him a few questions…
Q: How did you become interested in racing?
EP: “I used to watch it as a kid with my dad. I was working as a mechanic at a local garage in Hatboro, Pa. when my cousin had started working for Penske Racing in their engine shop. My parents decided to move from Hatboro to Lancaster, Pa. I was 21 and thought what do I want to do? So I asked my cousin for a contact name and sent in my resume to Penske. They called me for an interview and afterwards they hired me to come onto their test team for Andre Ribiero and Al Unser Jr. In 2000, they brought in Helio (Castroneves) and Gil (DeFerran) and I was put on the race crew for Helio.”
Q: How did you become a weekend warrior?
EP: “I thought about it because once people found out I wasn’t working at Penske full-time, I got quite a few phone calls to come in and change the tires. The company I worked for after Penske sponsored Graham Rahal who was running with Ganassi with Service Central sponsorship. I worked for NTB (National Tire & Battery) in the Philadelphia region as a manager. So I called Mike Hull and Scott Harner and that’s how it started. I told them who I worked for (Service Central) and said I’m sure we can work something out, and they said, ‘Absolutely.’ It lasted a year.”
Q: What training do you do to keep in shape?
EP: “Every day, I do simple calisthenics—stretching, sit-ups, push-ups. Three times a week I do a more in-depth workout, free weights, more intense calisthenics, run stairs, do squats, sit-ups and push-ups. No machines, I just use my own body weight.”
Q: When do you practice with the team?
EP: “Whenever I can, it just depends on what the weekend schedules are like and when the pit practices are. Regardless if we have a warm-up or not, every time we go out before the race I do just a handful of static stops to get the rhythm going.”
Q: Can you practice apart from the team?
EP: “For a while I actually had a setup in my garage. I’d gotten an old crashed upright and a set of wheels and a set of Goodyear tires, enough to get the motions right. I had a wheel gun, but things have changed so much and the wheel guns have gotten so much better. I can practice just the changing of the tire, the transition of it but not as far as putting the nut on and off. I don’t practice anymore with the wheel gun I have because it’s from 2009-2010 and the speed and power of it is so much different from what we have today, it would just throw me off. Last year we had gotten new guns and they were very powerful, very quick but the ones we got this year, they’re even another step up.”
Q: What is your 9-to-5 job during the week?
EP: “I have a shop (Juniper Auto Care) in Quakertown, Pa. We do regular automotive service, plus custom work, performance work, snow plows, mules, tires. We do quite a lot of stuff, custom builds.”
Last year Prentice changed the outside rear on Tony Kanaan's car.
Q: What is the toughest part of your job as a tire changer?
EP: “Probably adjusting to where the car stops. At this point I’ve been doing it for a long time, a lot of it just becomes muscle memory, kind of second nature. As long as you don’t try to rush things and get ahead of yourself, it all goes pretty quickly and smoothly. Working with different drivers over the years, how they come into the pit box and how they stop affects you. That is probably the biggest hurdle in any stop: if he doesn’t stop on his marks or pretty close to them, being able to adjust and still get the stop done in a quick time to get the car out of there.
“The outside tire is already out there. The difference between me and the other tire changers is that I can’t be out there waiting, so running to the car, turning the corner and getting down to my knees to get on the wheel nut, that’s key. I’m aiming for where my mark is but if he doesn’t stop there, in the one second that I’m running to the car, I’ve got to be able to pick up on that and adjust accordingly. If he’s long, I know I’ve got to take an extra step and shuffle my tire forward to get it out of the way. If he stops short, I’ve got to make sure I’m not going to run into the rear wing and still be able to get to the tire that’s going on.”
Q: How do you signal when you are finished?
EP: “I just get up. I don’t signal but when the air-jack guy sees me getting up, he knows I’m done. If he sees me still at my tire, he knows there’s a problem.”
Q: Approximately, how much does the wheel and tire weigh?
EP: “I think it is in the 45 lb. range.”
Rain may be a factor in Sunday's race as it was last year at Barber (above).
Q: Rain is tough on the drivers—what about tire changers?
EP: “It depends on how slippery pit lane is. I’ve had my feet slide out from under me from pit lane being wet so it’s definitely something I’m cautious about. I have to be conscious of when I’m running out and turning the corner that when I plant my foot to turn, it’s gonna stay there. If it rains during the race and it’s been dry the whole weekend, then that first stop in the rain, I’m not full throttle, maybe three-quarters so I can make sure I make the turn and not slip on the concrete or asphalt. After that first one, I have a pretty good idea of what to expect.”
Q: Is the tire slippery too?
EP: “You might have a little rain on the tire going on the car but nothing that would affect you.”
Q: What is the best part of your job?
EP: “The competitiveness of doing a pit stop, trying to beat that other guy next to you--and even to beat everyone on your car!”
Firestone Firehawks: For this race Firestone Racing will bring more than 1,600 Firestone Firehawk race tires. Each entry in the field will receive 7 sets of black sidewall primary tires and 4 sets of red sidewall alternate tires, along with 5 sets of rain tires. The primary tires and alternate tires feature the same race-proven compound and construction used in the 2018 Barber race. About 20 people will be working in pit lane on behalf of Firestone to ensure tire performance throughout the weekend.
TONY KANAAN on Barber Motorsports Park: “Next stop for us is Barber Motorsports Park, a very cool and technical place to race. Weather hasn’t been exactly nice to us in the area, last year we had a downpour in the race and this year our team test got cancelled because of inclement weather. But we’re keeping our hopes up that we’ll have a good race weekend for the No. 14 ABC Supply car and also for the fans that always pack the place.”
MATHEUS LEIST on Barber Motorsports Park: “Happy to be back at Barber this week. One of my favorite tracks on the calendar. Had lots of fun last year with mixed conditions and hope to have lots of fun again this year. We’ve had some bad luck in the last two races this year and I’m looking forward to having a solid finish this weekend, the No. 4 ABC Supply crew deserves it. Let’s go!”
Last Race: At the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Tony Kanaan started last and finished 12th while Matheus Leist was headed to his first top-10 finish before a caution flag in the late stages of the race negated his fuel strategy. He placed 17th after starting 12th.
Past Performance at Barber Motorsports Park: Tony Kanaan’s best start is sixth (2012 and 2015) and his best finish is sixth (2011). Matheus Leist started 21st last year and finished 12th in his first IndyCar event here. AJ Foyt Racing’s best start is fourth in 2012 with Mike Conway who also posted the team’s best finish of seventh.
ABC Supply is in its 15th season as primary sponsor of A.J. Foyt’s IndyCar team, making it the longest running team sponsor in the NTT IndyCar Series. The company was founded in 1982 by Ken and Diane Hendricks with just three stores. The company now has over 700 stores and topped $10.5 billion in sales in 2018. ABC Supply began sponsoring the AJ Foyt Racing team with the 2005 Indianapolis 500. The company has leveraged its involvement by entertaining well over 110,000 associates and customers over the past 14 racing seasons. This weekend the company will entertain over 450 guests.
ABC Supply account Sims Aluminum Construction, Inc., located in St. Augustine, Fla., will be featured on the engine cover of the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment this weekend along with a Meet and Greet with Tony Kanaan.
L&W account Reliance Interiors, Inc., based in Kennesaw, Ga., won the ‘Your Name Here’ contest. The company name will be on the engine cover of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet. Guests will receive the VIP treatment plus a Meet and Greet with Matheus “Matt” Leist.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be televised live on NBC Sports Network (NBCSN) on Sunday, April 7, starting at 4:00 p.m. ET. Qualifying will be broadcast live on NBCSN on Saturday starting at 4:00 p.m. ET. All of the practices will be available on NBC’s subscription-based service, INDYCAR Pass on NBC Sports Gold at https://www.nbcsports.com/gold/indycar. Also available on INDYCAR Radio: Sirius 113, XM 209, IndyCar.com, INDYCAR Mobile app, network affiliates (live).
To follow us on Twitter: @AJFoytRacing, @TonyKanaan, @MatheusLeist, @LarryFoyt14. On Instagram, @AJFoytRacing, @tkanaan, @matheusleist, @larryfoyt14. On facebook, we have the AJ Foyt Racing fan page.