CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Seconds win or lose NASCAR race. It's a fact pit crew guys like Brandon Hopkins know all too well. Each race, they stand ready to jump the wall, run out and fix things fast on pit road.
"Your goal is to be between 11.5 and 12 seconds to change four tires," Hopkins said. The adrenaline is pumping fast. It's an athletic and dangerous job.
It's one that Hopkins dreamed of as a kid. Now he's suing his former employer, Michael Waltrip Racing for breach of contract and defamation.
Hopkins said it all started as an injury he suffered on the track got worse, and he was pressured to keep performing.
In 2013, Hopkins got hit the first time as driver Clint Bowyer was pulling away from pit road. Hopkins was not injured. He continued working for Michael Waltrip Racing as a front tire changer.
A few months later, as shown in a video given to WBTV by Hopkins' attorney, he was hit again. This time, Hopkins said his shoulder was injured after rolling off the hood and falling on his side.
Hopkins says he worked through the pain for several months. The lawsuit claims management at Michael Waltrip Racing offered him rehab and eventually asked him to delay surgery until the season was over. Hopkins says he filed for workman's compensation and was fired the day before surgery was scheduled.
"Every pit crew member on the wall knows they may get hurt, but their expectation of their race team is that their race team will stand behind them," said Hopkins attorney, Josh Van Kampen.
Van Kampen says Michael Waltrip Racing broke employment law and sabotaged other job opportunities for Hopkins by bad-mouthing him to other NASCAR related businesses.
The lawsuit also says MWR fired Hopkins for cause, by accusing him of stealing a pit gun and printing out confidential timing stats, which Hopkins denies in the lawsuit.
"Our policy is not to discuss any litigation," said Drew Brown, with MWR. The lawsuit was just filed in Mecklenburg County Monday.
"Within the NASCAR family, there's very few lawsuits, so it's surprising," said Humpy Wheeler, former president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. Wheeler has no part of the lawsuit, but he certainly knows the business.
"It's a tough place," said Wheeler about pit road. "They got to dodge and move quick. It's a little bit like offensive and defensive linemen in the NFL."
"They are expendable and that happens every day. There's nothing unusual in that," said Wheeler.
There's also nothing unusual about secrets in NASCAR concerning the cars and how things work on pit road. No team wants their people working for another.
However, Wheeler believes Hopkins worked for a good team in MWR. "I think they're one of the most honorable teams in racing," he said.
Hopkins said he had a very different experience.
"I know who I am and I believe enough people know about what's going on at Michael Waltrip Racing," said Hopkins. "They'll stand behind me."
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