PLYMOUTH — It wouldn’t make Eric Wakeland upset if the next tire he carried over the wall was headed for his tractor.
The NASCAR veteran who currently performs that task for the crew of David Gilliland feels hometown life and the family farm calling him.
“I’m going to be 41 in November I really don’t want to be carrying tires over the wall all that much longer if I don’t have to,” he said.
“I’d love to do this,” he added pointing to the tractor and field he was taking time out from working on. Wakeland takes a break each year from the noise and stress of the NASCAR season to help family friend and Argos farmer Bill Voreis at harvest time.
“My love and passion is for farming. That’s how Bill and I got to know each other,” said Wakeland. “I always like to help at harvest time every year. I don’t care who you are, the town you grew up in is like a magnet. You always want to get back there.”
While he works the fields of Argos for a few days, Wakeland has time to reflect and ponder his next “ride” so to speak in NASCAR. He hopes to solidify his job with a new team before the first of the year.
“I’m talking to some people about some coaching positions,” said Wakeland. “I wouldn’t mind getting into that part of it. It would be a lot less stress, maybe a little bit less travel than I have currently. It would likely be in the Nationwide Series so I’d be traveling on Saturdays instead of Sundays.”
For the tire carrier who’s worked for veterans Mark Martin and Bill Elliott and the younger generation of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kasey Kahne, what team does he see himself with next?
“I’ve been talking with Gibbs (Racing) and I should know a lot more within the next week or two what I’ll be doing next year. I have to say I wouldn’t mind winning with somebody like Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman or Jeff Gordon — someone from Indiana. It would be really special to win it with somebody from your home state.”
Feeling nostalgic for his hometown, Wakeland also feels a little nostalgic for the old cars of NASCAR. The veteran crew member feels that his favorite sport could do some things to help the popularity of racing.
“They don’t really have any excitement on the plate right now,” he said. “You watch a race today and one from 10 years ago, and there is no comparison. They don’t do any racing anymore. It’s basically follow the leader. They need to go back to the old cars.
“I know the new car is supposed to be safer but the simple fact is you’re still riding in a cage. They don’t talk about all the things they’ve done around the track for safety. They’ve done a lot with the walls and other things on the track. That’s where they’ve made it safer.”
In the end though, Wakeland still looks forward to the time when he’ll be able to listen to the race in the comfort of the cab of his own tractor — right along with the country music he’s been enjoying in the cab of the tractor this week.
“I wouldn’t mind a full time job farming,” said Wakeland with a laugh. “Maybe Bill will read this and offer me one.”