By Jamey Cross
Monday was a day 9-year-old Josh Grandeo won’t soon forget.
A professional pit crew from North Carolina visited the third-grader’s Lynchburg home with a real race car to give him a look into his potential future career.
Kirsten Filiberto, a third-grade teacher at Paul Munro Elementary School, has her students dress up in her old graduation cap and gown holding a sign that says what they want to be when they grow up at the beginning of each year. Teacher, nurse, author and engineer: these are the common answers Filiberto said she’s had students give her in the past.
This year, Josh’s sign read “Future Pit Crew Member.”
“I’d never had a student say they wanted to be a pit crew member,” Filiberto said. “So I thought that was really cool.”
Filiberto said Josh is a funny and playful student, but he’s had a rough couple of months. Josh had been out of school since Nov. 11 due to extensive neck surgery. Josh’s mom, Anita Grandeo, said he had a problem with one of his vertebrae that required its removal and a spinal fusion. Josh is being home-schooled while recovering.
Filiberto said she mentioned Josh’s story to Kelby Krauss, a friend of hers who works with Chip Ganassi Racing, an auto racing organization based in Concord, North Carolina. Krauss asked for Josh’s address, and Filiberto thought he’d be sending Josh some Ganassi merchandise, maybe a T-shirt.
But Krauss and the Ganassi pit crew had bigger plans.
Krauss told Filiberto the crew wanted to send Josh a recruitment letter and then surprise him with a live NASCAR pit stop demonstration with a full pit crew.
Shaun Peet is a pit crew coach for Ganassi, and said he recruits and trains pit crew members for Ganassi. Pit crew members, he said, are responsible for changing the four tires of a race car and refilling its gas tank in around 12 seconds.
When Peet and the crew heard Josh’s story, they wanted to do something that would bring his spirits up and inspire him.
“There’s a lot of adversity that comes up for my team over the course of a season,” Peet said. “So you take a guy like Josh who, at a young age, has to fight adversity and has to be tough, we wanted to do what we can to make his day brighter.”
Peet sent Josh a recruitment letter that expressed their interest in having Josh join the team. The letter said they wanted to come out and meet Josh with a couple of members of the crew.
The race car and pit stop demonstration were a complete surprise.
Jason Grandeo, Josh’s father, said Josh had been looking forward to the visit for several days.
“On Thursday last week, Josh came up and asked me what day it was, and I told him it was Thursday. He goes, ‘Oh man, I was hoping it was Monday so the pit crew would be coming,’” Jason said. “He’s been so excited.”
After an informational recruitment meeting with the pit crew Monday morning, the No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro with “Josh Grandeo” written on its side, arrived at the Grandeo residence to surprise him. Currently, Kyle Larson drives the Ganassi No. 42 car in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Adorned in a slightly too big blue jumpsuit, which matched those on the rest of the pit crew members, Josh’s face lit up when the race car turned the corner onto his street. He watched in amazement as the crew members went to work changing the tires and refueling the car.
Josh’s friends, neighbors and classmates watched as he assisted the team by holding a marker in front of the car to indicate where it should stop so the crew could begin its work.
Josh’s parents said they were in awe of the kindness the Ganassi team showed their family during this busy time of their season. In February, the pit crew will be heading to Florida for the Daytona 500 race.
“It’s just so nice of them to do this,” Anita said. “It means so much that they wanted to make him feel special just before he goes back to school. This whole experience has just been once in a lifetime for him.”
While the interests of young children often change with the seasons, Anita said Josh has wanted to be a pit crew member for years.
Stephen Price is a Lynchburg native who now works for Ganassi as a member of the pit crew. Price said it meant a lot to him to be able to come back to his hometown and give back in this way.
“We try to give back as much as we can, so when we heard this story, I thought it would be really nice to get to come and make this a special day for him,” Price said.
After some time checking out the car and practicing his tire-changing, Josh autographed the race car and the crew gave him a racing helmet each member had signed.
Josh is set to return to school on today.
“He’s going to have a very cool story to share with the class,” Filiberto said.