The Army Ranger returns to NASCAR as the gas man for Austin Dillon’s team

The Army Ranger returns to NASCAR as the gas man for Austin Dillon’s team

WELCOME, N.C. — For the better part of five years, Tyler Rader was a gasman on Austin Dillon’s crew, celebrating with him a 2013 Xfinity championship and a 2018 Daytona 500 victory.

But they were more than colleagues. They were close friends. Rader even lived with Dillon for more than three years after he joined Richard Childress Racing.

So when Rader asked Dylan to join him for lunch one day in 2018, Dylan had no idea what his friend wanted to tell him.

“I’m going to join the army,” Rader said.

Rader left the team in 2019 and went on to serve as a fire team leader in the US Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment. He returned from active duty and returned to be Dylan’s gasman. Last week’s Daytona 500 marked Rader’s first race on the road in five years.

“His story is so special,” Dillon told NBC Sports. “A successful college athlete. Won Fiesta Bowl, Orange Bowl. Coming to NASCAR. … Won the Daytona 500 and Xfinity championship. He then went on to become an Army Ranger for two years.

“It’s like, ‘Okay, what’s next? Are you going to be an astronaut?’

No. Rader feels good again as Dylan’s gasman.

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But Rader almost didn’t make it to NASCAR.

The West Virginia University offensive lineman was not drafted by any NFL team after his senior year. He wanted to join the Army, but a recruiter told him he weighed too much at 300 pounds. While considering what to do next, his father learned of a combine for future NASCAR crew members, and Rader, who came from a family of Dale Earnhardt fans, decided to try it out.

Dylan was helping out at the combine. It was located on a treadmill that was turned off. Prospects got on it and ran as fast as they could for 30 seconds. Dylan had marked a line on the tread and stood counting how many revolutions the tread made in the allotted time.

“We were trying to see who was in shape,” Dillon said. “Tyler stepped up there. Tyler was much heavier at this point. He was at football weight. I said to myself, “I wonder what this guy can do.”

“Even with a heavy weight, he killed everyone. He did about 36 revolutions in 30 seconds. Oh yeah, I remember that. It was at the top of the list.

Tyler Rader pit stop RCR photo.jpg

Gasoline attendant Tyler Rader services Austin Dillon’s car during qualifying at the Daytona Duel.

Gasoline attendant Tyler Rader services Austin Dillon’s car during qualifying at the Daytona Duel. Photo by Richard Childress Racing

Richard Childress Racing soon hired Rader. He had a long boxing career ahead of him until one day a member of the special forces visited the team and told the crew members that they would not be able to handle the military training he had.

“It kind of lit a fire under my ass,” Rader told NBC Sports.

Rader jokes that this is his midlife crisis at 29. He notes that if he was going to join the military, it was either then or his opportunity would likely pass.

“I feel like everyone should serve in some capacity,” Rader said. “I just felt I had to answer that call.”

He informed the team that the 2018 season would be his last year with RCR. He stayed on to pit in Tyler Reddick’s car in the 2019 Daytona 500 before joining the Army.

While at Rangers, he managed a four-man squad. He served one tour in the Middle East and said he was never involved in a firefight.

“I’m not saying (being on a pit crew) isn’t a great job,” Rader said. “But serving in the 75th Ranger Regiment for me was like the high point of my life. What the U.S. government is entrusting the 75th Ranger Regiment with, and to be a part of that and lead people in that, there’s no better feeling.”

He uses this training every day and follows the Ranger Creed, which includes a passage that reads, “I will never let my comrades down. I will always keep myself mentally sharp, physically strong and morally sound and take more than my share of the task, whatever it is, one hundred percent and then some.”

Rader said Ranger Creed “rewired me. I will live that even when I’m out of the Ranger Regiment. I wake up and I try to live by those standards and those qualities and I believe that every day.

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He carries a copy of the Ranger Creed in his wallet.

“It’s part of who I am,” he said.

So why did you leave? Rader admits that the Ranger Regiment “is a young man’s game” and, at 34, it was more of a challenge to maintain his fitness level compared to younger soldiers.

While considering what to do outside of his service, he returned to Richard Childress Racing and pit road. Although pit crews have become more athletic, there is still a place for those in their mid-30s and beyond, especially in the gas man position.

He asked the team if he could come back and compete for the job.

“They opened their arms and took me back, which was 100 percent a gamble on their part,” Rader said.

He showed that he can still effectively gas a car. The Gas Man became more important after Rader left the sport. With the single wheel nut, the tire changer can complete its job before the gas tank fills the vehicle’s fuel cell. So the pit stops are now waiting for the gas station. If the fueler doesn’t plug their box into the car properly, it prolongs the pit stop and costs the team track positions.

That he’s back with Dylan and car #3 makes it even more special.

“I don’t know if I would have come back if I wasn’t in car 3,” Rader said.

Because no other team was like Rader’s No. 3 team.

“I just wanted to get back to … family,” he said.

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