As a teenager, Jerry Hess would travel from to his hometown of Lancaster, Penn., to in-state tracks like Pocono Raceway to see favorite drivers like Dale Earnhardt Sr. chase the checkered flag. At the time, it was only a dream for Hess to work in the sport.
“It was always a small part of a dream – working in NASCAR, working on cars,” Hess, 50, said. And one day, he wouldn’t just be watching the race cars – he’d be hauling them.
For the past 18 years, Hess has been a hauler driver for notable NASCAR teams like Hendrick Motorsports and now Joe Gibbs Racing. He currently hauls for Sprint Cup Series driver Carl Edwards, but has driven for several other popular racers including two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion Terry Labonte and Gibb’s driver Denny Hamlin.
But before he belonged to a team in the most popular motorsport in the country, Hess was working on his family’s farm in Lancaster with his four siblings.
“I grew up working on the equipment,” Hess said. “We had hogs, normal crops like corn, wheat … I drove a truck after high school hauling grain.”
Hess drove locally and made his love of racing into a hobby, tinkering with friend’s racecars.
“I worked in mechanics, tinkering with late model racecars, helping guys on their racecars in the evenings or on Saturdays,” Hess said.
He began working in mechanics and in his early 20’s, married his wife, Lynn.
While the two had a good life in Pennsylvania, they decided to take a leap of faith and leave it all behind in the late 1990s.
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“My wife and I decided to pack everything up and go to Charlotte, North Carolina,” Hess said, ending up about 15 miles away in Huntersville. “I was young enough, adventurous enough to jump in and try it.”
His wife had a job lined up and he quickly found work at a car dealership. After six months, he signed on as a mechanic with a team in what is now called the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. At Hendrick Motorsports, he hauled for Terry Labonte when in 1999, the driver had one of his three all-star race wins, a favorite memory for Hess.
“It was a big celebration, I think we wrecked in that race and we came back and won,” Hess said.
Hess worked for a few other teams before joining Joe Gibbs Racing where he’s worked the past 12 years.
While he has always driven trucks, his first experience over-the-road was in NASCAR. He drives a 2014 Freightliner Cascadia.
“It’s a nice quiet time by yourself when traffic’s not too heavy,” Hess said of driving, adding that his Freightliner “drives really nice. They’re quiet … there’s a lot of room inside, they’re comfortable.”
He often gets stopped at truck stops by fans eager to pose with the truck or share their disdain or admiration for a certain racecar driver. Then there’s fellow truckers who say they’d love his job. “They don’t realize the work that goes into it. We don’t just drive a truck and park it,” Hess said.
While work as a hauler driver can be thankless, there are moments Hess said where fans will show their appreciation.
“There’s different times you meet them and they tell you that a year or two earlier, you gave them a hat at one time or they stopped and took a picture with the truck and you didn’t realize it was a big deal to somebody,” Hess said. “It’s always a good feeling when you get to touch so many people.”
When Hess and his wife, who works in the office at Hendrick Motorsports, are away from work, the two enjoy outdoor life, everything from simply taking walks to having adventures on tropical cruises.
“We’ve done the horseback riding in the ocean, swam with stingrays,” Hess said, adding he wasn’t fearful because “they’re more like pets. That was fun.”
After 18 years, his leap of faith to find a career in NASCAR paid off. And he’s not about to leave.
“I’ll probably retire in the sport. It’s a fun job,” Hess said.
Q&A with Jerry Hess:
Who is a famous person you’d like to meet? I’m not big on famous people.
Favorite holiday? Probably Christmas. Everybody’s in a good mood; the lights, the songs, the decorations stretch out for a month.
If you could have any talent, what would it be? Probably drive a racecar so I’d have more money. They pay them more than a truck driver.