Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Not Your Typical Vacation; Tony Stewart's Crew Chief Worked as a Deckhand Catching Alaskan Crabs

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Not Your Typical Vacation; Tony Stewart's Crew Chief Worked as a Deckhand Catching Alaskan Crabs

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

Jason Shapiro stood in the frantic garage area immune to the panic around him. He played with a computerized gadget that measures the weight and balance of Tony Stewart's car, carefully and calmly ordering small changes that generally make a big difference at 180 mph.

Mistakes here are corrected by the turn of a wrench. On the Bering Sea, mistakes are deadly.

Stewart's emotional swings can be outrageous. But if that wasn't tough enough, the car chief for the No. 20 Toyota at Joe Gibbs Racing spent his vacation last December working as a deckhand catching Alaskan king crabs on the 128-foot Cornelia Marie.

A man who's been a goat wrangler and fished the icy North Atlantic said the Bering Sea forever will be the greatest challenge of his life. Sleepless stretches of crab pots, cups of coffee and Red Bulls left his body aching in pain and his mind desperate for something warm and dry.

But more important, it left him content.

"I was impressed I could do it; I think they were impressed, too," Shapiro said. "That was a job that's not for the faint at heart."

The Cornelia Marie is one of the boats featured on the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. The captain, Phil Harris, is a grizzled man with 30 tough years at sea.

He doesn't fish to make friends. He's driven by two things - crabs and bringing his crew home safely at the end of the season. Anything that gets in the way, is met with a level of anger that's new to Shapiro - which says a lot for somebody who deals with Stewart on a daily basis.

"There's a lot of irony in Tony and Captain Phil," Shapiro said. "If you asked them who's crazier, they would say the other guy. Having worked for both, Phil is a little tougher, and rightly so. If you screw up 200 miles from land, you put a lot more people's lives in jeopardy. If you screw up at the racetrack with a chassis change, you just stop and fix it. …

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