Like many of his peers, 2007 Rock Hill High School graduate Mitchell Adkins headed off for some higher education when he finished high school.
But it wasn't at Clemson, the University of South Carolina, Winthrop University or York Tech. Adkins went to school to learn NASCAR.
On Wednesday night, Adkins completed his work at Pit Crew U, a technical program in Mooresville, N.C., which trains students to be members of motorsports pit crews.
"I always wanted to do that and I didn't know they had training to do it," he said. "I've always been a big fan of NASCAR for I can't even remember how long."
Pit Crew U combines a few days of classroom time with several weeks of hands-on instruction on Performance Instruction and Training's outdoor track. During the eight-week course, students learn everything from how race teams are structured to how to "pit" a car.
"The intent behind the whole business was to build a bridge between teams that were looking for qualified pit people and people who wanted to be involved in motor sports but didn't know who to call and what to ask," said Breon Klopp, senior director of development for Performance Instruction and Training, which runs the program.
Students learn how to do all the pit crew positions, and then pick one to specialize in.
As a front tire changer, Adkins can get the tire off a car in about two seconds, sometimes less. To get on a NASCAR cup team, he'll have to speed it up to about 1.3 seconds per tire.
"Right now I've got blisters on my hands from doing it so much," he said.
Adkins' coach, lead instructor Matt Struve, said Adkins has his head in the right place.
"He's quiet and focused and he always is asking the right kinds of questions, wanting to know what he needs to do to get better and improve," Struve said.
Now that he's finished at Pit Crew U, Adkins will enter the 5 Off 5 On program, named for the five lug nuts that have to be taken off and put back on to change a tire.
That program is like graduate school for pit crew students. It's more focused on physical conditioning, enhancing the skills students already have learned and simulating real pit road experiences.
The program serves as a way for participants to showcase their skills for interested teams and as a jumping off point for team tryouts, Klopp said.
Klopp said about 55 percent of students who complete PIT programs go on to work in motorsports.
To up his chances of being in that 55 percent, Adkins also is studying engine building, fabrication and welding at the nearby NASCAR Technical Institute.
From 6 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. he goes to class at NTI. During Pit Crew U, he tried to spend at least seven hours at the track, even though class was only two nights a week. He also finds the time to work two days a week at a Jimmy John's sandwich shop.
Adkins said he plans to market himself as someone with the skills to be involved in NASCAR in more than one way. He hopes that versatility will help him land a pit crew job for the weekends and a job working on the cars during the week.
If he feels prepared, Adkins will start trying out for teams in early 2008.
"I will train as long as I have to," he said. "Even if I make it on a Busch team or a truck team that would be great."
Coach Struve said getting hired by a professional team requires a certain amount of being in the right place at the right time, but that if everything lines up, Adkins has what it takes to succeed.
"He's got the skills to do it and he's got the attitude to do it, that's for sure," Struve said. "I think if he continues doing what he's doing, he'll continue to move up the ladder."
View video of Rock Hill native Mitchell Adkins in action during his pit crew training at: