A Charlotte Observer report says that Brandon Hopkins, a former tire changer for Michael Waltrip Racing, has sued the team – alleging that he was fired one day before surgery for a shoulder injury he sustained in a September 2013 race at Chicagoland Speedway.
Hopkins’ lawsuit was filed in Mecklenberg County (N.C.) Superior Court on Tuesday per the Observer’s Joe Marusak. The 28-year-old alleges that MWR officials “blacklisted” him after an August 2014 surgery by falsely accusing him of stealing a pit gun used to put on and remove a wheel’s lug nuts.
Hopkins contends that because of the actions of the MWR officials, he lost an unpaid internship with another NASCAR Sprint Cup team and a paying gig with a Camping World Truck Series team.
In his suit, Hopkins admits to taking a pit gun home before surgery but asserts that he mistakenly thought it was his own personal pit gun; from his perspective, he hadn’t wanted to leave it at team headquarters since he would be gone for an extended period of time.
The start of the saga came when Clint Bowyer’s car accidentally hit him while he was changing tires on his car during a pit stop in the aforementioned 2013 race.
Hopkins suffered continued pain in his right shoulder and neck afterwards, and when rehab failed to solve the problem, he asked MWR to open a worker’s compensation claim early last year according to the suit.
He later underwent an MRI that discovered a torn labrum, and in March 2014, he was advised by a doctor to undergo surgery. But Hopkins told a team official that he would delay that action.
However, after losing feeling in his arm following the April 2014 race at Texas Motor Speedway, he finally made a surgery request. Instead, Hopkins says a team official asked him to wait until season’s end or until they knew if they would be involved in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Hopkins then worked through the summer on his bum shoulder until he underwent successful surgery on Aug. 7, 2014. His suit says that he was cleared to return to work in October following weeks of physical therapy, but MWR officials told the Cup and Truck Series teams that had retained him about his supposed theft of the pit gun in question.
Marusak’s piece notes that the suit calls that particular charge “demonstrably false,” adding that Hopkins had the duty of transporting the team’s pit guns from race to race.
MWR’s spokesman did not comment to the Observer, and the lawyer in charge of defending MWR, Bill Diehl, did not respond to Hopkins’ allegations either. He did say something, though.
“We don’t try our case in the newspaper, and we’ll see the plaintiff and his ‘I need some publicity’ lawyer in the court when it’s time,” Diehl said.
As for Hopkins’ lawyer, Joshua Van Kampen, he shot back: “I understand that defense counsel would like the public not to know what his client is accused of, but we have public court houses in America for a reason.”