NASCAR: Michael Waltrip Racing sued by former pit crew member

8 Comments

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.”

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
1 Comment

Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.