Casto Making Difference In Nascar
If you’re a fan of NASCAR, you may have noticed Tony Stewart picking up a couple wins in a row to start the Chase. In fact, Stewart won the Mobil 1 Driver of the Race award and Crew Chief Darian Grubb received the Moog Chassis Parts Problem Solver Award for Stewart’s win at Chicago in the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s first race a few years ago.
You may also have noticed a quick pit crew helping Stewart to those wins and launching him into serious contention for his third Sprint Cup championship.
Helping lead that crew is jack man and engineer Mike Casto, a Proctor native who graduated from John Marshall High School a year ahead of country music singer Brad Paisley. Proctor has been a man of many hats, but is extremely happy with the one he’s wearing right now.
“Our confidence is high and our morale is high, which it hasn’t been all year,” Casto said of the team. “We’ve had some struggles throughout the season. One week the pit crew was off, the next the cars weren’t there, or Tony made a mistake. It was always something throughout the year. We probably should have won a couple throughout the year.”
The fast-paced world of stock car racing would be a thrill for almost anyone, but Casto is a man who has survived an internship in the coal mines with his father as well as being stationed overseas with the Navy. Casto watched from an Aegis Class destroyer as Tomahawk missiles were fired at Iraq.
Think taking orders from someone as fiery as Tony Stewart would be intimidating? Try being a freshman tight end under Rich Rodriguez at Glenville State during the coach’s early years.
“He’s pretty high energy,” Casto recalled. “He yells a lot and grabs players by the facemask a lot. I don’t know if he did that at the higher level of college sports, but he was definitely a high-intensity guy.”
After a year with the Pioneers, Casto went on to play at WVU Tech, where he earned a degree. After tours in the mines and the Navy, he attended the NASCAR Technical Institute in Mooresville, N.C.
“When I was in college and doing my internship during the summers, I was getting up and doing 16-hour shifts in the coal mine and not being able to get my skin clean because my pores were filled with coal dust,” Casto said. “I got up thinking, ‘I can’t do this the rest of my life. There’s got to be something else I enjoy.’
“Even if you’re making decent money, what’s the point if it’s not fun? I started thinking about what I wanted to do most and I saw a commercial for NTI and thought about racing and if I could possibly get into that. I picked up everything and moved to North Carolina to go to school again.”
After a period of time working on late-model engines, Casto made the switch to chassis and began working on Bobby Dotter’s Green Light Racing team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. He then became a member of Haas CNC Racing, working with drivers Johnny Sauter and Scott Riggs before Stewart partnered with the company to form Stewart-Haas Racing.
Even with the many opportunities that have presented themselves during Casto’s full life, he still recalls one that he didn’t get to take that may have as much to do with where he is now as anything.
“Just one little difference in life, or one choice I could’ve made different and I never would’ve ended up here,” Casto said. “It’s kind of funny how you end up in this situation. Before Stewart-Haas, I got an offer to join Jimmie Johnson’s pit crew after they had won one or two championships and I’m like ‘I definitely would like to go’ because we’re still finishing 32nd. We had a good pit crew, but our cars weren’t finishing well.
“Word got back to our general manager and he said ‘you’re not going,’ and wouldn’t let me out of my contract. When we were hired we were told if you could improve yourself they wouldn’t stand in your way, but I didn’t see at the time that they had already been talking to Tony and were working on this deal. Nobody heard about it and the following year I saw it happen.”