For Robby Maschhaupt, racing isn’t just a job. It’s his life. In fact, it’s the only job he’s ever had. Robby has been in racing for 33 years as a crew member, including Off Road racing, Indy Car, NASCAR and endurance racing. He is one of the only all-American teams to ever be part of winning the Darkar Rally race, a 6,000 mile race over 17 straight days from Paris through Africa, billed as the most dangerous rally race in the world. He’s also the only American to ever start and finish that race in a chase (support) truck.
Much of Robby’s life’s work was been spent as a gas man in NASCAR. Jumping on to pit road carrying a highly flammable, almost-100 pound gas can as a race car barrels your way at 55 miles per hour requires more than just nerves. For a pit crew member like Robby, it takes a dedicated, laser-like focus, mental grit and explicit precision. Pit crew members train hard physically, and they work hard physically. Anything can happen during a day at the track, including injuries.
In an Indy Car race in 1999, Robby was run over. He blew out almost every ligament in his right knee, and had to have his ACL replaced with an ACL cadaver.
“I basically babysat my knee from 2000 to 2005, but it got progressively worse,” says Robby.
Along the way he met Bill Heisel, PA-C, physician assistant with OrthoCarolina. Bill was in the early stages of developing the OrthoCarolina Motorsports program that would eventually oversee orthopedic care for most NASCAR teams including drivers, crew and staff. For the next 13 years, Bill guided Robby’s care as he continued to race and push his body. Robby would end up having two more cadaver ACLs surgeries, and finally, after dealing with an arthritic knee for years, a total knee replacement in the fall of 2017 with Dr. Walt Beaver. Four weeks later, Robby went surfing.
“No one said racing is an easy career, and I put myself through the ringer; that’s my nature,” says Robby. “From physical therapy to cortisone to multiple surgeries I’ve had a lot of repairs done, but Bill kept me in the sport; without him I’d have been done long ago. I can honestly say that Bill, Dr. Beaver and the rest of the OC Motorsports team are the ones who truly make the sport run.”
There are 43 drivers in NASCAR, but according to Robby, at least 100 more team members per driver that actually make the car go ‘round. Long hours including extensive travel nearly every weekend can wear on team members and their families both emotionally and physically. For a team to function at maximum efficiency, it takes a careful balance of training, medical care, nutrition and rest.
“Bill is the quarterback in our sport. He assesses what’s wrong, and gets you to the right specialist, immediately,” says Robby. “ It’s encouraging to know someone cares about you, will get you treated quickly and efficiently and do whatever it takes to put you back in your sport.”
After his total knee replacement, Robby retired from racing. Since he grew up on the water and loves boating, it was only logical that something water-based would be his next step. He expanded the one-day-a-year #PASStheHANDLE program, which teaches people how to wakeboard, wakesurf, wakeskate and waterski, to operating 75 days a year. Robby has turned #PASStheHANDLE into a second career, and is able to coach five people per session and help them discover movement on the water on Lake Norman (North Carolina) for free. Even though his injuries are far less frequent and severe, Robby knows he can turn to Bill at a moment’s notice for help.
“Most medical providers care about their patients, but Bill cares five times more than anyone else, in my eyes,” he says. “Without him we couldn’t survive 38 weekends [racing] a year. Take it from a guy who’s been in the trenches. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your job is, Bill and his team take care of you.”