MAHAFFEY — If you’re a fan of racing, particularly NASCAR, you may not know that there’s a local person taking part on its highest level as a team engineer – the NASCAR Cup Series. Mahaffey native Nate Troupe will work at the famed Richard Childress Racing with driver Tyler Reddick for the 2020 season. Troupe is moving up with Reddick to the Cup Series after the team won the 2019 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
So how did he get involved with racing? Troupe said that years ago, he happened to watch the Daytona 500 as it was a week or two after the Super Bowl at the time.
“I happened to turn it on because football, my sport of choice at the time, was no longer on,” he said. “I’m not going to lie, at first I thought it was a bunch of cars just going left but the more I watched, the more intrigued I became. It was interesting to see the strategy unfold for the teams and to see how it reminded me more and more of football. As much as you plan, or prepare, you have to be able to adapt and call audible’s to keep up with the ever changing environment. Rarely does anything ever go according to plan. From that point forward, I was hooked.”
Troupe said he put his dream of playing football aside for a new dream and stated how racing announcers were talking of how engineering was an integral part of race teams. So the 2004 graduate of Purchase Line High School decided he would go on an engineering path and attend Penn State University with the intentions of someday working for a NASCAR team.
“In order to do that though, I had done some research and was advised that I should get real race experience,” Troupe said. “So I got my foot in the door by volunteering with Benny Gordon from DuBois. He was racing in the USAR Hooter’s Pro Cup Series. I started by sweeping the floors, cleaning parts, etc.”
Troupe then worked with Gordon’s race team at Predator Performance and worked his way up eventually to a front tire changer and they won the series in 2008. After two years at Penn State DuBois, he transferred to Penn State University Park and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2008 and an master’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2011.
“After graduating from Penn State and even a few months before graduating, I was working multiple jobs at the time,” Troupe said.
He said he was determined to get into NASCAR – so much in fact that he took extraordinary steps in trying to get a job.
“I was trying to get my foot in the door and I felt it was important that I delivered my resume in person,” Troupe said. “So once a month I would drive down to Mooresville, North Carolina, since that is Race City USA and that is where (the) majority of the NASCAR teams are headquartered. I would go to as many of the shops before they closed upon arrival in town and then get up early the next day to hit up as many of the other organizations before I had to drive back north to start one of my many jobs.”
Since 2012, he has been with Richard Childress Racing. He first started on the #2 NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series with Kevin Harvick, Brendan Gaughan and Tim George Jr. and moved up to the Cup shop and the #27 team with Paul Menard months later. Troupe worked there for the rest of 2012 and 2013.
“From there, Germain Racing had formed a technical alliance with RCR,” Troupe said. “I was called upon to be the liaison between the two organizations and to be the team engineer on their car. I served as the team engineer for the #13 (Germain Racing team) for five years – Casey Mears from 2014-2016 and Ty Dillon from 2017-2018.
But for 2019, Troupe was called back to be on the #2 NASCAR Xfinity Series car with Reddick, who had just won the 2018 title with JR Motorsports.
Troupe said there’s a lot that goes into racing each week.
“It’s no different than preparing for a football game,” he said. “Typically a race weekend is started weeks in advance. I’m like an offensive or defensive coordinator. I’ll work with the crew chief who is like the head coach. We will put together a build sheet for the event that we are competing in. For the build we will look at what we struggled with the last time we were there and try to come up with a game plan to fix those issues. Once we send the build to the crew, they are like the lineman. I will then build that car in our simulation program. From there I can run through a variety of changes. The simulation allows me to put together different setups that we want to try for the weekend and I can work out all the details before we get to the race track.”
On race day itself, Troupe helps the crew chief in calling the race while also calculating fuel mileage and scanning the other race competitors frequencies.
During last year’s championship season, Troupe said his favorite moment was his team’s win at Las Vegas, as he said their late race strategy turned out to be the best.
“We were getting much better fuel mileage than we expected and a caution came out that put us right on the edge of making it to the end,” Troupe said. “We called the audible and pitted. We were able to stretch the mileage to the end of the race. It’s not commonly known but race cars do not have fuel gauges in them. When I first calculated the fuel mileage from one of our stops it was unusually high. I asked our fueler if he was sure he got the car full. He said he was, and sure enough, I got the same kind of fuel numbers on our following stop. We would have never made that call otherwise and with that win. We won the regular season points and we could carry that momentum into the playoffs. That was a pivotal win and it showed that the fastest car doesn’t always win.”
Another memorable moment of the season included winning at Bristol Motor Speedway as Troupe’s dad was in attendance.
“Bristol was the first NASCAR race, as a fan, that he took me to,” Troupe said. “It’s where I told him and his friends that I was going to be an engineer in the sport some day. They of course laughed, but it eventually happened and I was just glad that he was there. We were able to get our picture taken in victory lane with Tyler and the trophy.”
Troupe said the thing he loves the most about being in NASCAR is the competition itself.
“These are the best racers in the country and you could possibly argue the world,” he said. “Most people would say F1 is the quintessential of racing. I would say from a car technology stand point, yes, they are far superior. But when it comes to a driver, our drivers control everything on the car with the lack of onboard computers. That may make NASCAR more barbaric looking compared to F1 but it truly shows the strength of a team. Our onboard computer is the driver and the only way that we can make the car better is based off of their input. Communication is key and the human element makes it special.”
Troupe said he didn’t do much racing on his own growing up.
“Just a lot of speeding tickets,” he joked.
However, his favorite driver growing up was Jeff Gordon and he actually got to meet him in Gordon’s last season as Troupe’s former crew chief Robert “Bootie” Barker knew Gordon.
“Bootie had taken the time to introduce me to Jeff and I was able to get my picture with him,” Troupe said. “That was a pretty neat moment from the race fan side of things.”
Troupe said he will be moving back to the Cup Series after a one year hiatus with Reddick for his rookie season, as a majority of the championship winning team is moving up as well. The 23-year-old Reddick is one of the rising stars of the sport and became the first back-to-back Xfinity Series champion since Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in 2011-12. Others winning back-to-back titles there include Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“I’m definitely excited about our opportunity to compete for rookie of the year,” Troupe said. “It’s really neat to be on the ground floor with a young driver in the Cup Series. I know we will have our ups and downs but ‘Lil Buddy’ is quite the wheelman and I know that him and our team is up for the challenge.”
Troupe said after winning with Harvick in the Truck Series in 2012 and having Xfinity wins and last year’s title under his belt, the next goal is to win at the Cup level and then obviously a championship. He also said maybe someday he’d like to become a crew chief and compete in events outside of NASCAR, specifically naming the 24 Hours of LeMans.
“I would love it if I could get the opportunity to take part in that race,” Troupe said of LeMans, mentioning it occasionally falls on a NASCAR off-weekend.
For those wanting to follow the career path of Troupe, he said his biggest advice is to “be persistent.”
“Just like anything in life, if you want it, you can do it,” Troupe said. “It’s going to take a lot of time and sacrifice. Get involved and get experience.”
He said he is also extremely thankful for the support he gets back home.
“That is the great thing about this area,” Troupe said. “I have always had an amazing support system. Not only my family – immediate and extended – but everyone from the community of Mahaffey to faculty at Penn State and Purchase Line High School.”