Pay close attention to the pits during a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, and you can catch a Pennsylvania native in action as crew chief of the No. 99 Aflac Ford, driven by Carl Edwards.
Bob Osborne is a 1997 Penn State graduate; his degree is in mechanical engineering. While rooting for the Nittany Lions on football Saturdays in college, he never dreamed his career would take him to the most popular racing series in the world.
"In college I caught the racing bug", Osborne said, during a phone interview from North Carolina. "It's challenging. There's a lot of aspects to the job that no one would see if you watch a race on a TV or in the stands."
For the kid from Chester, the perch atop Carl Edwards' tool trailer on pit road might as well have been Mount Everest, so unlikely is his rise through the NASCAR ranks.
Osborne started his NASCAR crew career as a tire specialist for the now-defunct Caterpillar team. Then he was hired by one of racing's most storied programs: Roush-Fenway Racing. He worked his way up from Research and Development to Director of Engineering, before finally getting the nod as crew chief of the No. 99. He holds one of just 40 or so of the most coveted positions behind the wall in Cup racing.
"You really make the final decisions," he said. "That fulfilled what I was looking for in this position, to be the man in charge, but you still have a huge support group that works together behind the scenes to build the engines and set up the cars to go fast."
The Aflac team has been able to go very fast this season. In the last six races, they've finished no worse than seventh, taking third this past weekend at Michigan after capturing the pole position the previous week at Watkins Glen. They stand in a solid sixth place in the Race for the Chase.
"Everybody in our sport wants to be successful and win a title, but it's great to go to the race track and do what you love, and to compete each and every week."
In their travels around the country, it isn't all racing all the time. Osborne says one of his teammates is already ribbing him about the Penn State-Alabama football game coming up on Sept. 11th.
"There's a lot of rivalries, especially with Alabama fans, and not a lot of Penn State fans among us."
By the time the Lions kick it off against the Crimson Tide, the green flag will have already fallen on the final race before the Chase, with Osborne sitting in the catbird seat, once again within striking distance of his first Cup championship.
Next week, Osborne shares his thoughts on Cup competition and camaraderie as well as the Chase format and Jimmie Johnson's four-year domination of the series title.
Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at Kellie@BedfordCountyChamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.