Erie's Patrick Lyden plays key role as crew member for NASCAR Cup Series runner-up driver

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The 2002 Daytona 500 is remembered for two reasons.

It was the first one held since Dale Earnhardt, whose driving success and persona transcended NASCAR, died in a last-lap accident the year before.

It also was won by Ward Burton, a nine-year journeyman who made his debut in the sport's signature, season-opening race.

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Somewhere amid Daytona (Florida) International Speedway's mammoth crowd that day was Bill and Patrick Lyden, a father-son duo from Erie.

Bill Lyden maintained his family's auto racing roots as a driver in the legends division of the newly-opened Lake Erie Speedway, the 3/8-mile NASCAR-sanctioned track located south of North East.

Patrick Lyden, who was 9 years old at the time, would participate in races on that same paved oval several years later.

Each agreed Patrick, now 30, received his consistent need for speed during that Daytona race 20 years ago.

“I was like, 'Man, it would be cool to work in NASCAR and do this for a living,'” Patrick said. “That race fueled it.”

Pun intended or not, Patrick Lyden just completed his sixth season of full-time work for a NASCAR Cup Series crew.

It was a memorable one for the 2010 Cathedral Prep graduate.

Patrick Lyden was in charge of the tires for the No. 1 Trackhouse Racing Chevrolet driven by Ross Chastain. The six-year NASCAR veteran, who turns 30 next Sunday, finished six points out of first place in the Cup Series standings.

The title of NASCAR's best overall racer for 2022 wasn't determined until its Nov. 6 finale at Phoenix Raceway. Joey Logano, who was first to the checkered flag, also received 25 decisive series points for 5,040 overall.

Chastain, hindered by a 25th place on the starting grid, weaved his way to a third-place finish.

However, his 21 series points weren't enough for the Alva, Florida, native, Lyden and the rest of the car's crew to deny Logano, 32, his second Cup Series title.

“We were really close this year,” Patrick Lyden said. “(Second place) fuels our fire to be one spot better in the standings and get it next year.”

Life near the fast lane

Patrick Lyden's parents didn't attend any Cup races in person this year.

Don't think for a second, though, they weren't enthusiastically along for the ride throughout the series' 36 official events.

Bill Lyden, a director for Erie's Burton Quinn-Scott Cremation & Funeral Services Inc., and his wife Renee followed every race on television or online.

Bill Lyden was reminded by a reporter about his comments in a 2005 Erie Times-News article.

In it, he commented that although he shared a love of auto racing with his son, he didn't anticipate it would evolve beyond their shared laps at LES for either.

Now, Bill Lyden is elated how his son's NASCAR job has proved him extremely wrong.

“We've always enjoyed racing so, yeah, this has been a fun ride,” he said. “For Patrick to be able to work in the Cup Series for six years is pretty cool. He's put in long hours, there's no doubt about that. Now, he's with the number two team in NASCAR.”

Patrick Lyden's immediate career path was largely established when he enrolled at Belmont Abbey College. The private school is located in suburban Charlotte, North Carolina, the heart of NASCAR country.

Belmont Abbey has long served as a de facto training school for those who seek to make some aspect of stock car racing their livelihood. Lyden graduated there in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in motorsports management.

The school's status as a NASCAR feeder program paid off for Lyden, who worked with several crews ahead of his current role with Trackhouse. Most notably, he was a former employee of Wood Brothers Racing.

Founded by Leonard Wood and the late Glen Wood in 1950, their team is NASCAR's oldest still in existence.

Patrick Lyden signed with Trackhouse Racing last November. The team, which joined the Cup circuit in 2020, is owned by former NASCAR driver Justin Marks and Armando Christian Perez, who's known better as the Latin rapper Pitbull.

Daniel Suarez is Trackhouse's other driver. The first Mexican-born driver to win a Cup race finished 10th (2,272 points) in the final standings in 2022.

Patrick Lyden said the majority of his work takes place weekdays, rather than race day. His regular duties include constant measurements of Chastain's tires, setting the air pressure in each, putting them in specific sets for the engineers to inspect and discussions with crew chief Phil Surgen about the order of tires they want added to Chastain's car throughout races.

However, Lyden is still active once the green flag dropped. He was responsible for signaling where Chastain needed to pull in for pit stops by hanging the team's No. 1 sign over designated space.

He also caught front-end tires that were tossed his way by over-the-wall crew members.

Lyden likes to remind himself how vital his work is to Chastain's success.

“When the car is on the track,” he said, “the only place where it's in contact with it is in four spots. I always think about that.”

Diverse wins and a near-miss

Some of the tires Lyden tended to helped Chastain claim two NASCAR victories on diverse tracks this season.

Chastain won one of the series' few road-course events on March 27. A last-lap surge left him first for the EchoPark Automotive Grand Prix in Austin, Texas.

Chastain also won at one of NASCAR's old-school tracks less than one month later. He only led one lap during the GEICO 500, held at Talladega (Alabama) Superspeedway's 2½-mile oval.

Fortunately for him, it was the last one.

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“That was my first Cup win (at Austin) and a lot of the guys on the team's first win, as well,” Patrick Lyden said. “It was definitely one I'll never forget.

“And Talladega was pretty wild itself. (The cars) got scattered on the last lap and no one knew what was going on. Next thing, you looked up and your car was crossing the finish line first.”

Chastain was consistent enough to qualify for the series' original 16-driver playoff format, which began in early September. He survived its cuts to 12 and then eight.

Logano arrived at the Nov. 6 finale in Phoenix with 5,014 points to Chastain's 5,013.

The problem for Chastain, though, was after their qualifying laps. Logano was on the pole, while Chastain started 25th.

Patrick Lyden said he was still too locked in to his pit duties to be overly tense as the race progressed. But his parents, who followed it from home in Erie, were nervous.

“Oh, we were a wreck,” Bill Lyden said. “We needed those blood pressure cuffs on us a few times. I still thought Ross had a shot at (winning) but, when you're starting 25th, the hole was dug right there.”

The outcome at Phoenix made Patrick Lyden appreciate how Chastain was able to win two NASCAR races this year, let alone one.

“Most guys don't know when their first win is going to come,” he said, “and most guys don't know when their last win is going to come. You've got to cherish them.”

Patrick Lyden, left, and his father, Bill, pose in a 2009 photo after Patrick won a Whelen All-American Series race in their No. 21 Legends car. Patrick Lyden, who graduated from Cathedral Prep the following year, has worked in NASCAR for the past six years. He was in charge of tires for the No. 1 car driven by Ross Chastain during the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series. Chastain finished second in the overall standings.

'A normal guy who's living out his dream'

Had Chastain passed Logano to become this year's Cup Series champ, it would have bracketed an unprecedented week of joy for the Lyden family.

The Phoenix race was held Nov. 6. Five days later, Patrick Lyden married his fiancee, Lauren.

He was one of two Trackhouse pit crew members who tied the knot the same day.

Patrick Lyden will have roughly two months off before he's back to full-time work in the crew's Concord, North Carolina, garage. Although the 2023 Daytona 500 won't take place until Feb. 19, preparations for NASCAR's signature race start in earnest in mid-January.

Patrick Lyden has received no indication from Marks or Surgen if he'll be assigned to another role on Chastain's crew. Which is fine with the former Lake Erie Speedway regular.

“I'm really happy with what I do and where I'm doing it at,” he said. “I just try to think of myself as a normal guy who's living out his dream.”

Contact Mike Copper at Follow him on Twitter @ETNcopper.

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This article originally appeared on Erie Times-News: NASCAR Cup Series: Cathedral Prep grad Lyden crew member for Chastain