Marcos Castro was a Ryan tennis player looking to plot a course for college and beyond. The school’s guidance counselors weren’t sure how to help.
“I want a career in motor sports,” he told them. “I got a couple of laughs. It’s in the ballpark of ‘I want to be an astronaut.’
“We can’t really advise you,” Castro said the counselors told him, so he figured it out on his own.
Castro knew where he wanted to end up. On three years of tennis trips down Interstate 35W, he looked west and saw Texas Motor Speedway dominating the north Fort Worth landscape.
“I would just stare at it,” he said of the 1 1/2-mile track, admittedly focusing on something other than tennis. “I was not any good. I was playing mostly for fun.”
Castro is still having fun, but now he has the career he sought after graduating from Ryan in 2006. He’s a shock specialist for HScott Motorsports, and Michael Annett will drive the No. 46 Chevrolet that Castro works on in tonight’s Duck Commander 500 at TMS.
Kevin Harvick leads the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings by 24 points over Joey Logano, who is the defending winner of the race.
On Friday, Kurt Busch won the pole for today’s race with a lap of 193.847 mph. Annett qualified 28th at 191.53, and Chris Buescher of Prosper will start 40th.
Shock absorbers, springs and the rest of a car’s suspension determine how the car handles and how far it sits off the ground — in motion and while sitting still. Castro helps decide which suspension components the car is going to need for the next track, travels with the team to each race and then assesses the equipment once it returns to the shop.
“It’s pretty fast-paced. You definitely don’t have a lot of downtime,” he said in a recent telephone interview.
Castro said he was born in Dallas but didn’t stay there long.
“Immediately my parents wanted to move out of the area,” Castro said. “I was less than 1 year old.”
The Castros settled in Denton, where Marcos attended Hodge Elementary School and Strickland Middle School. He said they were a sports-oriented family, with his father exposing them to various sports.
“It wasn’t until he took us to our first NASCAR race,” Castro said of the TMS debut in 1997. “I think I was 8.
“He could tell. He looked over — I absolutely loved it.”
Castro was hooked on racing and wanted a souvenir.
“Everything out there was too expensive, so we ended up stopping at Winn-Dixie and bought my first stock car,” he said. “The opening of Texas Motor Speedway and me going to my first race — that’s what got my foot into motor sports.”
After high school, Castro went to North Central Texas College in Corinth but also wanted some hands-on experience.
“I walked into J & M Automotive in Denton,” he said of a garage owned by church friend Bobby Turney. “Would it be all right if I just walk in and help out?” Castro asked.
“I definitely needed to improve on my mechanical skills. At the time, that was the only idea I had,” he said.
Castro finished up at NCTC and landed an internship at TMS in the summer of 2008. There, he was advised to move to North Carolina if he was serious about a career in NASCAR, and to have a backup plan — because he could “swing for the fences” of a sports career and still be OK if it didn’t work out.
Castro enrolled at North Carolina-Charlotte but said he basically had to start his college career over because his NCTC credits didn’t transfer the way he had planned. He graduated with a mechanical engineering degree in 2013.
Castro said he started an engineering internship at Turner Scott Motorsports in August 2013. He worked on data acquisition systems and learned to build shocks for the team, which fielded entries in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series.
At the beginning of the 2014 season, Castro said, an engineer at Front Row Motorsports called him and offered an entry-level position. The Sprint Cup team was looking for someone with shock knowledge and was willing to provide training.
Castro spent most of last season working on the No. 38 Ford driven by David Gilliland. The team won the pole for the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona. Castro said he moved to the No. 34 Ford of teammate David Ragan for about the last 10 races of the season.
Castro was settling in for a second season at Front Row when he received a call from Jay Guy, who had been a crew chief there but had taken the same job at HScott. The organization was expanding to two full-time Cup cars and assembling a team for Annett with the Daytona 500 just weeks away.
Castro said he spends Tuesdays and Wednesdays working at the race shop. He helps unload the car hauler, taking inventory of springs and other parts. He breaks down shocks and cleans them, checking for any failures that may have occurred. The shocks are tested using a dynamometer.
“It produces a graph that shows what that shock is capable of doing,” he said.
He said the team also uses a pull-down rig that simulates the forces exerted on the car during a race. It causes the suspension parts to move, allowing the team to check in-motion clearances while the car is stationary.
One of the final post-race tasks is rebuilding the shocks.
“We’ll bring it in; we’ll put new shock fluid in it. When we’re done with it, it’s like a brand-new shock,” Castro said.
Finally, it’s time to prepare for the upcoming race.
“The engineers will come to me with a list of springs. I hand them those springs,” Castro said.
Castro and veteran shock specialist Tim Lambert then write a report on what the car will need. They specify a baseline shock package as well as optional packages in case the driver reports loose or tight handling characteristics.
“Working with Marcos has been refreshing,” Lambert wrote in an email. “The NASCAR schedule is long and can get the best of you if you don't have the right attitude. Marcos is full of energy and has a passion for learning, so he’s a pleasure to work with.”
Castro said Lambert got his start building shocks for Indy cars.
“He’s done a really good job taking me under his wing,” Castro said. “I think he won the Indy 500 four times with Penske Racing.”
Back at the track by Friday, a new set of tasks emerges for Castro.
“He will set up the scales used to weigh and measure the car during practice,” Lambert said. “After that his main responsibility is to make sure the shocks, springs and bump stops are ready for use. There are sometimes many different packages we will run through during practice, so it can be quite stressful making sure you have everything organized and ready.
“He will meet with his crew chief, race engineer and driver after practice sessions and discuss the handling of the race car and how he can help to improve performance.”
Castro said he especially wants his car to perform at TMS.
“It definitely has a lot more meaning,” he said. “It’s something I can see and recognize as my start.”
Castro said he met Jeff Gordon when he was a child and that he was his favorite driver. Gordon is the only driver who has started all 28 Cup races in Fort Worth, and this will be his final full-time season in the series.
“That car we bought at Winn-Dixie on the way home was a No. 24 rainbow paint scheme die-cast,” Castro said.
Castro said the excitement of a home race is in full swing as the team’s plane descends on Denton County.
“It sends a chill up my spine,” he said. “I can see my house. I can see Ryan, the town Square.”
MATT CRIDER can be reached at 940-566-6906.