“Big” Ed Watkins enjoying victory lane during crazy NASCAR season

“I grew up wanting to play ECU football. I value Pirate football. I bleed Purple and Gold. I value Eastern North Carolina. I love Eastern North Carolina.”
Updated: Jun. 16, 2020 at 6:44 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - Denny Hamlin picked up his 40th Cup Series victory Sunday at Homestead-Miami, tying him with Mark Martin for 19th on the all-time NASCAR Cup Series wins list. Hamlin currently leads the Cup Series with three wins in 2020, and helping him on pit road is former ECU football player, “Big” Ed Watkins.

NASCAR’s pit road is chalk full of Pirates, four to be exact. Watkins started the trend more than 20 years ago.

Watkins is currently the gas man for Denny Hamlin and Joe Gibbs racing.

“I grew up wanting to play ECU football," said Watkins Tuesday during a FaceTime interview with WITN Sports’ Tyler Feldman. "I value Pirate football. I bleed Purple and Gold. I value Eastern North Carolina. I love Eastern North Carolina.”

After winning the Daytona 500 back in mid-February, COVID-19 forced NASCAR to slam on the brakes.

But after six weeks off, Watkins and company won at Darlington in mid-May.

“It’s so good to be back to the race track," said Watkins. "NASCAR is doing an incredible, great job with getting us back, getting us going again with racing.”

Then just this past weekend, Hamlin shrugged off his third win of the season.

“Hey, we’re back to racing," added Watkins. “Life is great. Car is running good. We got our third win of the season.”

Watkins says you have to respect NASCAR’s ability to safely re-start its engine.

“Whatever it takes for us to be able to race, that is the big thing," said Watkins. "The mask to me is like a big block diesel engine sticking a sock in the intake manifold. I need air. But I can also deal with being at the races and understanding that that’s how we have to operate.”

But luckily for Watkins, he learned how to deal with that extra heat while at ECU.

“When you grow up in Eastern North Carolina, playing Pirate football, and you’re in August in three-a-day camp, you get heat trained really quick. When you play football and go through three-a-day camp in Eastern North Carolina, I think you can make it through about anything.”

NASCAR heads to Talladega Speedway this weekend.

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