Ryan Pemberton, who spent 23 years as a crew chief in the NASCAR National Series ranks, and served as the Competition Director for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for 10 years, has passed away at the age of 54.
The first public report of Pemberton’s death came from Boris Said, who drove four NASCAR Cup Series races with Pemberton atop the pit box. In an Instagram post on Sunday evening, Said posted a photo of Pemberton, which was accompanied by a caption.
“Lost a great human being today, even better father and husband, have so many great memories driving and laughing with Ryan, RIP my friend,” the caption on Said’s post stated.
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On Monday, The Scene Vault Podcast posted the following update on social media, which states that Pemberton – scheduled to be the interview guest on the podcast starting this week — passed away very suddenly on Sunday.
I am absolutely and without reservation in shock right now. Ryan Pemberton … our interview guest scheduled to start with this week's episode … died very suddenly yesterday.
I'd already posted the completed episode on Patreon before I got the news a couple of hours ago.… pic.twitter.com/ynDdCvVDLp
— The Scene Vault Podcast (@TheSceneVault) January 15, 2024
Later in the afternoon, Kelley Earnhardt-Miller, co-owner of JR Motorsports – the organization in which Pemberton spent a decade working – released a statement on the passing of the team’s former Competition Director, which reads:
“Ryan was instrumental to JR Motorsports’ success during the decade he spent with us. He had such a passion for competition and, as a leader, knew how to motivate everyone he worked with. He will always be part of the JRM family. Our hearts go out to his wife Andrea and daughters Payton and Britton during this tremendously difficult time.”
Pemberton Was a True Grinder, Who Clawed His Way Through The Ranks
Pemberton, a native of Saratoga Springs, New York, had his first stint as a crew chief in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 1995 with Martin Motorsports and driver Larry Pearson. In that first season atop the pit box, Pemberton guided Pearson to two wins, and the duo finished sixth in the NASCAR Xfinity Series point standings.
In 1997 Pemberton made the jump to the NASCAR Cup Series for the upstart MB2 Motorsports team, where he would stay through the 1999 season. At MB2, Pemberton served as the crew chief for Derrike Cope, Ricky Craven, Ernie Irvan, Jerry Nadeau and Dick Trickle.
Pemberton moved to the Jasper Motorsports team from 2000 to 2002, where he turned the wrenches for Robert Pressley, Said, and Dave Blaney.
In 2003, Pemberton returned to MB2 Motorsports, where he was paired with Jerry Nadeau and the No. 01 U.S. Army team. After Nadeau suffered a career-ending injury in a practice crash at Richmond, the 11th race of the season, Pemberton worked with Joe Nemechek, Said, Mike Skinner, and Mike Wallace through the balance of the season.
In 2004, Pemberton would score the first NASCAR Cup Series win of his career with Joe Nemechek and the No. 01 MB2 Motorsports team at Kansas Speedway. Nemechek led 41 laps from the pole and took home the win.
Pemberton remained the crew chief for the No. 01 team through the sale to Bobby Ginn in 2007.
The crew chief would move to Michael Waltrip Racing for the 2008 season, and he would find his footing with Red Bull Racing in 2009, where he would score his second and final NASCAR Cup Series win, this time with Brian Vickers at Michigan International Speedway.
Pemberton finished up his NASCAR Cup Series crew chief career with Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2012, and he began his tenure with JR Motorsports that same season in the NASCAR Xfinity Series as the crew chief for Danica Patrick in seven races.
Pemberton would serve as the competition director for the JR Motorsports team from 2012 until his departure in 2022, and he would also serve as crew chief in several one-off events. However, Pemberton did run the full schedule with Regan Smith in the 2014 NASCAR Xfinity Series season.
Together, Pemberton and Smith won a race and recorded seven top-five finishes, 26 top-10s, and finished runner-up in the championship standings.
Overall, Pemberton served as a crew chief for 637 races combined in the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series ranks over a 23-year career. In that time, he recorded five victories, 39 top-five finishes, and 135 top-10s.
In his 10-year run as the competition director of JR Motorsports, the team scored three NASCAR Xfinity Series championships (2014, 2017, and 2018) and the race team racked up an impressive 58 victories.