Ia Hidden Star: /Idave Ballard
May 7, 2002 | 12:00 A.M. EST
Uh, oh. Someone is in trouble. One of those darn computers in Jeff Burton’s pit has stopped working. Or crew chief Frank Stoddard can’t hear Burton in his headset.
Something has gone wrong, and somebody better fix it. Now.
That somebody is Dave Ballard, the computer specialist and gas runner for Burton’s No. 99 Roush Racing team. Ballard, a former driver and car owner in the Northeast, is up to the task.
He’s a computer expert, handling all computer and audio/visual equipment for Burton’s team. Ballard has had lots of training in computers, for in addition to his “regular job” as Associate Director in the Office of Student Life at the University of Buffalo, Ballard owns his own consulting company, Applied Sciences Group of Buffalo, N.Y.
“Any type of computer hardware or software problems they have, I try to help them out with and take care of it,” Ballard said. “It’s constant. If there’s not a problem with it, you’re trying to change and upgrade it and go on to something new and better. There’s always something to do, it’s always changing.”
And if something does go wrong, Ballard’s name is the first one that’s shouted.
“That often happens,” Ballard said. “You lose data or you lose communications, there’s always the panic: ‘Why isn’t it there?’ Sometimes you’re not in the pit stall. That’s when they want you, when the ‘Dave!’ part comes out. ‘We lost communications. We can’t hear the driver. Change the antenna or do something because we need it right at that moment.’ ”
Ballard’s interest in computers comes from a desire to stay current for his job at the University of Buffalo. He’s taken undergraduate and graduate classes in computer software and design works with computers pretty much every day of the week.
“It’s something you had to move in to,” Ballard said. “That’s where society is going to today. Years ago, we didn’t have it. Years ago, we had a tough time using the telephone. In order to stay up with the people of today, and in order to stay with the students of today, you better know it. It seems like they get out of diapers, and they’re on the computer. If you don’t know it, you’re pretty well behind them.”
And he doesn’t want that. He wants to stay on top of both of his jobs, which he usually does since he likes them so much.
Education has been part of his life for many years. Ballard has a degree in education and a Masters in management – both from the University of Buffalo.
“It seems like I’ve never left the University of Buffalo,” Ballard said.
And he doesn’t want to any time soon. He’s been at his current job, where he oversees the student union, for seven years.
“I feel very fortunate in life because I love doing everything I do,” Ballard said. “I have a very diverse life. I love students, I love being at the university. I look forward to going there every Monday morning. And I look forward to leaving to come to the track on Thursday nights. I feel very fortunate in life to be able to do both things that are such extremes.”
Ballard has been in racing for more than 30 years, starting with driving his own cars to owning cars to working on them. He spent 15 years doing work in the Busch Series and Winston Cup Series and has been with Roush Racing for the last six years.
The worst part of his job, Ballard said, isn’t when someone yells his name. It’s having to get back so late on Sunday nights. See, Buffalo isn’t a hub airport, so he has to take some unique routes back home. For instance, from Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, he has to drive to the Greensboro, N.C. airport, fly south to Atlanta before heading north to home.
“I’ll stroll in the house about 2 o’clock in the morning,” Ballard said. “I’ll be in the office at 7:30.”
But there’s not a temptation to hit the snooze button, to take a personal day.
“I guess a lot of people do that, but I really love what I’m doing,” Ballard said. “I look forward to it. I just really enjoy it, and when you enjoy something, you can overcome a lot.”