EVOLUTION OF THE PIT STOP: Today's Crews Filled With Athletes (This is the fourth and final story in the four-part series dealing with how the pit stop has evolved in stock car racing over the past 60 years. Presented by TUMS, the number one ...
EVOLUTION OF THE PIT STOP: Today's Crews Filled With Athletes
(This is the fourth and final story in the four-part series dealing with how the pit stop has evolved in stock car racing over the past 60 years. Presented by TUMS, the number one antacid in America, award-winning motorsports writer Ben White chronicles the changes that have made a pit stop an art form and the people responsible for that transformation.).
Photo Credit: Michael Waltrip Racing; AutoStock
In today's intense motorsports world known as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, starting grids are comprised of 43 drivers competing in 36 points-paying events on 22 short tracks, road courses and superspeedways across the country. The level of competition is closer in 2010 than at any other time in NASCAR's 62-year history.
NASCAR drivers are considered some of the most talented. They put their skills to the test lap after lap in hopes of gaining an edge on the race track. So equal are the Toyotas, Chevrolets, Fords and Dodges in Sprint Cup racing that in many cases, a team's best way of gaining positions comes down to seconds gained from precision stops on pit road.
From where do these special individuals who perform those incredible 12-second stops come? Mostly from family backgrounds that span generations, college degrees in mechanical engineering, professional sports, and past careers as short-track drivers and crewmen. Through those doors entered the people that hold jobs in NASCAR's most coveted arena of racing.
Unlike stock car racing's previous eras, today's crew members are highly specialized at their jobs. The No. 00 Michael Waltrip Racing crew showed their best work recently when they helped David Reutimann score a victory July 11 in the TUMS Toyota at Chicagoland Speedway.
In NASCAR, the crew chief is the leader of the pit crew and viewed as a head coach of sorts, as all decisions pertaining to car construction, chassis set-ups and race strategy is his responsibility. He also is in contact with the team's pit crew coach regarding the pit stops, the crew members' nutrition and their workout programs.
The car chief is in charge of scheduling day-to-day car preparations at the shop prior to the race weekend. He also makes certain the car being used on any given weekend meets all of NASCAR's inspection requirements and oversees changes to the car requested by the crew chief or team engineer.
The jackman slides the jack under each side of the car to lift it high enough so tires can be replaced. He also pulls off the old right-rear tire after the rear tire changer loosens the lug nuts. When the stop is complete, he drops the jack to signal the driver to leave the pit.
The two tire carriers bring new tires over the pit wall and guide each wheel onto the studs on the hub. They must stay in contact with the old tires as they are being taken to the wall. The front-tire carrier is usually responsible for pulling the front fenders away from the tire if necessary. He may also be responsible for cleaning the car's grille and adding or removing tape from it during a pit stop in order to adjust the car's front end for more down force or to help lower engine temperature.
The rear-tire carrier may also make changes to the rear track bar and/or wedge unless done by the catch can man.
Don Marvel, the rear-tire carrier for the No. 00 TUMS team, has his eyes constantly moving during a stop, because there's a lot to do in a very short amount of time.
"I run out with the rear tire, put the right rear on the car, take off the right rear that's already on the car and bring it back to pit wall," Marvel says. b^0x001cThen I go to the left side and put the left rear tire on. I also take care of chassis adjustments with a wedge wrench. I might also serve the driver water or an ice pack if it's a hot day."
The front- and rear-tire changers remove the lug nuts and the old tires and tighten the new tires' five lug nuts to hold the wheels in place.
Eric Maycroft, the team's rear-tire changer, prepares for race day long before the green flag waves.
"The main preparation for actually changing tires comes during the week," Maycroft explains. b^0x001cWe practice four times per week and we look at film on Mondays and work out on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. That's when we get the bulk of our workout. Ten or 15 minutes before the race, we have a (stationary) hub (mounted to the pit wagon) that we hit (for practice).
"Track position is everything. If you get behind one or two guys, that's one or two spots you can pick up on pit road. That just gets us that much closer to the front. Seeing spots gained on pit road gives you the best feeling. That keeps the driver's confidence up and keeps the team pumped up."
NASCAR champion Dale Jarrett always enjoyed great pit stops when he was driving.
"If you can pick up one or two spots, you can conquer the world," Jarrett says. b^0x001cYou show a different side driving and the crew gets excited. So that makes the next stop better. It's such a huge boost to your confidence and mental attitude if you come in fifth and you can hold that spot or gain one. So it's kind of like a revolving door where you can continue to improve and move forward.
"On the other side of that, if you work your tail off on the race track and maybe you've worked hard to get to fifth and you go back out 10th, you realize how close the competition is. In that situation, you're going to use up your car getting back to where you were. So it can go both ways."
Rounding out the pit stop, the gasman fills the car with 18 gallons of fuel; while the catch can man catches any fuel overflow in a small container. He also holds the empty can while the gasman secures and fills the car with the second gas can while the left-side tires are being changed. When the catch can starts to fill, the catch can man signals the jackman there's enough fuel in the car.
"It's very rewarding when you have a really good pit stop," says Jeff Seaberg, catch can man for the No. 00 TUMS team. b^0x001cWhen the car leaves the box, you know right away if it was a good stop or not. You're sort of depending on everyone else on the team. We all count on each other to get at the right spot at the right time. We know who is where and what we're doing. We sort of have a playbook.
"The thrill of going over the wall is just the accomplishments of pulling off the perfect play. If the driver behind us goes long, I would be the guy to get hit because I'm standing between the two race cars. But that's the last thing on your mind when you're out there because you're concentrating on the stop. I catch access fuel, but I also make physical adjustments to the race car. I'm also worried about being positioned so I can turn rounds on the track bar or doing wedge adjustments left or right depending on what we need. For me, my surroundings are pretty much irrelevant. Once you go over the wall, you do your job. We train and run through this so much; your internal clock tells you where you're at."
Finally, NASCAR regulations dictate that only seven individuals can go over the wall to service a race car during a pit stop. Crews are allowed only two impact wrenches, one jack, and two cans of gasoline on pit road. Other tools may be used if needed, but in the event major work is needed, the car must be repaired in the garage.
NASCAR occasionally allows an eighth man over the wall to help with special circumstances pertaining to the driver, but he may not make any other adjustments on the car.
Ray Evernham, former crew chief for Hendrick Motorsports and former Sprint Cup team owner, has seen pit stops evolve into the art form that exist today.
"The Wood Brothers sort of had the patent on making a fast pit stop," Evernham says. "Those guys really came up with the idea. What we did at Hendrick Motorsports was improve on that and take it to the next level. What the teams have done in 2010 is take it to the next level again.
"Now they've taken that idea well into the future. Everyone has a trainer. Everyone has someone in sports medicine. They watch all kinds of film. They've got computer layovers. They can count the number of steps with people and they have back-up teams. Now the technology and the tools and the development of the human body just keep making those pit stops get faster and faster. And it's way more critical now because the cars are so closely matched and so closely competitive."
-source: tums racing