Melling Racing's Brian Perry feature

BRIAN PERRY (Pit crew coach, jackman No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T with driver Stacy Compton) NOTE: Perry is a 30-year-old native of Madison Heights, Mich. He's been with Melling Racing for a year and works as a shop mechanic during the ...

BRIAN PERRY (Pit crew coach, jackman No. 92 Kodiak Dodge Intrepid R/T with driver Stacy Compton)

NOTE: Perry is a 30-year-old native of Madison Heights, Mich. He's been with Melling Racing for a year and works as a shop mechanic during the week. He also works with the pit crew three times a week on pit stops and conditioning and has resorted to some creative methods to find potential pit crew members.

Some teams have changed as many crew members as engines this season. An experienced over-the-wall crew member's stock has risen faster than an over-the-counter IPO. The single-car teams, a vanishing breed on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, have found it tough to compete with the bigger outfits for experienced crewmen. Perry talks about competing with multi-car teams and how difficult it is to find and keep quality pit crew members.

"Most of the good guys who have been working on pit crews for four or five years have gone with the big teams like Gibbs and Yates and Hendrick. Some of those guys are really good, and make I'd say make between $700-$1,200 on Sundays. They're guaranteed that kind of money if their car makes a lap or not. If they get off the plane and their car doesn't complete the first lap, they still get paid. Quality pit crew guys can make good money. A Busch team has paid me $500 just to be the jackman on their car. Most of the pit crew guys are Weekend Warriors, but some of them work at the shop full-time, too.

"The ones who don't work at the shop usually have good, secure full-time jobs. We put a want ad in (NASCAR) Winston Cup Scene for pit crew guys. I went around to fire departments and police departments looking for guys who were doing what they wanted to do during the week but wouldn't mind making a few extra bucks and having some fun at the same time on weekends. I'd say 90 percent of the policemen and firemen like what they're doing, and you know they're going to be in fairly good shape.

"Some of them came out and watched our pit practice, but so far no one has wanted to pursue it. Most of them say they're glad they came out and saw what it was all about, and then they say, 'thanks, but no thanks.'

"A person has to have a high desire to win to work on a pit crew. We've probably been through eight or 10 changes on our pit crew this year, but I think we've finally got it where it needs to be. Chad (crew chief Knaus) has been changing front tires the past couple of races, and that's not what he should be doing, even though he's really good at it. He used to be one of the Rainbow Warriors, and he's a great tire changer. He's got pit crew championship rings, but he needs to stay on the wall and see who is and who isn't pitting. He needs to be up on the box overseeing everything that's going on. We're going to have Shane Westenburg back at Daytona to change the front tires. He's been off a couple of weeks, but he's coming back and hopefully we'll be able to leave everything intact for the rest of the season.

"We won the pole at Talladega and had a real fast car. We ran great for 60 or 70 laps, and then we had a shock problem. At that time, our front tire carrier was our shock guy. Mentally, he was messed up the rest of the day wondering what had happened to the shock. That's why we like to have separate guys on the pit crew. If the hood flies off the car, they won't wonder if it's their fault because they'll know it's not. They have no responsibility for preparing the car. The road crew guys are there ready to go if they need to, but the pit crew guys are there just to pit the car.

"I've been involved with Late Model cars and dirt cars my whole life. I finally felt I was good enough to race with the big boys, so I moved down from Michigan and went to work. I work at the shop Monday through Friday. I'm off on Saturday and then get going about 4 a.m. on Sundays to come to the track on the race day express. I'd say 10 or more teams ride it (one-day chartered plane to the races), and if we're not sleeping while we're on it, we're laughing and talking and getting to know other crew members. It helps a lot of guys from other teams get closer together. It's not like football or basketball teams that hate each other. It really helps develop friendships.

"I sort of fell into the pit crew coach role. I've worked out all my life and have always been in good shape. Physical preparation is important, but the mental aspect of the job is the key. We work on pit crew practice three times a week on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We do six pit stops each time. We'll stretch and warm up for 15 minutes or so before we start practice and then work out on weights for 30-45 minutes after we finish.

"We make wedge adjustments, whatever we need to do during the race on a pit stop, in practice. We try to simulate a real pit stop as closely as possible. It's all hand-eye coordination. You have to be totally focused. You could take someone out of the stands and let them try to change a tire and they would hit everything but the lugnuts. There are so many things to do, and you have to do it so fast, there's just no room for error.

"You change the right-side tires in six or six and a half seconds, and you're dealing with 20 lugnuts -- 10 off and 10 on. It takes a lot of agility. We had some good stops at Sears Point last week. You might see some teams bust off a 13.8-second stop ever so often, but it's rare. Everything has to be perfect. You can't stumble or miss a lugnut or bobble the tires. I've told our guys that if they can knock off consistent 15-second stops, they'll be fine. You'll get beat with that 13.8-second stop, but you might leave the lugnuts loose on that 13.8-second stop and the wheel might fall off. If a driver is out there going 200 mph and his wheel falls off, it'll scare him to death and ruin the car. A clean 15-second stop will do it.

"We practice 13-second stops all the time. Practice is a free-for-all and you can really unwind. We don't have any officials watching us in practice. When you get to the track and perform under pressure, you're in a different state of mind. If you're running in the top five and you come in for the last stop, that's really a pressure-cooker situation. That's when you find out how mentally tough you are under pressure.

"I think our guys are mentally strong enough to handle the pressure. I look at it as play time. When you come off that wall with 200,000 people watching and you know every one of them would like to be in your shoes or think they'd like to be in your shoes, you can't help getting a rush.

"It's a complete adrenalin rush to tell you the truth. I almost got run over on a pit stop last week at Sears Point, and I didn't even know the car was near me. You have no clue of what's going on around you because you're that focused on what you're doing. You have to have that winning attitude and a high desire to compete.

"We didn't get to make the trip to Michigan for the race because our car didn't qualify. That kind of breaks down the guys. It's a negative thing and leaves an ugly taste in your mouth. Everybody in the shop works so hard to get the car ready to race. You get down, but you have to keep your chin up, and that's a big part of my job, making sure the guys don't get down or stay down. When you miss the show, it hurts everyone's pride. Chad warned us at the beginning of the season that we might not make every race. He told us we were basically a new team with the new Dodge and things like that were going to happen. You can't live in that ugly mood. There's a lot more races left this season, and you just try to get ready for the next week.

"If your car gets taken out, especially on the last lap like at Sears Point last week, that makes you angry. This is a professional sport and you can't go running after the other guy's pit crew with a jack hammer. You feel for your driver, and you know he's hurting for the team because he understands the hours everyone puts in to get the car ready to race. The average fan doesn't understand the hours everyone puts in in a week to get the car ready to race.

"Our team has learned to cope with the tough times. We've won a pole this season and qualified second for the Daytona 500, but we've got only one top-10 finish. Guys are exactly knocking the doors down to work for us, but as we improve and the team climbs up in the standings, we'll attract more and more quality people.

"We have one of the best drivers in the business to work with. Stacy Compton probably has us all spoiled. We get to spend a lot more time with our driver than most of the other guys do. Drivers who are running up front every week might see their pit crews just on Sunday morning or just get to hear him on the headset during the race. We all get to spend time with Stacy. If he has enough time and we're at the track soon enough, he might go out go-karting with us at time or take us to dinner or something like that. And no matter how bad of a race we might have on Sunday, he'll congratulate each one of us on the pit crew after the race. That makes it all worthwhile. That's what all the training and practice and work is all about.

"We'd like to get that first win for Dodge. We might not be the team to do it, but we're not going to be satisfied until we do win and then we won't be satisfied until we win again."

DODGE GARAGE NOTES -- Sterling Marlin, driver of the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T, will celebrate his 44th birthday on Saturday. The Franklin, Tenn., native leads the way for Dodge this season with five top five and nine top 10 finishes. He's ranked fifth in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings after 16 of 36 races and is itching to get back to Daytona for the Pepsi 400 on July 7. In 38 career starts at Daytona, Marlin has three wins, 11 top five and 18 top 10 finishes. He started third and finished seventh in the 2001 Daytona 500...Ward Burton, driver of the No. 22 Caterpillar Dodge Intrepid R/T, finished sixth last week at Sears Point and jumped four spots in the series standings. Burton is now 19th heading to Daytona. Burton finished 35th in the 2001 Daytona 500 but led the most laps. Burton's Dodge ran out front nine times for 53 laps before getting caught up in an accident on lap 173 of 200...Burton's car owner, Bill Davis, will return to the track at Daytona. It'll be Davis' first appearance since May at Charlotte. He's been recuperating from kidney stones....Bill Elliott, driver of the No. 9 Dodge Dealers Dodge Intrepid R/T, has finished ninth in two of the last three races and moved from 19th to 17th in the series standings. Elliott won the pole and finished fifth in the 2001 Daytona 500.

- Dodge Motorsports

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Bill Elliott , Sterling Marlin , Stacy Compton