Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition training report

Training regimens for pit crew members revolutionize NASCAR pit stops. Rockingham, N.C. - Each year at the Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition the times get quicker and the mistakes get fewer. The preparation Winston Cup pit crews go...

Training regimens for pit crew members revolutionize NASCAR pit stops.

Rockingham, N.C. - Each year at the Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition the times get quicker and the mistakes get fewer. The preparation Winston Cup pit crews go through on a weekly basis likely escalates in the weeks leading up to the Union 76 World Pit Crew Competition, but the ways in which they train are much different than they were 10 years ago.

Pitstop for Matt Kenseth.
Photo by NPStudios.

In order to keep up with the level of competition on the track, teams use pit road to gain an edge on the competition.  Teams now employ personal trainers and incorporate mandatory training regimens into their list of weekly responsibilities ranging from strength and conditioning exercises to nutritional and visualization techniques.   

"It's become serious business on pit road," said Phil Horton, athletic trainer for the No. 88 Robert Yates Ford.  "Strength and endurance is what we're ultimately trying to achieve because it's a long season.  We use an off-season conditioning program, a pre-season conditioning and an in-season program for the crew members with each program consisting of different exercises."

The object of the pit stop remains the same, but the efficiency and speed at which they are performed today has changed.  While many of the crew members on pit road have remained the same over the years, how they approach their job has changed.

"I came from a very regimented program playing college football at Stanford University," said Andy Papathanassiou, athletic director for Hendrick Motorsports.  "We had a separate coach for everything and it's not like we just followed one guy around.  We were handed off among groups of people depending upon what we were after.

"The athletic department mentality is what I wanted to bring to racing.  Early on it was just me, and I made up the entire athletic department. But today we have one guy who does strength and conditioning and two coaches."

Pitstop for Terry Labonte.
Photo by NPStudios.

"One coach oversees pit stops for two of our Winston Cup teams and the other coaches pit stops for our other two teams.  They handle the traditional items like practices, videotapes and choreography.  My role as the athletic director is to bring it all together and make sure our personnel in the department maintain a tight and consistent philosophy."

A 36-race season, weekly travel and long hours in the shop don't appear to be very conducive to a training regimen, but Papathanasiou has helped the Hendrick Motorsports teams make it work.

"The crew chiefs understand the importance of the pit stops and how practice feeds into it.  For us, it's not like we have to fight for their time.  We get a certain amount of time barring any sort of special circumstances.

"On average we get the guys for training a couple of hours a day.  They're either with our strength coach doing strength and conditioning activities or performing flexibility and injury prevention exercises."

Pitstop for Ward Burton.
Photo by Bobby Hainline.

Teams today are also doing more with less on pit road. Several years ago NASCAR allowed eight crew members over the wall and three of them were tire changers each yielding their own air gun.  Today teams are only allowed seven crew members over the wall and only two air guns.  As the number of crew members over the wall decreased, so have the lengths of the pit stops.

Today's pit stops are rehearsed during the week at pit stop practices and are transformed into perfectly choreographed and very efficient works of art on Sunday. Horton, who served as an NBA trainer before entering the NASCAR ranks, offers a new perspective to pit stops and the agility needed to make them quick.

"I like to start with each individual's footwork and how they get around the car," Horton said.  "We do a lot of footwork drills to get the guys to feel comfortable running around the car.  Once they're comfortable with getting around the car we progress to more job-specific training techniques for each crew member."

Races are won and lost on pit road every week and the difference between leaving the pits in first place or 10th place is measured by tenths-of-a-second.  The pressure to perform can be a lot to deal with when the race is on line, but proper preparation builds confidence, which in turn builds champions.

Pitstop for Jimmy Spencer.
Photo by NPStudios.

"We use visualization techniques as a component of our program to help in developing the repetition process and to help the guys focus and deal with the task at hand," said Papathanassiou.

The quest for superiority on pit road will culminate on November 2, 2002, as NASCAR's best pit crews compete head-to-head in the 35th annual Union 76/Rockingam World Pit Crew Competition. The competition will follow the NASCAR Busch Series event, with an approximate start time of 3:30 p.m.

Children 12 and under will be admitted FREE to the General Admission section for Qualifying on Friday and Saturday's Sam's Club 200 and Union 76/Rockingham World Pit Crew Competition when accompanied by a ticketed adult. Tickets may be purchased by calling the North Carolina Speedway ticket office at (910) 582-2861 or by visiting us online at Telephone operator hours for North Carolina Speedway are Monday - Friday, 8:00 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. and Saturday - Sunday 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

Get your tickets now and don't miss "Solid Racing at The Rock".... there's nothing else like it.


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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Ward Burton , Matt Kenseth , Terry Labonte , Jimmy Spencer , Robert Yates
Teams Hendrick Motorsports