NASCAR races are fought as closely down in pit lane as they are out on track, with fractions of a second often all that separates the cars. With a field of up to 40 cars racing just inches from each other and the difficulty of overtaking on track ever-present in a dense pack of competitors, a quick, clean pit stop can be exactly what a driver needs to gain track position.
The seconds that can be gained from a rapid pit-stop are remarkably difficult to emulate in the wheel-to-wheel action on the track. Thus drivers rely heavily on the faultless performance of their pit crew to keep them in the race.
With teams so eager to form the most effective pit crew to help their drivers reach the win, athletes are being plucked from professional sporting backgrounds, and military personnel is even being trained as pit crew members, with terrifying efficiency. It used to be that mechanics were sent to the gym, but now that’s not enough. Now, to be a NASCAR pit crew member takes a whole lot more.
Who are Pit Crew?
Out on the track, it’s the drivers that race against each other, but down in pit lane, the pit crews get their chance to go head-to-head in a scuffle of fuel dumps and bouncing tires.
Pit crew members are brave and unmistakable, wearing fireproof suits and wielding tools as they jump fearlessly from the pit wall into the path of their driver, hoping the car entering the pit box at unnerving speed will stop as it’s supposed to.
The average NASCAR pit stop lasts for around 15 seconds when all four tires are changed, and fuel is added. If only two tires are changed, pit stops average 6-9 seconds. During a pit stop, the crew is also able to make minor adjustments to the car, removing a windscreen tear-off or repairing the damage.
Should pit crews attempt to repair the damage, they have just 6 minutes to prepare the car in a safe state before returning to the track. If the team is unable to make the car safe at that time, the driver will be disqualified.
Only five pit crew members are allowed to work on the car, yet on certain occasions, teams are allowed to use an additional pit crew member to carry out work on the car. Any unauthorized team member, even placing a hand or foot in the pit lane, will be penalized.
The pit crew consists of 5 members:
- Jackman – When a car drives into the pit box, the jackman’s job is to jack the car from the ground, allowing it to be worked on by the other crew members. Jacking is necessary to perform tire changes, add fuel, and make other adjustments. Once all operations are completed on the car, the jackman lowers the car to the floor and moves clear of the car so it can leave the pit box quickly.
- Tire Carrier – The tire carrier’s job is pretty self-explanatory; they carry two tires to the car, making them readily available for both tire changers to change each tire as quickly as possible. The tire carrier brings fresh tires from the pit wall, where they receive assistance from other mechanics that are ready to hand them the fresh rubber they need. Once the tires are changed, the tire carrier has to speedily get the old tires out of the way.
- 2 Tire Changers – There are two people in each pit crew responsible for replacing worn tires with fresh, grippy rubber. Now that cars use a single lug nut, rather than the five that were featured on older cars, the operator with the air-ratchet only has to unwind one lug nut to remove the wheel. The wheel is pulled out of the way by their partner. Once the new wheel is put into position, the ratchet operator tightens the lug nut and proceeds to the next wheel.
- Gasman/refueler – The gasman has to be ready to add the correct amount of fuel to the car. Fuel for the car is contained in a fuel dump, which holds 12 gallons of fuel. A car requires two full dumps to fill the car’s tank, with each fuel dump taking 7-8 seconds to be emptied.
Changing tires and refueling a car so rapidly comes from analyzing and perfecting each technique involved in the pit stop process, looking for ways the five crew members can move around the car, performing their duties without obstructing each other. Pit stop rehearsals are repeated hundreds if not thousands of times until the ideal choreography and synchronicity are found.
The fastest pit stop in Cup Series history
The fastest-ever 4-tire pit stop was on April 3, 2022, at the Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway in Richmond, Virginia. The Joe Gibb’s Racing team managed to perform a 9.1-second pit stop on Kyle Busch’s No. 18 car in an astonishing 9.1 seconds!
Where to Get Started?
Pit crew members often start in small race series or ARCA Menards Series before honing their skills in a training program. With such a high demand for physically fit, zesty individuals, a range of programs and schools have been set up, like the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Program, aiming to widen the diversity seen in the sport by offering valuable opportunities for men, women, and people from minority ethnic groups to get involved and start a career in NASCAR.
Much in the way that race drivers climb the ranks to reach the premier class, pit crew members similarly start their careers working their way through smaller grassroots series before working their way up to the big stage, the NASCAR Cup Series.
Training schools and coaching programs can last anywhere between 2-6 months, in which time trainees will be taken through every step of working as a pit crew member. Upon completion of a training program, pit crew members proceed to try out for available teams, hoping to secure a place as part of the pit crew.
These pit crew development programs provide coaching for trainees and professionals in a specifically-designed environment with all the facilities needed to support the growth and development of NASCAR pit crew members.
Most members of the NASCAR pit crew are coached beyond the completion of their training, receiving career-long coaching to ensure they stay remain physically fit, motivated, and healthy enough to cope with the exhaustive demands of the profession.
NASCAR pit crew have a unique perspective of the race as it unfolds, getting closer than anyone else to the cars, the drivers, and all the action. For a NASCAR lover, it’s the ultimate career that allows you to travel and experience the thrill of every race event, knowing that you play a pivotal role in the fierce competition.
With the big move from 5-lug wheels to just a single-lug nut holding on to the wheel, much like in F1, we are already seeing faster pit stops. This and many other changes are breathing new life into the pit stops in NASCAR, making them achievable in less time, which could allow drivers to find bigger gains on track.
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