I’ve been a casual NASCAR fan for a few years now, but when I married my husband I sort of married into the sport, as well. His parents are NASCAR fans, too, so it’s difficult not to develop a love for the sport. I know enough to be dangerous, as they say, but after a weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway, a few laps around the track in a race car, and actual NASCAR pit crew training, I feel that it’s much more of a sport than I ever believed it was.
“Pit crews are the ultimate team activity because if one [member] is off by a 10th of a second, they’re all off by a 10th of a second,” said Bob Plott, general manager of PIT Instruction & Training in Mooresville, NC, the home of racing.
How NASCAR Has Changed And What It Means For A Pit Crew
“Pit crews team members are like a well-oiled machine, much like a SWAT Team,” Plott says. “They converge on a space, they take care of everything they need to take care of, then get out of the space as quickly as possible. Hopefully, in the process, everyone finishes safely and quickly.”
Being part of a NASCAR pit crew a high-pressure environment in which small mistakes make a big difference and leaders are separated by only milliseconds.
The sport has become increasingly more dependant on perfect pit stops because the cars are better and the tools are more advanced. Even aerospace engineers have contributed to the design of NASCAR stock cars. In the 70s, Plott said, 60% of the cars in a race might not finish a race due to mechanical failures. Now, only 9% of the cars fail to finish the race on average, and a small percentage of those are due to mechanical failures. If a car doesn’t finish a race now, it’s usually because of a wreck.
This means exciting races for fans, especially at tracks like Talladega, notoriously known for end-of-the-race wrecks. Whereas in the past maybe 5 or 6 cars are fighting for the finish, now it might be up to 30 cars racing towards the finish. This usually ends up in a wreck so even if you’re in 29th place, you still have a chance of driving through the chaos to take the win. In 2011, the winner and the 2nd place were separated by a mere 2000ths of a second; in 2010, they were separated of 6000ths of a second!
In 2011, the winner and the 2nd place were separated by a mere 2000ths of a second; in 2010, they were separated of 6000ths of a second!
This is why so much pressure is put on pit crew team members. Any loss of performance, no matter how small, can result in a loss of positions on the race track. Because the cars are so well-built now, the burden of perfection now falls on the pit crew and the driver.
If the pit crew’s performance is optimal, then what’s expected of the driver? For a track like Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is 1.5 miles, a time of 33.5 seconds is considered competitive IF they’re in bumper to bumper traffic. For a clear track – what they call “open air” – at least 10 seconds faster is expected. That’s 1.5 miles in less than 25 seconds!
Once pit road opens, a driver has about 20 seconds to get from the entry of pit road to their pit box. There’s a speed limit on pit road, but seasoned drivers know to follow the rules at each of the timing elements but to speed it up a bit in between them, Plott said.
Two Types Of Stops And How They Matter To A Pit Crew
In NASCAR, there are two types of pit stops; a green flag stop and a caution stop. On a green flag stop, the rest of the cars continue racing while your car attempts a pit stop. You head into pit road from the tail end of the pack and before the pack makes a completed circle, you need to be back on the track before they pass you. If the pack passes you, you’re automatically a lap behind. Now, remember how quickly they’re making a lap around the track? It takes about 25-35 seconds; a good pit stop is about 20 seconds into your box, then 12 seconds for a really good service time from your pit crew.
A caution stop is when all the cars in the pack are stopped or slowed for a wreck, track debris, or other danger. As long as that caution is active, all positions are maintained whether you’re in 1st or 21st. The only thing that changes that is your visit to pit road. Finish quickly and you could race out of pit road (obeying the speed limit, of course) to the head of the pack. If a mistake is made, you may just have gone from 2nd to 22nd – or worse.
A three-tenths of a second mistake costs you 5 car lengths, which could cost you a race. This is why for pit crews, no mistakes can be made or a race can easily be lost for a NASCAR team.
Thank you to Disney & Click Communications, as well as the amazing team at PIT Instruction & Training.