With the Daytona 500 upon us, there’s an element of the sports that ranges far afield of redneck culture. Even the most devoted fans of NASCAR fail to realize the extent of the intense fitness regimens of highly specialized pit crews
In the days of Richard Petty, pit crews were a mix of mechanics or tire tossers — men too old or too fat to drive the cars. Now, they’re highly trained athletes, including many recent SEC or ACC scholarship football and baseball players who couldn’t catch on in the NFL or MLB. If they can earn a spot with a Sprint Cup team, they can earn a six figure salary.
But, it’s as cutthroat as other big time sports. With races won or loss within tenths of a second, if any member of the pit crew is timed off by the slightest of margins, he’s subbed out for a new crew member waiting on the bench.
To stay in shape, the top racing teams employ grueling roadwork schedules, including both long distance running and interval training. For anaerobic endurance, tops teams employ the most elaborate work out areas, training tortillas and nutrition experts.
Life in the Hot Pits
For an insider’s look at how these pit crews train, I turned to Ben Cook, Director of Programming at Performance Instruction & Training (Yes…”PIT…) at Pit Crew U in Charlotte, North Carolina. He opened the door a little on how hard his athletes work to find that brass ring job along pit row.
“Unlike the NFL there isn’t a ‘Combine’ scenario where athletes are measured on raw athletic ability,” Cook said. “The ability to sprint, jump and muscle objects around in space is an advantage in most every sport, and those abilities are benefits in ‘Pitting’ a race car as well. But it is not what ultimate defines a Pit Crew member.”
“Good pit crew athletes are ultimately defined by whether they can perform their very specific skill set in under 13 seconds in a dangerous and extreme environment. In order to educate and reinforce the necessary position skills, pit crew member’s actions can be broken down into incremental timed segments and analyzed for inconsistencies or imperfections.”
Cook explained that parts of the whole movement around the car must be studied and improved upon by the crew member, much the same as other highly skilled positions in sports analyze and improve on their skills — the quarterback, pitcher, receiver, point guard, etc.
“However, in the end it is the total ‘Stop to Drop’ time that defines a good pit crew athlete.”
Thirteen Seconds Flat
Obviously, a great deal of physical training goes into the individual team members have to do to maintain those times — rivaling the levels of athleticism and commitment other sports demand.
“During training we ingrain the position skills through constant repetition and correction,” Cook said. “We want that Tire Changer, Jackman, Tire Carrier and Gasman to perform as kinesthetically as possible, without thought, just to be in auto pilot mode. Having to think in a time span as short as 13 seconds only slows the total outcome time.”
“There are a multitude of things at the track that can bring a crew member back in to a ‘thinking’ process and cause him to slow or falter — poor position of the car entering the pit area, poor play calling from the crew chief, cars entering too closely, screaming drivers. The list is long.”
“During training we intentionally throw physical, situational and emotional stressors at a pit crews and then force them to return to the skill set without distraction,” Cook added. “The hardest part of this job is not the skills themselves. At practice, in low stress environments, we often see times in the 11 second range. The thing that separates good crew members from the not so good is an ability to rely on the skill without thought or emotion.”
Be sure to catch Part Two of our look at NASCAR pit crew training after the Daytona 500 is in the books.