The art and science of a NASCAR pit stop
By Mike Savicki
Here’s the scenario. A Sprint Cup car roars in to the pits and skids to a stop. In the blink of an eye, a collection of six tool-yielding surgeons launch over a concrete wall and begin to operate. The brightly painted chassis pops into the air, lug nuts fly, tires bounce and roll, fuel gushes from large red cans into the tank, the chassis drops, the warriors retreat and the driver speeds away again. 12.9 seconds? Damn, that was fast. These guys are good.
There is an art and science to the pit stop, and for the thirty pit crew members and backups who compose Michael Waltrip Racing’s two Sprint Cup and one Nationwide teams, as well as their collection of veteran coaches, orchestrating fast and efficient pit stops is serious business.
“We are the field goal kicker who goes on to the field and is expected to kick a fifty-five-yard field goal every time,” explains head coach Gary Miller. “Every pit stop is that important. If the driver loses five positions in the pits because of something we did, he goes back onto the track having to play catch up instead of solely focusing on moving to the front. It’s not a stretch to say we can’t afford mistakes.”
“A pit stop is almost like a choreographed dance,” adds assistant coach, Kevin Sharpe. “Every guy knows where he is supposed to go and what he is supposed to do and trains to execute his job as close to perfect as he can every single time.”
To better understand the science of the pit stop, it is important to know the anatomy of the team. When a car screeches in to the pits, two tire changers, two tire carriers, a jack man and a fueler go “over the wall” and service the car. Behind the wall, a mirror team passes fuel cans, rolls and collects tires, manipulates hoses, handles tools and maneuvers sign boards and service devices mounted on extended poles.
“The guys who go over the wall get the spotlight and the glory, but I’ll tell you, the guys behind the wall are every bit as important to a good pit stop” exclaims Kevin Sharpe. “Team chemistry plays a huge role in how well we operate together and no single person is more important than any other. Everyone is looking for that tenth of a second and we usually find it only when we are working together.”
Keeping the MWR athletes in top physical shape is the job of Ben Cook, strength and conditioning coach. “There is a difference between the type of training our athletes complete and what a regular person might do on their own,” offers Ben Cook. “We are trying to gain body composition and control, increase functional strength, power output and explosiveness so that each athlete can best operate precisely in the tight confines of the pit space. These are micro goals that the average person really doesn’t have to worry about.”
Ryan Langley and Richard Coleman are two of the six “over the wall” team members on the No. 00 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota. With nearly two decades of top level pit experience between them, Langley, a tire changer, and Coleman, a tire carrier, are full time athletes who believe consistency yields results.
“Everybody is capable of pulling off a fast stop, but being consistently fast and helping put your driver in contention to win is key,” says Ryan Langley. “We take pride in knowing that if we are fast on pit road then he has a better chance to perform on the track.”
Richard Coleman, who is more popularly known as Puddin’, concludes, “When you are over the wall, you feel like you are a key player in the game. If you do it right, then you are only doing it intensely for just a few seconds at a time, but that’s our job and what we train to do. Being fast is what we are all about.”
This article was originally published in the April 2011 edition of Currents Magazine.