Pit crews are instrumental parts of the NASCAR team. Functioning in the pit and behind the scenes, each member plays an important part in ensuring the car reaches the finish line. A well-oiled machine can consistently push a driver to the front of the race, but poor teamwork can break him when he's running neck and neck with his opponents. The following interesting facts are both fun and surprising for those who've never really paid close attention to the stuff that happens off the track.
Pit crew routines are not regulated by NASCAR
Although each crew essentially does the same routine, making a few minor changes of their own, they're not required by NASCAR to conduct the same sequence of actions. Because they don't have time to perform major work, strategy revolves around fueling and tire changes — the latter involves determining whether all four tires should be changed, or just the outside tires, which bear the most weight and pressure.
Crew members use liberal amounts of duct tape
The pros are always looking for a quick fix. During a race, a pit crew will use the strong, versatile tape to adjust body panels, hold parts together, fix hoses and hanging wires, and merely to mark where the jack post, left-front tire, and sign board will be located after the car hits the pit. It's such an important tool for the crew that it has earned its own nickname — "200 mph tape."
Crew members pound their cars with baseball bats and hammers
Another seemingly primitive way pit crews adjust their cars during races is to make use of baseball bats and hammers, pounding their uber-expensive machines when the situation calls for it. A misshapen body can affect how a car performs, causing it to fail to generate a sufficient amount of down force. With little time to spare, the strongest, quickest-swinging crew members take their best shots at the problem areas, impersonating their favorite baseball sluggers.
Crew members love piano bars
A heavily damaged car that's difficult to lift needs more than just the jack man. Instead, piano bars — long, sturdy bars; not the bar you visited during your last hotel stay — provide leverage for the crew to get the car off the ground so the members can do their work. Like duct tape and baseball bats, it's a simple tool with plenty of might.
Crew members exhibit higher heart rates on asphalt tracks than concrete tracks
Given the demands that come with being a member of a pit crew, it shouldn't come as a surprise that dealing with stress is a part of the job. But, as with any job, levels of stress can vary depending on the setting and the problems it presents. According to a study conducted by the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, members exhibit higher heart rates on asphalt tracks than concrete tracks. This may have to do with the heat of the tracks caused by the blacktop surface.
Crew members can earn close to six-figure salaries
Of course, pay varies by position and responsibility. For example, Jason Myers, the car chief for Carl Edwards until his termination in 2009, earned $140,000 in 2008 not including bonuses and other compensation. He was second-in-command to the crew chief, who boasted a salary of $500,000. Guys in lower positions but with lots of responsibility — such as those who work in the shop, travel to the races, and work on Sundays — can earn in the neighborhood of $75,000.
Crew members may frequently change teams
A pit crew change for the second consecutive season enabled Kevin Harvick to take the lead in this year's Chase. Out of the running, Clint Boyer, a Richard Childress Racing teammate, lent his crew to give Harvick a boost for the stretch run. An efficient crew can make all the difference in the world, which is why of the best crew members in the biz are highly recruited by opposing teams. Essentially, they can play the field, seeking the best possible offer.
It's a year-round job
Like modern athletes, pit crew members train year-round, sparing just a couple of weeks for rest in December. Beginning in January, they practice pit stops before the start of the season, and then take it up a notch during the season, practicing two times per week and working out rigorously. It's a constant battle to improve their efficiency so they can reduce pit stop times.
Many pit crew members are former athletes
In recent years, NASCAR pit crews have emphasized athleticism to meet the physical demands of pit stops. As every aspect of the sport has become more competitive, shorter pit times have become essential for crews, so meticulously crafted routines have become the norm. Tony Stewart, for example, employs Mike Casto, a former wide receiver from Glenville State College. Mark Martin employs Aaron Walker, who spent five seasons in the NFL. It's a great way for ex-athletes to stay in a competitive field and utilize their physical strengths.
Pit crews have their own all-star event
Held annually in Charlotte's Time Warner Cable Arena, the NASCAR Pit Crew Challenge is a competition featuring seven pit crew members from each team. When given a signal, each team lifts the car, changes the tires, unloads 18 gallons of water substituting as fuel into a fuel tank, and upon approval from NASCAR, pushes the car 40 yards to finish the sequence. If "fuel" is spilled, too much "fuel" is left in the dump can, a jack isn't raised high enough, or lug nuts are improperly tightened, then penalties are given. Through the years, the notable pit crews of Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison, Richard Petty, and Dale Earnhardt have won multiple times.