Thursday, May 29, 2008

My Best Photos from Phoenix

kurt is in the back looking out over the car.

car after the race

kurt is in the car waiting to practice

kurt on SPEED channel prerace

Kurt reaching in to get helmet

Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Miller Lite Pit Crew

I had the opportunity to spend some one on one time with several members of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge pit crew recently. The pit crew members are always seen on TV and are somewhat better known by fans than the mechanics but rarely are the pit crew members interviewed about their work. I’ll give a quick overview of what the guys are responsible for but I will also share some of the interesting facts about their jobs on and off the track.

NASCAR rules dictate that only seven people can go “over the wall” to service the car during a pit stop. There are usually more than seven guys in the pits during the race however. For example, many of the mechanics on Kurt Busch’s team are in support roles catching tires, holding the pit road sign, refilling the gas cans and analyzing the tires and removing them from the pit area. The seven guys that make up the Miler Lite pit crew and go “over the wall” are:

Ray, the jackman, raises each side of the car so that the tires can be replaced. Ray also signals Kurt when to leave the pits by lowering the car.
Jay, the front tire changer and Travis, the rear tire changer each are responsible for changing two tires on a four tire stop. They remove all five lug nuts, remove the old tire, and tighten the new tire's lug nuts.
Dave, the front tire carrier and Larry, the rear tire carrier bring the new front tires over the pit wall and guide them onto the studs. They also hand roll the old tires back to the pit wall after the tire changers pull them from the car. Dave is usually responsible for clearing debris from the grill of the Miller Lite Dodge and/or adding or removing tape from the grill. Larry is responsible for making rear track bar and/or wedge adjustments.
Chris, the gas man fills the car with gasoline with a special gas can. Chris’ dad Steve, is the catch can man. It is Steve’s job to catch any fuel overflow in a small gas can. He also holds one gas can while Chris fills car with the second gas can if needed.
Steve, catch can man

The Job
Being a member of the pit crew is a highly sought after position on most race teams. In the good ole days, the mechanics that worked on the race cars would also pit the cars, but nowadays, NASCAR is so competitive that the mechanics have become highly specialized and many pit crew members are athletes.
I asked Travis and Dave how they became members of Kurt’s pit crew and they had wildly different paths. Dave has been on the Miller Lite pit crew for seven years now, the longest of any member on the team. He grew up working on cars and as a mechanic in the NASCAR shops until he worked his way up to being on the pit crew. Travis is one of the newest guys on the team, joining at the Daytona race in July 2007. He attended one of the mechanic/racing schools and went through try outs at Penske Racing to make the team. Word of mouth around the garages still seems to be the most common way to figure out who is hiring, but teams do advertise job openings on their websites usually (

The members of the pit crew work back at the Penske shop during the week, usually with Fridays off. The members of Kurt’s pit crew all work on different cars during the week, some on Kurt’s Blue Deuce, several work on Sam Hornish, Jr.’s No 77 and also Ryan Newman’s No.12. Every day they come together to practice pit stops and have a mandatory workout from 12-1p with a trainer. It was surprising to me that the pit crew members are split up among the different teams but upon further though, it does make the best use of their skills and creates better overall Team Penske unity.

On Race Day
The pit crew guys are like hired guns, they arrive only on race day and leave with the team immediately after the race. When they arrive at the track it is their job to set up the pit box and link up all the satellite/electronic equipment to NASCAR’s feed. Setting up the pit box takes several hours.

They also have to prepare the sets of tires to be used during the race. Each tire is labeled with a sticker indicating which team it is for. The Miller Lite tires are easy to spot since they are the only ones with blue wheels. The tires are also labeled with chalk” LF, LR, RF, RR” to indicate where on the car they go. The pit crew uses a strip of pink tape to indicate the left side tires and a strip of blue tape to indicate right side tires. They place this tape in the same spot on each tire and it also indicates where the tire carriers should hold the tires as they carry them during the pit stop. This ensures they get the tire consistently and easily lined up with the studs for quick stops. The wheel hub is also painted with bright pink lines to help them guide the tire on and the tips of the studs are also bright pink to help the tire changers see them clearly. They also glue the bright yellow lug nuts onto the wheels with adhesive so the tire changers can just hit the lugs with the air gun and not have to worry about holding them.

Since switching to the boxier and bigger “Car of Tomorrow”, the rear tire changers and carriers have to change the way they run around the back end of the car. One more trick the Miller Lite team does to help them is painting the edges of the spoiler hot pink so it is easy for Travis and Larry to see. NASCAR also changed a rule that affects the tire carriers for 2008. Dave and Larry are responsible for keeping control of the tires removed from the car until at least half way across the pit box. No more bowling for pit crew members! Having to do so hasn’t slowed the stops down at all and Dave believes the rule is a good one for the safety of the crew.

The Pit Crew in Action

Click here to see a video of the pit crew in action.

Phoenix 4/08 Report on Race Day

I arrived at the track around noon on Saturday and you could tell it was going to be a hot one. The Miller Lite water cooler was being raided frequently not only by our crew but many of the neighboring ones as well. Today our goal was to test the quality of the small video camera and shoot some interviews with the over the wall guys. Last year I didn’t really have the opportunity to talk to them because they only fly in on race day and are usually quite busy. The long day before the race provided a perfect opportunity to catch them this time around.

My Miller Lite boss and I headed out to pit road where the crew was setting up the pit box. We did an on camera interview with Travis, the newest member of the Miller Lite pit crew. He is the rear tire changer and joined the team last July. He told us about his schedule and the try out process at Penske as well as how he preps for pit stops. We also got some great information from Larry, the rear tire carrier on little tricks they use on the tires to help them during the pit stops. We did another video with Dave, the front tire carrier and the senior member on the crew. He has been on the #2 pit crew for 7 years! He had lots of insights and gave us a tour of the pit box.

Afterwards, we headed back to the garage and caught up with the crew working on the car. I got a few more details and they let me take some pics that I had not had before like the chassis number on the inside roll bar.

While hanging out by the Miller Lite Hauler I also was finally formally introduced to Eva, Kurt’s wife. She was very nice and we have a love of horses in common. I enjoyed hearing about her riding exploits and the story of how she met Kurt. For those of you who don’t know…Kurt’s friends, who set them up, told her he was a veterinarian. (Too funny!) So she was telling him all about her cats and horses and he was looking at her with a blank face (and he admitted he was pretty worried about how he was going to get outta that one). They were in a bar and his face came on the TV and his bluff was up. I asked if she was mad at them for lying to her and she laughed and said she was sorta bummed he wasn’t really a vet!

The pre-race activities seemed to last forever and now I know why…I wasn’t anywhere near a TV with sound so didn’t hear about the delay from the baseball game until later. Felt bad for the crews in the fire suits, they were sweating bullets by then.

We knew the Miller Lite team had a lot to overcome as they were first too loose and then too tight. Seemed most of the teams were struggling with the right front suspension and tires, and the #2 was no different. Kurt passed a ton of cars on the track and used pit strategy to get all the way up to 3rd but really had a 20-something place car all night. Still a huge improvement from 39th! The team is working very, very hard to figure out the car and I am confident they will soon.

I hope to get hot passes for Sonoma so look for some more insider reports from the garages there! Thanks for reading!

Phoenix 4/08 Report from the Garage

Greetings from the garage at Phoenix! As many of you know, Miller Lite has decided to send me to several races this year to do some more behind the scenes reporting on the Miller Lite Racing team. It sounds like I will be doing blogs as well as some video interviews focusing on the team using their new slogan "More 2 It". I am quite a lucky girl to get these hot passes and look forward to bringing you all as much insider information as I can get at the track.

Unfortunately, I missed qualifying day but was at the track as soon as the credentials truck opened today. It was so great to be remembered and welcomed by the crew, all of which are the same guys from last year except for the tire guy. I even got a hug from Kurt who chatted with me about his live SPEED interview just minutes before about his first trip to PIR and this great picture of him in Rusty Wallace's pit (see it here:

It was a tough day for the Miller Lite team as they struggled to set up the car. Most of the teams were making a lot of adjustments, all of the cars seemed to be in the garages more than on the track during both practices today. With the high temps expected tomorrow and the changing track from day to night it will be even more difficult for the teams to hit the setups. Should make for some interesting racing.

Just before Happy Hour, Kurt met with Sammy Hagar and took him for some hot laps around the track in the pace car. I was invited to tag along (not in the car...) to take some pictures and was shocked when they let Sammy drive Kurt around! My guess is they will show this on the pre-race or on SPEED at some point this weekend. Sammy seemed pretty impressed and said he was surprised at how hard it was to drive at speed.