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
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 (http://www.penskeracing.com/about/faq.cfm).
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.