NASCAR fans know their sport is about a lot more than just fast cars racing around a track. Since its origin in the 1920s—spurred on by bootleggers during the Prohibition—the high-octane world of NASCAR has become a highly sophisticated and technical feat of engineering, mechanics and athleticism. As the sport has evolved and grown more advanced, so have the pit crews. Long gone are the days when all you needed to get on with a professional team was to be handy with a car jack or air gun. Today, pit crews are a crucial part of a racing team’s success. It’s a demanding, pressure-filled job that requires speed, strength, and coordination. And this is where Performance Instruction and Training (PIT) comes in. Founded in 2000 by Red Horse Racing owner Tom DeLoach and former NASCAR crew chief and current FOX Sports racing analyst Jeff Hammond, PIT is a state-of-the-art, 25,000-square-foot facility in Mooresville that helps train hundreds of pit crew hopefuls every year. (The Mooresville facility opened in 2004) Here, students hone their skills and compete for a spot on racing teams using the facility’s quarter-mile practice track, classrooms, Olympic-style weight room, 15-bay garage and six pit areas equipped with video equipment. Each year PIT offers six, eight-week training classes, known as Pit Crew University (PCU). During these two-month sessions students learn what pit crew job they’re best suited for: jackman, tire changer or tire carrier. Students also get to work with many of the Red Horse Racing drivers, including Todd Bodine, John King, and Timothy Peters. Most aspiring pit crew members also enroll in the more specialized 5 Off 5 On program, where they perfect their craft until they hopefully get a job with one of the racing teams. “There are 75 to 80 maneuvers within each pit stop in a race, and we work on perfecting everything, “ says Adam Merrell, PIT crew director of motorsports. “We preach the fundamentals of each and every skill and we practice those everyday. The goal is to be efficient as possible in the shortest amount of time.” The PCU classes meet two days a week, with half of each three-hour session dedicated to classroom lessons and on-track training and the other half focused on physical conditioning. But those who are serious usually put in a lot more hours than that. This includes guys like PCU graduate and current 5 Off 5 On student Devin DelRicco, who has already worked in the pits for Max Gresham, who drives the No. 24 car in the Truck Series. “I’ve dreamed of working for a pit crew for most of my life,” says DelRicco, 21. “I would never want to be anywhere else than where I am right now. PIT is such a great place to learn. Everybody’s goal is to be on a Sprint Cup team and that’s ultimately what I want to do.” But that’s no easy task. PIT’s intense workout regimen includes weight lifting and strength and agility training, oftentimes in blazing summer heat to prepare students for conditions at a race, where temperatures on the asphalt can reach 110 degrees. Most workouts consist of short burst of intense activity to replicate the 13- to 18-pressure-filled seconds of a pit stop. Cracking the whip during these grueling workouts are guys like PIT director of program development Ben Cook, a former strength and fitness coach at the University of North Carolina, who also worked with the Carolina Panthers. “My job is to torture them and get them ready for what they might be doing (on a pit crew) both physically and mentally and even behaviorally,” says Cook. “We are trying to create marketable pit crew team members.” Of course pit stops are always a race against time, something PIT continues to improve upon. The average pit stop time at the school has gone from 19 seconds five years ago to 17 seconds. While shaving off a couple of seconds may not seem like much, it’s translated to success on the track. PCU graduates have been part of 96 wins on the three NASCAR circuits (Sprint Cup, Nationwide, Truck Series), and PCU grads were also on all three series’ winning drivers’ team, including Tony Stewart, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and Austin Dillon. As a result, most PIT graduates are getting full-time jobs with racing teams at all levels, including about a third with Sprint Cup teams, where most pit crew members make six-figure salaries. That’s plenty to motivate both the students and their instructors to push each other to the top of their professions. “The pit crew can make or break a team,” Merrell says. “Each maneuver within a pit stop can be the difference in a driver’s track position and thousands of dollars in prize money. Ultimately winning and making money are the goals of every team. That’s just the bottom line.”
See you in the PITsWhat:
Performance Instruction and Training is a 25,000-square-foot facility with an Olympic-style weight room, sauna, locker rooms, quarter-mile track, six pits with video cameras and 15-bay garage.Where:
156 Byers Creek Road, Mooresville, NC 28117Classes: Pit Crew University (eight-week program, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Monday and Wednesday, $2,480; 5 Off 5 On, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday and Thursday. $70/monthDetails: www.5off5on.com
Going over the wall
Each pit crew is made up of seven individuals. First, there’s the jackman, who raises each side of the car so that the tires can be replaced. Each crew also has two tire changers—one for the front tires and one for the rear tires. They remove the old tire and its nuts, and tighten the new tire. There’s also two tire carriers, who bring new tires over the pit wall and guide them onto the wheel’s studs. Finally, there’s the gas man, who fills the car with gas, and the catch can man, who catches any fuel overflow and holds extra cans.