By the time “Drivers, start your engines!” roars above the din of an excited NASCAR crowd, the OrthoCarolina motorsports team has been at work for many hours. They almost blend in with the pit crews among the air guns, jacks, fuel cans and tires that cover Pit Road, making round after round to stretch and treat crew and drivers. At almost any given race during the long NASCAR season, these dedicated providers will remain in the pits with the teams for the duration of races that can last many hours.
Like the teams, they revel in the thunderous action and celebratory burning of rubber tires, but throughout, they maintain a laser focus and steadfast eye on what they came to do – keep the crews healthy and ready to work.
Bill Heisel, PA-C and Ken Breath, PT, ATC, LAT, travel to most Sprint Cup Series races and are part of a group that provides ongoing care for motorsports teams affiliated with OrthoCarolina during the long NASCAR season. We talked to them about what their routines at the track entail and how they work with drivers and crews.
What is your race day routine like?
Bill: I spend a lot of hours walking through the garage and up and down Pit Road, checking on crew members, following up on evaluations and treatment from previous weeks and evaluating any new problems. One of the biggest needs is stretching. Just prior to the race, Ken and I stretch crew members at the pit boxes. During the race I walk Pit Road after pit stops take place, checking on crews and any injuries.
Ken: While the pit crew guys set up cars before a race, I normally check on drivers. Some have specific pre-race needs, and others need stretching or follow-up on previous issues. Once the crews are done with set-up I address any active problems and perform any treatments that they need.
When you stretch the pit crew, what muscles do you work on?
Ken: I do a general stretching program with most of them that includes backs, hamstrings, quads and the rest of the leg. If they need specific stretching such as arms, shoulders or other upper body, we work on that specifically.
What other people might need care at a racetrack?
Bill: At the track, I see drivers and pit crew, but I also take care of the orthopedic needs of NASCAR officials. That treatment ranges from evaluating new problems, following up on pre-existing issues, ordering physical therapy and medications, splinting and more. The long NASCAR season is fun but can start to wear on people physically after so many races.
What types of physical risks does the pit crew face?
Ken: Even once a car is on Pit Road it may be coming at them up to 55 mph. They’re preparing for the pit stop, and odds that the car can hit them increase. Other drivers coming in also risk hitting them. They have to worry about tripping over the air gun hose and having to quickly unplug a huge gas can before the car takes off. The incredible speed and precision of their work shows the physical demands it requires.
Bill: The crews carry 70-pound tires and 90-pound gas cans that can put more strain on their shoulders and backs. Equipment can also get stuck on or under the car and become a hazard for the crew. Lugnuts can get fired from under the tire as a car peels off out of Pit Road, almost like projectiles. The pit is an exciting place to be, but the crew wears safety gear for a reason.
How long are you with the crew on a typical race day?
Ken: We fly out with the team and arrive at the track early the morning of race day. We start rounds and treatment at the time the garage opens, usually 7 or 8 hours prior to the race.
Bill: We are on Pit Road throughout the duration of a race, which can last anywhere from 3-5 hours, and we stick around for any post-race needs. Of course, it’s always fun to end a race watching from Victory Lane.