Another year passes without Pit Crew Challenge
May 15, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
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It’s the week of the Sprint All-Star Race, hosted once again by the folks at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and for those of you keeping count, that’s 27 in a row and 28 of 29.
The race that "could be moved around to other facilities" hasn't, at least not since 1986 in Atlanta.
But that's OK. With the majority of NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series teams housed nearby, allowing CMS to continue to host the non-points event works. It works from a scheduling standpoint and it works from a location standpoint.
So what's wrong with the All-Star weekend?
For the second consecutive year, there will be no pit crew competition leading up to Saturday night's main event.
An eight-year run at Time Warner Cable Arena ended in 2012 when Sprint, which has sponsored the event, decided to move its dollars to Daytona in February for what is now known as the Sprint Unlimited.
Perhaps sponsoring the annual pit crew competition as well as the actual All-Star Race was a bit of overkill for the series’ sponsor. That's understandable.
But for the event to go away entirely due to a lack of sponsorship does a great disservice to those who often spend their entire careers toiling away in the background.
The Sprint Pit Crew Challenge certainly wasn't the first program to recognize the efforts of those that go over the wall each week. For more than three decades, a similar program was held at Rockingham (North Carolina) Speedway. That particular program went away when the track's fall event was removed from the race schedule.
Those on the pit crews do their various jobs time after time, knowing their efforts will likely go unnoticed. But that's OK, too. Great pit stop? No problem, now let's get back to the race leader.
Except for those occasions when there is a problem, of course. Then it's "what happened to those guys? Here, let's take a look."
The race winner is interviewed after the race. The crew chief gets interviewed after the race. And in most cases, the team owner is interviewed after the race.
But the members of the winning pit crew? After a few brief photos in the winner's circle, they likely can be found packing up equipment and heading off to the airport, out of sight and out of mind.
It's the nature of the sport, and everyone accepts that.
That's what made the pit crew competition, regardless of where it was held, special. It might have taken place only once a season, but it was a time that the crews could be recognized and applauded for their efforts, often in front of friends and family, while going head-to-head with their fellow crew members.
Sure, they do it every week, but so too do the drivers. This is All-Star week. No points, no pressure. It was competitive, yes, but it was also a lot of fun for those involved.
After Sprint shifted its sponsorship dollars away from the Pit Crew Competition, NASCAR officials said they hoped to secure funding for the program. A year later, they’re still searching.
There were rumors of a new group undertaking the program, and moving it to ZMax Dragway, which is located outside the speedway. Unfortunately, that project failed to get off the ground.
Throughout the course of a season, there are various opportunities for different groups to be recognized for their efforts, from those that build the engines to those that driver the transporters.
The pit crew competition was the perfect opportunity to recognize a special group of individuals that too often go unnoticed.
The shame of it is that they apparently weren't special enough.
Here's hoping that changes by the time the 2015 All-Star Race rolls around.