Pit stops, previously seen as an afterthought, have come to the forefront of racing
Whether it’s during a race, at a practice session or in the garage during downtime, it’s impossible to take stock of a NASCAR pit crew team without noticing the sheer volume of instruments at its disposal.
From walls of computers spitting out valuable information to sets of state-of-the-art tools that enable a team to do a complete pit stop in (ideally) less than 14 seconds, never has a crew been put in better position to shave valuable milliseconds off a pit-stop time.
Progress wasn’t always measured in milliseconds, though. In the early days of NASCAR -- the 1960s, when men such as Richard Petty, David Pearson and Ned Jarrett ruled the track -- the pit stop was, to practically every team, an afterthought.
With so many races in that era topping out at 100 miles on dirt tracks, pit-road strategy consisted of figuring out fuel mileage to make sure a driver had enough gas to finish the race, along with cleaning the windshield and the grille. There was no need for anything else, certainly not replacing tires.
Pit-stop times dropped considerably in the 1960s, though, once Leonard Wood applied some logic to the process as tracks got bigger and cars got faster. Wood, a member of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame class, cut the standard pit-stop time nearly in half over the course of one season.
At tracks such as Charlotte Motor Speedway -- non-dirt tracks that necessitated tire changes -- Wood noticed the top teams could generally change two tires and add fuel in approximately 45 seconds.
After studying the process, Wood’s immediate innovations consisted of using double-sided lug nuts, quick-pull handles for the gas cap, lighter jacks and a power gun in place of a four-prong lug wrench. His team’s standard times dropped from 45 seconds to approximately 25 seconds. Folks in NASCAR took note.
If that was the start of modern-age pit stops, it’s now the Golden Age. Today’s six-member teams can change four tires and add fuel in as little as 11 seconds thanks teams increasing funding for their pit crews and technological advances that were incomprehensible as little as 30 years ago.
When Mechanix Wear first ventured into NASCAR in the early 90s, the company showed up at the 1992 Daytona 500 with 200 pair of high-tech gloves, and noticed crew members were using baseball batting gloves, volleyball kneepads and standard running shoes -- a Frankenstein of mismatched parts on pit road.
“That’s how we sort of got started; and since then, we’ve developed 20-25 products that are based on basically whatever the different guys on pit road need,” said Ted Abdon, director of racing at Mechanix Wear. “So if a team orders gloves from us for five or six guys, it’s entirely possible and likely that it’s six different models of gloves.”
That Mechanix makes a different glove suited for different responsibilities on pit road illustrates just how far the pit-road perspective has come.
For example, gloves made for tire carriers have a grip similar to the gloves worn by wide receivers in the NFL. Tire changers wear a different glove, one that has a hard composite at the knuckles for when the crew members invariably pound the rim while using it to guide their hands.
During Jimmie Johnson’s streak of five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championships, the jackman for the No. 48 met with Abdon to discuss the possibilities -- and benefits -- of wearing a different type of glove on each hand.
“The way teams approach pit stops now, you can’t give up one second on pit stops all day long,” Abdon said. “You can’t have a slow pit crew and make the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup). You just can’t.”