Tech Center: Lepp's Scientific approach

August 13, 2013, Kim Hyde for,

Physical training helps Joe Gibbs Racing team cut pit times
When Mike Lepp arrived at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2006, pit stop times averaged 13.6 seconds.

Today, using one less pit crew member over-the-wall, they’re running in the upper 11 second range.

Quicker stops can be attributed to a bunch of things from the shoes and supportive equipment the pit crew members now wear to better air gun technology and the like. 

But, as Lepp explains, today’s pit crews also benefit from a scientific approach to training, nutrition and hydration.

“When you’re dealing with human performance, nutrition and physical training are a critical part of that,” Lepp explained.  “In the last 20 years or so, all sports have innovated and improved because they’ve taken a more scientific approach to how they train and develop athletes.”

"I couldn't be prouder of the 20 group. They've consistently pitted cars under pressure and have gotten Matt [Kenseth] out front in races."

--Mike Lepp, athletic director, Joe Gibbs Racing
As athletic director at Joe Gibbs Racing, Lepp consults on all human performance issues related to the motorsports operation.  The Charlotte, N.C., native is part psychologist, physiologist, teacher and motivator.  He oversees the wellness of about 100 people who go to the track every week – namely pit crew members.

Lepp, who earned his master’s degree in exercise physiology from the University of South Carolina, launched a career in sports medicine in the early 1980’s.  Later, he transitioned into motorsports, bringing his teaching ability, problem-solving methodology and scientific philosophy to elite NASCAR pit crew athletes. 

A self-proclaimed checklist junkie, Lepp’s scientific approach quickly earned him the nickname “Dr. Evil.”

“When I first came to JGR years ago, Coy Gibbs thought I looked like the Dr. Evil character from Austin Powers,” quipped Lepp.  “Once Coy gives you a nickname, it sticks.”

Living up to his nickname, each week Lepp hatches cutting-edge schemes to improve human performance on pit road.  Along with Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew coach Paul Alepa, he writes pit crew practice plans, devises hydration solutions, assembles team health reports, as well as develops a wicked routine of strength training, sprinting, interval cardio and intense crossfit workouts for teams.

He also educates JGR’s over-the-wall athletes on diet principles and adequate sleep routines that help improve performance.

Lepp’s scientific method may be “evil,” but the results are anything but, as evidenced by recent accolades.

The Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Husky Toyota pit crew was recently named the Quarter Two Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew – an honor determined by a vote of each NASCAR Sprint Cup Series crew chief given quarterly to top-performing pit crews.

The veteran six-man crew has helped cement driver Matt Kenseth’s solid start to the 2013 season, which has not gone unnoticed by their peers on pit road.

“I couldn’t be prouder of the 20 group,” said Lepp.  “They’ve consistently pitted cars under pressure and have gotten Matt [Kenseth] out front in races.  This group had to prove themselves this year and they’ve done it.” 

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff’s pit crew consists of: Jason Tate (jackman), John Eicher (gas man), John Royer (front tire changer), Joe Crossen (front tire carrier), Chris Taylor (rear tire changer) and Eric Groen (rear tire carrier). 

“It’s great to be recognized by crew chiefs as being one of the best out there on pit road,” said rear tire changer Chris Taylor.  “It rewards all of our hard work.  Just to get recognized for what we do 11, 12 seconds at a time is real exciting.”

Having a well-conditioned pit crew that can consistently perform fast stops throughout a race can make all the difference when it comes down to the money stop, where fractions of a second can make or break a good finish.
“Track position has become so critical,” said Lepp.  “You may not have the best car, but if you can get the car out front by passing cars on pit road and get your car in clean air, it makes a big difference.”

Indeed, human performance on pit road – and the scientific training behind it – is vital to reaching victory lane in today’s NASCAR.

“It can win or lose races,” continued Lepp.  “I’ve watched that evolve just in the time I’ve been in the sport.”