WHEN A RACECAR ROARS ACROSS THE FINISH LINE in a blaze of color, speed and ear-splitting sound, the spotlight is on the car and driver. But the achievement doesn’t belong to them alone. They share it with their high performance pit crew, whose training, athleticism, state-of-the-art tools and ingenious techniques come together under intense pressure to give their race team a crucial competitive edge.
In a sport where a fraction of a second can be the difference between winning and losing – or between triumph and disaster – there’s very little margin for error. In this finely tuned collaboration between man and machine (or woman and machine), every motion, every decision, every nanosecond takes on enormous significance. Since the early days of motorsports, races have been won and lost in the clatter and chaos of the pit stop – an often-overlooked fact that continues to define the sport to this day.
Evolution and revolution in the pit
Modern pit crews can change four tires and refuel a racecar in 12 seconds or less. That’s a breathtaking feat of skill and engineering – one that would have seemed impossible a generation ago. Major advancements in technology and technique have changed the nature of the pit stop – from a rudimentary function carried out by garage mechanics and assorted in-laws, to a highly choreographed race-within-a-race performed by specially trained and equipped teams of elite athletes.
The evolution began gradually with the introduction of better tools. Pneumatic air guns replaced traditional four-way tire irons, and hydraulic floor jacks replaced unwieldy bumper jacks in the 1950s. By the 1970s, rubberized fuel cells, cap-less filler nozzles and faster flowing gas cans had revolutionized the process of refueling. In recent years, pit boxes loaded with sophisticated electronics have given teams the ability to monitor their cars even while they’re on the track.
Emboldened by these and many other time-saving evolutionary “leaps,” legendary pit crews have experimented with increasingly creative race day adaptations – gluing lug nuts directly to the wheel, for example (a practice still widely in use today) – in an attempt to stay ahead of the team next door. But it wasn’t until race teams turned their attention to the human side of the equation that the game really changed.
A new kind of professional sports team
With so much riding on the speed and precision of every pit stop, forward-thinking teams began to institute pit crew training sessions during the week to prepare for race days. Cameras were installed above the pit area to record the action for future review and dissection. Before long, teams were recruiting athletes from other sports with the reflexes and speed they needed for specialized functions on the pit crew: carrying tires, jacking the car, changing tires. Coaches were hired to help with conditioning and training. The pit crew became a professional sports team in its own right.
Like other professional teams, the real test of a pit crew’s mettle often comes when they have to throw away the playbook. Pit stops choreographed to a hundredth of a second can be entirely upended when a car pulls into the pit area dented and smoking because of unintended contact with another car on the track. Carefully plotted decisions about how many refueling and tire change stops to make in a race have to be modified in a split second when a sudden cold front moves in or the brakes inexplicably go soft. Baseball bats and duct tape sometimes have to stand in for more “elegant” solutions when the bottom line is just getting to the finish line.
The danger zone
Racing cars is a fundamentally dangerous pursuit – and that applies to the pit area as well as to the track. Over the years, tragic accidents – including fatal crashes, explosions and fires in the pit area – have led to new safety standards and equipment. Gone are the days when a mechanic in his weekday overalls would wrestle with a tire a mere inches from cars careening by him at full speed. Regulations on everything from speed limits in the pit area to helmets and fireproof uniforms for pit crews have been drafted – and will continue to be drafted – in response to the changing conditions of the sport.
In the high risk, high performance world of motorsports, collaboration is key. From innovating new solutions to increase performance, to developing effective new protocols to increase safety, people and technology are called upon to perform at peak levels to achieve a shared goal. Behind every high-profile victory on the racetrack, there’s a pit crew on the sidelines with the exceptional training, readiness and split second response times necessary to boost their team to a first place finish.
At Legistics, collaboration is key to our winning strategy. To find out more about how our professional team of support personnel can work with you to increase your competitive advantage, visit our home page.