The Anatomy of a Pit Stop
There is no doubt that if you’ve ever watched a race from ARCA all the way up to Cup, you’ve seen a pit stop. The driver comes to pit road and the seven man crew springs into action putting on four fresh tires and filling the tank fuel of Sunoco race fuel. There are many different variations on the basic pit stop, but I thought I’d run through and explain what happens during a stop for each member of the crew during a clean (no mistakes), basic four tire stop.
Before I get started, I went on YouTube and found a half way decent video of a stop done by Jeff Burton’s crew at Loudon this year. It shows an entire stop from start to finish, just excuse the fans in the background. Check out this video.
This was about a 13.2 second stop.
A pit stop essentially starts when the car hits the back line of the pit stall just behind the team’s own. Per NASCAR rules, crew members cannot leave the wall until the car touches that line. The second the car crosses that line, all seven guys jump.
In the front, the front changer and carrier jump, get into place quickly around the nose, and are waiting for the car to stop to begin service on the right side. The jackman is around to the right at the same time as the front guys, and he pegs the jack as soon as the car stops (a peg means getting the jack plate on the jack post on the car). In the rear, as the car crosses the line, the rear guys step off the wall, but must wait until the car passes by them before they run around to the right side. The gas man and catch can man plug in as the car comes to a halt in the stall. As soon as the car stops, the jackman gets a big pump on the jack handle and the tire changers start hitting lugnuts.
After the fuelers plug in, the gas man will get a short count and hand the first can off to the catch can man. He then goes to the wall to retrieve the second can.
The front tire changer will hit five off, set his gun down, pull the right front tire, wait for the carrier to hang the new tire, pick his gun back up, switch his button (to make the gun tighten the lugs), and hit five back on.
The rear changer gets a bit of a late start hitting lugnuts because he must chase the car down, unlike the front guy who is just waiting for the car to stop. After the rear changer hits five off, the jackman will reach in and pull the old tire out. The jackman pull helps the rear changer to regain the time he lost to the front guys. The changer ducks out of the way, allowing the old tire to come out and the new tire to come in. He then switches his gun over, and hits five back on.
Once the new tires are hung and the changers get one lugnut tight, you will see the carriers take off and roll the old tires back to the pit wall.
Once the right side lugs are tight, the changers and the jackman take off. The front changer goes first around the front, followed very closely by the jackman. The front tire carrier must stay up against the wall until the jackman comes through to the left side, allowing him plenty of room. Simultaneously, the rear changer comes around the back of the car and must thread through a small gap in between the car and the gas man. As soon as the changer is through, the gas man will plug in to begin dumping the second can of fuel.
On the left side, both tire changers will sit down and start hitting lugnuts. Both will hit five off, set their guns down, pull the tires, wait for the new tires to be hung, pick their gun back up, switch the button, and hit five back on.
While the changers are hitting five off on the left side, the jackman pegs the jack, gets a big pump on the jack handle, and adds one little extra pump just to make sure the car is up. We call this a “pump & a bump,” and its done on the left side because the car is heavier on the left (lead weights and the driver).
When the gas man plugs in the second can, the catch can man will begin watching and waiting. As soon as he sees fuel coming out of the overflow, he’ll start shaking the first empty can over his head, letting the crew know the car is full.
When the jackman sees the car is full of fuel, and both changers have five lugnuts tight, he drops the jack, ending the stop. Now imagine doing all of that in 13 seconds… Whew!
As I said before there are many variations on the basic pit stop, including adjustments, fixing damage, two-tire stops, fuel only stops, etc. Each one of those variations has its own challenges. But hopefully you now have a better understanding of what exactly goes on during that bit of controlled chaos called a pit stop.