The most powerful tool a NASCAR driver has is his car -- but his car wouldn't survive even one race without the care it gets from the crew. NASCAR pit crews are sometimes called the unsung heroes of the sport. That's because they keep the car (and the driver) going, but they often get very little credit. However, those who are in the know recognize that NASCAR crew members are an integral part of every NASCAR victory and are superb athletes in their own right.
But just like a major league slugger would be nothing without his baseball bat, and Tiger Woods would be nothing without his golf clubs, NASCAR crew members would be useless if they didn't have the tools they need to get their job done.
Keep reading to learn about the 10 essential tools of NASCAR pit crew members, how the tools work, and some of the surprising tricks many employ to keep their car on the track.
A NASCAR crew's pit box is sort of like the bridge of the starship Enterprise. It's loaded with electronics, all of which relay important information to the crew. A typical pit-box has two satellite receivers to monitor the weather and track conditions, as well as several flat-screen monitors for close-up views of their car on the track. By getting a closer look at their car, they can anticipate and diagnose problems, as well as act as an extra set of eyes for their driver. Pit-boxes also contain several computers to monitor conditions regarding the car's performance.
Pit-boxes also typically have a few less high-tech tools. The pit-box holds all of the team's hand tools and even a wheel-and-axle assembly -- so the team can practice changing tires when the car itself isn't available. Finally, the pit-box has an electrical generator -- just in case the track loses power. Having a generator means the crew won't lose all of the data they're gathering, or the ability to monitor the race.
Pit-boxes are great for monitoring the car when it's on the track, but keep reading to learn about the tools the crews use when the car is in the pit area.
Air Gun (Impact Wrench)
If you've ever had to change a tire on the side of the road, you know that getting all the lug nuts off with a regular socket wrench can take forever. That's why an air gun or impact wrench is standard equipment for NASCAR crews. It uses compressed air to remove and replace lug nuts as quickly as possible. With their high-powered impact wrenches, NASCAR crews can change all four tires on a car in less than 20 seconds. Try doing that with a regular lug wrench!
One benefit of a hand socket wrench over an impact wrench is that the hand wrench never has to be rebuilt. Because NASCAR air guns are so powerful and used under stressful conditions, they need special attention. In fact, most crew members rebuild their impact wrenches after every 60 uses.
Air guns are essential to a quick pit stop, but the gun has to get its power from somewhere, right? Move on to the next page to find out what keeps that impact wrench spinning.
An air compressor powers most NASCAR crew tools, but the term "air compressor" is a little bit of a misnomer. NASCAR air compressors aren't filled with air, they're filled with nitrogen. But the compressor still works in much the same way the air compressors at your local repair shop do. The compressor pressurizes the gas inside it, so when the gas is released, it comes out with a great deal of force. That force is used to power tools like the air gun.
Why do NASCAR teams use nitrogen in their air compressors? Nitrogen is more consistent than air -- it doesn't react as dramatically to changes in temperature or humidity. With nitrogen in their air compressors, NASCAR crews can be assured that the equipment won't malfunction because it's a particularly hot or cold race day.
Before the air compressor or the air gun can combine efforts to remove the tires, the car has to be raised -- and quickly, too. On the next page, find out how NASCAR crew members get the car up in the air so fast.
A jack is something every driver should carry in his or her car. In fact, most cars come with a factory installed jack in the trunk area. They become an invaluable tool to have around when you have to change a tire. It's the same for the teams competing in NASCAR. Since NASCAR races are so grueling, a race car's tires need to be replaced several times over the course of the event. As you know, you can't replace a tire without a jack.
Since speed is critical in NASCAR, pit crews use a specialized jack that lifts the car with a single pump on the handle. Compare that to the jack you have at home or in your car, which likely requires a lot of pumping or cranking to lift the car. NASCAR jacks use powerful hydraulics to lift the car. Another advantage they have over the jack that you have at home is that they're usually made of aluminum, so they're lightweight and easy to maneuver. One crew member, the jack man, is responsible for operating the jack during a race. He uses it to life one side of the car at a time while two tire-changing teams remove and replace the wheels.
But what happens if the jack man can't get the jack under the car? Read the next page to find out how the team gets the car in the air.
When it comes to NASCAR, a piano bar isn't something Billy Joel used to play in. Sometimes a car will come into the pit with severe body damage or even flat tires, making it ride low to the ground. In some cases, it's too low for the jack man to get the jack underneath to lift it up. That's where piano bars come in.
Piano bars are essentially long, strong bars that the crew can slip under the car. They use the bars like a lever to lift the car off the ground -- at least far enough to get the jack underneath. The piano bars are a basic, almost failsafe tool because there are no moving parts to break and they use the basic principle of leverage to overcome the weight of the car. All the crew needs to do is add is a little bit of muscle and they're good to go.
In racing, you've got to have gas to go -- NASCAR is no exception. But without making a stop at the local fuel pumps, how does a NASCAR car go the distance? Read on to find out.
Let's face it: No one is going to be able to drive 500 miles without gassing up. Beyond simply needing the fuel to keep the car on the track, how much fuel to carry and when to fill up is a key part of NASCAR racing strategy. Here's the dilemma: If you fill the fuel tank to the top, you won't have to stop as often; however, the weight of the extra fuel will slow the car down. If you don't add enough fuel, the vehicle will be lighter and faster, but you may end up running out of gas somewhere out on the track. For these reasons, fuel and fuel strategy is on every NASCAR team member's mind on race day. Every team takes fuel matters very seriously and the method that they use to get the fuel into the car is equally important.
Crews fuel their cars with a fuel can. It's pretty much an upside-down jug with a long spout that the gas man carries over the pit wall, directly to the car. Most gas men carry two at a time, and each container can weigh up to 90 pounds. Along with the fuel can is the catch can -- this is a smaller can held by another team member, the gas catch man, to contain any fuel that's spilled or overflows.
So what happens when things start to fall apart? If you read that in a literal sense, then you'll understand why the next item on our list is so important to NASCAR teams on race day.
Duct tape is the friend of even the least-handy handy man. So why is it also a go-to tool for NASCAR crews? After all, they're some of the handiest people around, aren't they?
As any failed do-it-yourself homeowner or mechanic can tell you, the reason anyone uses duct tape is because it's quick and easy to use. NASCAR teams use duct tape to adjust body panels on the car to improve downforce -- no, we're not kidding about that -- or just simply to hold parts together until the end of the race. It can also be used to make quick fixes to hoses and loose or hanging wires. Crews will even use duct tape to block or redirect airflow to various parts of the grille to keep the engine running at peak efficiency. Duct tape is such a popular NASCAR fix that you can even buy NASCAR-themed rolls of duct tape. You might even hear it referred to as 200 mph tape -- a well-earned nickname.
Keep reading to find out the sticky trick NASCAR crew members have up their sleeve when 200 mph tape just isn't enough.
As awesome as it is at pretty much everything (repairing prom dresses included), sometimes duct tape just isn't enough for the job. That's where BearBond comes in.
Like a real bear, BearBond isn't something you want to mess with. BearBond is really just large sheets of very strong adhesive. If you had the misfortune to get stuck to it, you'd have a hard time getting unstuck. That's why NASCAR crews prefer it for larger body repairs. They can use one large, strong sheet of BearBond as opposed to a lot of little pieces of duct tape. Duct tape is still the tool of choice when it comes to small fixes -- particularly under the hood -- but BearBond is where it's at for large body structure repairs.
Of the tools that we've mentioned so far, you can purchase some of them just about anywhere -- duct tape included; however, BearBond can be a little more difficult to find. But keep reading to learn about a few essential NASCAR tools that you probably have in your garage or basement right now.
Hammers, Baseball Bats and Saws
When you get a big dent in your car, it usually means that you're soon headed to the body shop for expensive and painstaking repairs using highly specialized tools. When a NASCAR car gets a big dent that affects its racing performance, crews get out hammers, baseball bats and saws for a quick fix.
It seems a little strange that crews would spend all week building a high-tech, precision racing machine -- one that's monitored by satellites and thousands of dollars of computer equipment -- only to lay into it with baseball bats on race day. However, if a car's body is mangled, it can adversely affect its performance. Not only can the initial damage threaten to further damage other important performance components, but it can also add too much wind resistance or make it so the car doesn't generate enough down force -- both of which are racing disasters. So, if you see a pit crew wailing on a car with various blunt instruments like Tony Soprano looking for the money he's owed, there's no need to worry. The crew is just hard at work with some of their essential tools.
Up next, find out why one of the simplest tools that NASCAR teams use on race day proves to be one of the most versatile, too.
As we've seen so far, sometimes the simplest tools can be the most useful. That certainly holds true for the last tool on our list -- an extension pole. That's right, a long stick. It doesn't get much more basic than that; however, extension poles are a key tool in the pit crew's toolbox. The irony of this essential tool selection isn't lost on us -- rarely does the extension pole ever even touch the car. Since NASCAR rules specify how many people can come over the pit wall to work on a car during a race, crews use extension poles to perform some of the needed maintenance from behind the wall.
With an extension pole, the crew can clean the car's windshield and scrub debris off the grille to improve airflow. Extension poles are also used to get a quick drink of water to the driver. The most important extension pole use is actually performed before the car even enters the pit. Crews use signs on the end of an extension pole to signal their driver into the correct pit area. While this sounds like a simple use, the pit area is a busy and confusing place, especially for a driver who's been racing all day. Getting the car into the correct area quickly and safely saves precious seconds that can add up to victory.
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- DIY Network. "I Did It With Duct Tape: Automotive Tips." (Nov. 18, 2008) http://www.diynetwork.com/diy/hi_duct_tape/article/0,,diy_13910_2278128,00.html
- Swan, Raygan. "Pit crew members live life on the edge each weekend." NASCAR.com. December 29, 2007. (Nov. 18, 2008) http://www.nascar.com/2007/news/headlines/cup/12/28/pit.road.injuries/index.html
- T.C. "Pit Road Explained: Tools of the Trade." The NASCAR Insiders. May 5, 2008. (Nov. 18, 2008) http://www.thenascarinsiders.com/2008/05/05/pit-road-explained-tools-of-the-trade/
- Whitney, Mark. "NASCAR Quick Pit Stop Tricks." Circle Track Magazine. (Nov. 18, 2008) http://www.circletrack.com/tipstricks/ctrp_0601_nascar_pit_stop/index.html