Disney hosted this experience. Opinions are our own.
While a race car ride-along may have excited the majority on our junket, the academic geek in me couldn’t wait to go to Pit Crew University. Pit Crew U is a school created with one goal in mind – to train the next generation of NASCAR pit crew recruits. The school has been so successful in meeting this goal that it is today a popular destination for Fortune 500 companies to host professional development workshops. Disney sent a crew of us to get a feel for working over the wall, and be inspired to spread the word about this year’s DVD release of Cars 3.
Pit crews strive to work together as a team to complete their task in the most efficient, and fastest time possible. According to our Pit Crew instructor, Ben Cook, the role of NASCAR Pit Crews have changed dramatically over the past 50+ years. In the 1960’s a typical pit stop took 1 minute, but today the Pit Crews see an 81 percent improvement! Today, race cars take 20 seconds to enter the Pit area, stop for service for 12.5 seconds and take another 20 seconds to drive back out to the track!
As a Motorsport novice, I was amazed by the speeds and strategy necessary for NASCAR teams to get to the big wins. When a lap of the track typically takes 33.5 seconds, a strong Pit Stop Crew is crucial. One lug nut missed can mean the loss of five car lengths!
The NASCAR Pit Crew is the ultimate team activity in a high-pressure situation. Who better to teach us mere mortals about accomplishing goals, building teams and increasing efficiency than these awesome guys?
Our group was divided into teams of five. We were suited up in fire retardant safety suits, googles, ear plugs and work gloves. Much of this uniform was unnecessary for us since we were working on parked cars, but it was a good reminder of the dangerous and very hot conditions our real life counterparts encounter every race. Additionally, it just made us feel cool as evidenced by the flurry of selfie taking that almost immediately ensued in our classroom.
Moving out to the Pit Wall staging area, our teams divided into six possible jobs – jackman, front changer, front carrier, rear carrier, rear changer and gasman. Since we were teams of five, we didn’t have designated gas men.
My pick was to be the front changer since I wanted to work the thunder gun. Oh yeah, you heard right! My job was to use the power tool to remove the 5 lug nuts on the right tire, remove it with an assist from my carrier, put on a new tire and lock in with the installation of 5 more lug nuts. Then race to the left side and repeat all these steps. Our counterparts in the rear were following the same steps, and our jackman was making this all possible by lifting the car up for us.
There were three cars set up, a whistle was blown and a clock started to test our skills. Each team was given four chances to improve our skills. Between each bout, we would go inside to watch an aerial video of our performance and get advice from our Veteran Coach on what we did well, and what we could do better. It wasn’t about any one person, it was a team effort.
Pit crews today are athletes who work their muscles and every single movement to maximize efficiency, and minimize injury. Pit Crew members today workout similar to basketball and football athletes, and even practice yoga to increase their flexibility. Our Coach would provide tips on how the simple step of placing your tools, or moving your body in a different way could save you seconds.
After four timed trials, our team was high fiving each other for shaving off seconds to meet our ultimate best time of 1 minute 3 seconds.
It was such a cool experience that truly feels applicable to so many other personal and professional goals. The first time at my job felt so easy because I was so naive, and focused on the steps I needed to follow. By the final Run, it was a head game. How do I focus on doing my job using all the tips, yet keep my mind on the job at hand? So much mental focus that I never would have believed would be necessary. “Slow down to go faster” is the Pit Crew U mantra. I have found this mantra running through my mind ever since – it really works in all scenarios whether I’m writing blog posts, making dinner or teaching my son to cook.
Photos by Becky Fixel. Thanks to Disney for this experience.