Pit support members vital to Cup crews' success
CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 8, 2010) – It’s 7 a.m. on a Monday morning, and Andrew Collier and Brandon Harder are among the first ones to arrive at Hendrick Motorsports. They turn on the lights in the pit department and move the practice Chevrolets for the work day to begin. The thundering rumble of the Chevy R-07 engine shatters the serene campus and signals the start of a new day for the pit support members.
As members of the pit department, Collier and Harder play a crucial, behind-the-scenes role in the success of Hendrick teams’ pit stops on race day. With the season-opening Daytona 500 on the horizon, the pit crews have to be prepared. Practice needs to be perfect, and a part of that precision rests in the hands of Collier and Harder.
They start early Monday morning by setting up three practice cars—one for the Nos. 5 and 88 teams; one for the Nos. 24 and 48 teams and one for the developmental program. The Cup Chevrolets are set up to match the ones the pit crews will be working on during the upcoming race weekend. In this case, the duo adjusts the Chevys with the amount of camber the cars will need to conquer the bends and banking of Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. After those alterations are made, Collier and Harder tweak frame height adjustments, choose the tire type and placement, set up the mock pit box and glue lug nuts on roughly 40 sets of tires to use that day.
By this time it’s 10 a.m.—time for the first practice. First up is the No. 5 team. Harder drives the car during the first pit stop and brings it to a halt inside the tape markings he placed with exact measure earlier that morning. When the crew members complete the roughly 14 second stop, Collier collects the hot lug nuts that flew off the gun. Five minutes later, they do it again. This continues for the No. 88 team, but later in the day, Collier takes the wheel so Harder, a back-up jackman, can practice with the Nos. 24 and 48 teams.
When practice concludes, the coaches and pit crew members return to their jobs in the shops, while Collier and Harder clean the used tires and stack them in their proper resting spot.
“The crew guys work in the shop and then have to practice and work out, so time is very critical,” said Chris Burkey, a pit crew coach for Hendrick who also handles scouting and recruiting. “What we do is create an environment that is as close to race day as possible. That helps our pit crews on the actual race day. Brandon and Andrew help maintain that environment on a daily basis.”
Harder, the 26-year-old Ohio native, arrived at Hendrick Motorsports in March of 2008 with pit training and jackman experience under his belt. He built those skills after attending Bowling Green University and moving to North Carolina where he worked on several teams in the late model, trucks and legends series. He handled everything from fabrication to suspension components to pit road duties, and in 2008, he started as a jackman in the NASCAR’s Camping World series. Now he’s the back-up jackman for Hendrick Motorsports’ Nos. 24 and 48 teams on NASCAR’s elite level.
“I’ve been a jackman for about the same amount of time that I’ve been here,” said Harder, who graduated from the NASCAR Technical Institute and attended Pit Instruction and Training in Mooresville, N.C. in 2008. “Being a jackman has helped out a lot with the department I’m in here. I’ve just enjoying getting more involved with the top four teams in racing.”
Collier, a Massachusetts native, volunteered during high school at Able Motorsports in 2004 and 2005 as a mechanic for the No. 35 car in the Whelen Modified Tour and Busch North Series (now Camping World Series East). After graduating, he moved to Charlotte and received his degree from the NASCAR Technical Institute. After witnessing his first pit practice at Hendrick Motorsports, he was hooked.
“One day I watched pit practice,” Collier recalled. “I asked one of the crew guys how to get involved in racing, and he got me in touch with Andy (Papathanassiou, Hendrick’s pit crew coordinator). I stayed in contact with him for a year and a half until he gave me a job.”
Collier started at Hendrick as a volunteer in February of 2008, was put on the payroll seven months later. Now he also spends some time working in Hendrick Motorsports’ CNC department, while also fulfilling his duties in pit support.
“I like it here,” said Collier, 22. “Eventually I would like to be an engine tuner.”
But for now, the duo focuses on preparing the pit crews week in and week out.
“The people are good here,” Harder said. “I have fun. I have fun doing what I do. I want to be happy when I go to work, and this place does it.”