Over the wall: Carrying and changing a tire
CONCORD, N.C. - While all six members of a pit crew rely on each other to perform a pit stop quickly and efficiently, no two positions are more interdependent than those of tire carriers and changers. The 16 Hendrick Motorsports athletes who make up the eight sets of carriers and changers must work in tandem, merging their separate tasks into one fluid process.
Joe Slingerland, rear-tire changer for the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet, spends 36 NASCAR Sprint Cup races a year in the pit box with rear carrier Matt Ver Meer. Like the front-tire combo of changer Clay Robinson and carrier Kevin Harris, Slingerland and Ver Meer have developed a partnership that helps the No. 88 team consistently perform race-day pit stops in less than 13 seconds. Slingerland trusts Ver Meer to manage the air gun hose and pull the worn tires at just the right moment so he can focus on hitting those five lugnuts in seconds. Any hesitation results in a second lost on pit road.
The technical precision is so synchronized it seems natural, but it’s really the result of countless hours spent practicing the essential footwork and movements. A team of pit coaches works with the crews three days a week. Speed is nice, but the focus is always on efficiency.
Take, for example, the changers and carriers on the No. 48 Chevrolet. Like their teammates, front-tire carrier RJ Barnette and changer Dave Collins spend about an hour completing drills during pit stop practice that help them become accustomed to one another. Their rear-tire counterparts, carrier Matt Tyrrell and changer Calvin Teague, also use practice to develop a familiarity so that trust is automatic – a critical component for race-day success.
Physical fitness is a critical aspect woven in through strength and conditioning throughout the season. Changers perform drills that help their arms become used to the repetitious movement of changing five lugnuts. They also complete exercises that develop areas of their body that can be hit hard during stops. Chad Avrit and Cory Demarco, changers for the No. 24 Drive to End Hunger team, focus on stability exercises that strengthen the muscles around their knees which support their weight while they’re changing each tire.
The tire carriers have a different approach to training. Gene Cornwell and Dion Williams, carriers for the No. 24 team, know their position requires a strong core and lower body. They do drills that help develop those areas so swinging a 70 pound tire will be easy work during a stop.
All of this is done so when tire changers and carriers see their Chevrolet rolling down pit road, the duo doesn’t have to think. During a stop, front-tire changer Kelly Kellis circles to the right side of the No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet and immediately drops to his knees to begin removing five lugnuts and the race-worn tire. He doesn’t have to waste precious seconds looking to see if carrier Michael Oxendine has the fresh tire ready, Kellis pulls the old tire knowing Oxendine is ready to slam the new one in place. The two athletes are in-sync, just like their rear tire counterparts, changer Kip Wolfmeier and carrier Ben Fischbeck.
The teamwork and technical precision required from tire carriers and changers will be on display during this Thursday’s Sprint Pit Crew Challenge. To learn more information about the Challenge or to purchase tickets visit www.pitcrewchallenge.com.