Racing’s pit stop a synchonized work of art

Auto racing isn’t everyone’s cup o’ tea, but it possesses aspects that transcend sport. One facet which, when done well, can be a joy to watch – and sometimes mean the difference between a driver winning a race and finishing 10th or worse – is a perfectly synchronized pit stop.

For a crew of seven to be able to jack up a 3,300-pound car (twice), change four tires and dump in 24 gallons of gas, all in less than 14 seconds, is an amazing feat.

In racing’s early days, pit stops were lengthy affairs. In the 1950s, according to NASCAR statistics, the average pit stop took four minutes.

By the early 1960s, pit stops would, at best, take a minute or more. Crews would use store-bought jacks and lug wrenches as they worked feverishly to put on new tires and get cars operating at peak performance.

Even the first part of the above video, from the 1950 Indy 500, while it features a (for its time) relatively short 67-second two-tire pit, shows a tire changer banging away at the front tires to loosen the lug nuts. Needless to say, there was little precision in racing’s early pit stops.

Leonard Wood, a former NASCAR crew chief, engine builder and the co-founder of Wood Brothers Racing, changed all that. Wood was the first to devise a means to trim significant time from pit stops.

“Wood, wanting to speed the stops for a competitive advantage, worked with an equipment company to improve air wrenches, created a fuel can that could pour gas faster, and made the pistons in the jack larger,” according to the Raleigh News and Observer.

NASCAR crew members in action during pit stop.

NASCAR crew members in action during pit stop.

“We had our jack coming up in three pumps at Michigan and all the others were doing 10 and 12, so the jack people saw it,” said Wood, who was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame last year. “It didn’t take them long to figure out what was going on.”

Under Wood’s guidance, his teams’ pit stops dropped from a minute-plus to roughly 25 seconds – a remarkable accomplishment.

At the 1963 Daytona 500 Tiny Lund, driving for the Wood Brothers, spent so little time on pit road that he went on to win the race without changing his tires once.

Two years later, the Wood Brothers brought the choreographed pit stop to open-wheel racing. At the 1965 Indianapolis 500, Wood Brothers driver Jim Clark took top spot and set a record with an average speed of more than 150 miles per hour.

Today, it’s unusual, but a well-done NASCAR pit stop can be accomplished in less than 13 seconds.

Formula 1 is even faster. F1 teams, which are allowed more crew members while pitting, have been recorded changing all four tires and fueling a car in less than two seconds.

(HT: Cafe Hayek)


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