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.

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Anti-gouging law hurts consumers

AP Oil at 120

South Carolina’s anti-price gouging law apparently did consumers more harm than good during a month-long statewide gas shortage that started a year ago, The State newspaper reports.

That’s because some gas stations refused refills because of skyrocketing prices, an industry official told the paper.

“That law and threat from the (state) attorney general kept plastic bags on the pumps,” said Michael Fields, executive director of the SC Petroleum Marketers Association. “If they knew their next load would cost $5.50 (a gallon), they knew they would be accused of gouging. … They knew no one would believe, ‘I gotta charge this because this is what it costs.’”

A year ago today, news reports about refinery closings along the US Gulf Coast following Hurricane Ike led to a gas run that depleted supplies in distribution tanks in less than two days. Drivers began to worry about being able to find gas and cars lined up sometimes 40 deep for fill-ups.

A day after drivers began a panic-buying run on gas, SC Attorney General Henry McMaster invoked the state’s price-gouging law with fines up to $1,000 per offense and up to 30 days in jail. Hotlines were set up to take complaints.

As a result, some station owners refused to take pricey deliveries, fearing gouging complaints, said Fields, whose trade group represents convenience stores and fuel suppliers.

Frank Shumpert, who owns 10 Midlands stations, said he turned down deliveries of gas that would have cost him more than $5 a gallon soon after the shortage started, according to The State

The state’s price-gouging hotlines drew 4,360 complaints after Ike. After nine months of investigation, most of the 37 stations and distributors that received closer scrutiny from the attorney general’s office could back up their price hikes.

In July, McMaster’s office settled price-gouging cases with three gas stations — including two in Lexington County — and a supplier. They agreed to donate a total of $6,500 to the American Red Cross to end the disputes.

McMaster said he did not seek criminal penalties against accused gougers because of the risk of losing the cases.

Still, the state’s price-gouging law worked during Ike by keeping stations and distributors honest, McMaster said. He plans no changes to the law or the hotlines.

Fields said he wants to talk with McMaster about possible changes to the gouging law or reporting of pricing complaints so that stations don’t fear being penalized because their costs rise during a crisis.

How about letting businesses decide what price they want to sell their products for? They paid for it, they own it and if consumers don’t like it, they’re free to shop elsewhere.

An interesting followup to this story would be to examine how much money the attorney general’s office squandered on its price-gouging investigation. Somehow, one suspects it was far more than the $6,500 that the three stations and one supplier ended up donating to the Red Cross to resolve the cases.