What it takes to be an IndyCar pit crew member

  • Insider spent the week with an IndyCar pit crew ahead of the Indianapolis 500.
  • Along with pit stop-specific training, the team undergoes intense physical and cognitive exercises.
  • During a pit stop, a crew changes all tires and fuels the car in less than seven seconds.
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Following is a transcript of the video.

Grant Richey: A pit crew generally consists of six people over the wall, and you get about 18 half gallons of fuel.

Mike: Fuel flows out of the fuel rig into my hose, then into the car.

Grant: And then the air jack.

Kevin: When I plug that hose in, all that air pressure goes through the hose into the jacks, raise the car up.

Grant: Change four tires. You change your tire, put it back on, and away the car goes.

Grant: In hopefully less than seven seconds, if you’re good.

Kevin: We are at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway the week before the race. We are doing pit stop practice. We are getting in shape, lifting weights, and we are prepping the car to make sure everything’s perfect for the race.

Jessica: A lot of people, when they look at a pit stop, they’re like, “Man, that looks so easy.” But people don’t realize sometimes the hours that we have to put in to make it look so easy.

Bob Perona: From the outside, a pit stop looks like chaos, but it’s really very coordinated. We practice pit stops because consistency is key, right? It’s really working on technique more than speed. There might be a way a guy wants to put the tire on, two hands versus one hand. We’ll work those kinds of techniques in and try and get that done here so that when we go to the racetrack, we know what we’re gonna do.

On my first day of training, I admittedly wasn’t very good. There was potential there, but I’ve improved significantly. It went from probably, like, a seven- or eight-second stop to cutting it in half to, like, a four-and-a-half-second stop now. It all seems slow motion. Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. So if you’re consistent and you just go through the motions and you don’t make any mistakes, then you’re going to be faster than somebody who goes out there and just rushes through the whole process.

Jessica: We practice every day. We do at least five sets each. Somebody goes back and forth with the car, and you just keep doing repetition and trying new things if you have an issue, and work it out until you’ve got it perfected.

My name is Jessica Mace, and I am the inside rear tire changer. I first changed a tire at the Indy 500 in 2014. I saw the guys practicing, and that was something I was like, “Man, I really want to do that.” I didn’t touch a car for months. I just worked on a stationary machine and just kept going and going and going. I was like, “This is something I really want to do.” And I was able to change tires that year. And ever since then, I’ve been part of numerous pit crews. To make a successful pit stop, I gauge it on nobody’s dropping a nut, air jack goes up when it should, and everyone’s done before fuel. If you finish before fuel, then you know you’ve had a successful pit stop.

Jim Leo: To be an effective pit crew member, you need to have a lot of explosive power, upper-body strength, lower-body strength, and also have a very strong ability to focus and maintain your cognitive awareness. You have to be able to get in and out of the pits as quickly as possible, not just for effective pit stops but also from a safety standpoint.

Grant: Going to PitFit, like, that’s huge. You’re doing these hand-eye-coordination things that a lot of the other teams aren’t doing.

My name is Grant Richey, and for pit stops, I do the inside front tire.

Trainer: So strong.

Jim: The drill with tire changing is using strobe glasses, which minimizes the ability for the pit crew member to see what he’s doing. It breaks up the vision. And so when he takes the glasses off, their vision is that much more acute. The Vector reaction-ball drill is a visual recognition and decision-making drill where the athlete has to quickly respond to the color of the ball and then put it in the appropriate bucket. That helps them with the decision-making in a pit stop. It’s cool because you’re working out your mind and trying to improve your reflexes, which is half of what a pit stop is.

Oh, boy! There it is! [laughing]

An IndyCar pit crew is an incredibly physical job. The longevity of a crew member depends on their physical health and their wellness. If they don’t have these qualities, then their career is going to be very short.

Rolando Coronado: I’m 51 years old. If it wasn’t for this kind of training, I would be limping home every night or walking on crutches or probably already in a wheelchair.

Trainer: Good, that’ll work, Rolando! Switch, right arm up. You look at the duration of what they’re doing, and it’s extremely short. It requires a lot of precision, a lot of strength, and speed. These guys are walking 20,000 steps a day during a race weekend before they even get to the pit stops in a race situation.

Grant: So, with today being Carb Day, it’s really the last chance for teams and pit crews to prepare themselves for the race. The biggest thing is making sure your car is set up properly for the race. Is the car handling well through the corners, behind cars, in front of cars, passing cars?

They make sure that everything is under its life, everything is crack-checked. Most teams put a new, fresh engine for the race.

I’d say the biggest differences between an IndyCar pit crew and a NASCAR pit crew — so, in an IndyCar team, the guys changing the tires are also the ones building the car at the shop.

When I strap into the race car and go into turn one at 230 miles an hour, you know, you have full confidence that the car is built right. And then on his side, like, we gotta trust him, that he’s going to come in the pit box safely and hopefully quickly, but mostly safely, and not going to hit any of us.

Fortunately, I have a great pit crew that hasn’t made any mistakes this year yet. They obviously need to be on point with their pit stops, just like I need to be on point with my driving. The coolest moment of the whole month is coming in race morning and then coming out on-grid and seeing usually not a seat left in the house. That’s the coolest part of the year, honestly.

Drivers, start your engines. [engines revving]

In a race like this, you’re going to make anywhere from five to eight pit stops, depending on your strategy.

You have to start hydrating weeks before because you just sweat and sweat and sweat.

A good pit crew is important just because of the competitive level of IndyCar, everything’s measured in tenths of a second, hundredths of a second. It’s hard to imagine that we see, like, a 6.5-second stop versus a 6.4-second stop and that tenth of a second could be the difference between winning and losing.

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