For 38 weekends a year, Richard Childress Racing pit crews perform double duty, pitting cars in both the NASCAR Premier Series and XFINITY Series. When the season finally comes to an end at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the grueling over-the-wall effort comes to a conclusion but the work is far from over.
During the off-season months, the pit crews spend their days recuperating, working their normal shifts in the shop, getting equipment ready for the upcoming season and maintain their high level of fitness. The goal is to ultimately recover and recharge.
“It is definitely a year-round sport,” said veteran gas man Tyler Rader. “We’re professional athletes and expected to be in shape and on the top of our game, even in the off-season.
“Everybody on the team is different in how they take care of their bodies in the off-season,” he said. “We have guys that are in their 20s and others that are in their 40s. I like to work out twice a week, nothing crazy, and I’ve actually started going to yoga to help loosen the body out. It’s helped to just kind of relax.”
For most pit crew members, live pit stop practice stopped the week of the season finale at Homestead. However, with some off-season changes taking place, other crew members have already been at work testing their abilities and getting the feel for one another during live practices.
“Two of our pit crews have no changes to them,” said RCR pit crew coach Ray Wright. “Those guys are familiar with one another. A productive off-season for those guys would be to relax and have a mental vacation from everything that is going on and let their nagging injuries rehabilitate themselves.
“I’m in no hurry to get back to live pit stops with these guys and grinding our joints,” he said. “We just alleviated a lot of mental stress from the 2016 season, I don’t want to pile that back on so soon. It is a long season and these guys need some time to relax.”
While these crew members take time to recuperate, the newly formed pit crews will focus on coming together as a cohesive group that works flawlessly once the season starts in February.
“The NASCAR off-season is obviously not long at all, so those guys have to come together quickly,” said Wright. “If it is a new tire carrier and changer combination, they have to get their spacing down, if it’s a new jackman he has to work on his footwork and strokes. There’s a lot that they have to get in sync. We have already started practicing with a couple of our teams. We’re doing a lot of right-side stops and we’re trying to keep the reps down, but also give them enough time to familiarize themselves with one another.”
One way Wright is helping the group of new pit crews come together away from the shop and practice facility is by working with the charitable group Pit Stops for Hope. The group – especially the new guys – are travelling around the Winston-Salem, North Carolina area delivering Christmas trees to underprivileged families.
“With the holidays and the off-season just kicking off, it is such a hard time to try and do things outside of work, but delivering Christmas trees is a great way for these guys to come together, get familiar with one another and give back at the same time,” said Wright.
While focusing on the pit crew members cohesiveness and overall wellness is essential to success next season, Wright believes the most important thing going on during the off-season is improving the technology used by the pit crews.
From quicker air guns to lighter jacks, the team looks at each tool taken over the wall and to determine how it can be changed and adapted to make it even more effective.
“We’re really digging into it to keep evolving and getting better. We have look at that as we’ll never be ahead of the game,” said Wright. “We just have to keep grasping and reaching for more, because right now we’re not where we want to be, but we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time.
“When you look at equipment, you have to come back to the same things: easier to use and lighter to carry,” he said. “If you keep those two things in mind when working on a new piece of equipment, it’s going to equate to faster pit stops. Whatever we’re doing – whether that’s in a conference room, a pit practice area or a big boardroom – the answer of the question has to be; this is making pit stops faster, this is making cars faster. That’s all we’re trying to do. We’re just trying to find anything that will make pit stops faster in the end.”
The ultimate goal of the off-season is to make improvements and come out of the box stronger in 2017. Wright believes the team ended the 2016 season positively, gaining spots on pit road instead of losing them. Looking ahead to this year, Wright wants the pit crews to pick up there they left off and continue to support on-track efforts.
“We need to have competitive cars and our pit crews need to have competitive stops to back up those competitive cars,” he said.
“As a coach, Ray is big on goals,” said Rader. “He has us set our own personal goals for the year and he holds us accountable throughout the year. As a group, our goals are obviously to win races and championships, but each we are ranked against the other teams up and down pit road. Being in the top 10 consistently each week is a solid goal for each of our teams. There are a lot of good pit crews out there, but if you can be in the top 10 consistently that is a pretty good measure.”
From resting up, to training new crew members, to refining equipment, everything the team is doing during the off-season is working toward those goals and ultimately ending more races in Victory Lane.
— RCR (@RCRracing) November 15, 2016