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Are Pit Crew Members Athletes?

Chris Graythen / Getty Images

It wasn’t that long ago that NASCAR drivers were viewed as beer-swilling, cigarette-smoking drivers who gave little thought to fitness. These days, most drivers tend to follow the lead of 50-year-old workout devotee Mark Martin and Carl Edwards, who uses his washboard abs to help perform celebratory backflips off his Ford Fusion after victories.

Piloting a race car at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour for up to five hours takes a huge level of fitness. So too does serving as a member of a pit crew, who must handle some stressful, physically demanding tasks. Not surprisingly, NASCAR crews have begun to recruit former college football players for the duty.

How demanding is the gig? A study presented recently at the national convention of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) revealed that heart rate and core temperature spoke for NASCAR pit crew athletes. A research team based in Charlotte, N.C., set out to determine the heart rate (HR) and core temperature (CT) response to race situations in pit crew athletes. Over the course of six NASCAR Sprint Cup races, the pit crew experienced marked increases in both HR and CT, as measured by sensors ingested before the race and monitored every 15 minutes after the start of the race and immediately after each pit stop.

“As the sport of racing has evolved, so has the condition of the pit crew,” said David Ferguson, M.S., lead author of the study. “'Athletes' is the appropriate word for the pit crew, because what they do determines whether a pit is successful or whether there is a costly delay, a task that normally transpires fully in 13 seconds or less."

The research team emphasized that the more physically conditioned the crew is to meet the physiological demands of the race, the more likely they are to keep their cars in the race. When relating this to performance, one of the pit teams was typically one second faster than the other pit team in completing a pit stop. “One second on pit road can correlate to 200 feet on the race track, which could be the difference in first and 10th place and could lead to a loss of millions of dollars, especially if a championship is on the line,” said Ferguson.

Consistent heart rate and temperature elevations are potential health risks, particularly for an unconditioned individual. But, Ferguson says, pit crews now are becoming as sophisticated as the drivers in regard to their training and conditioning. “We know that races can be lost or won based on the pit. This may be the next evolution in NASCAR.”

About The Author

Pete Williams – Pete Williams is a contributing writer for CorePerformance.com and the co-author of the Core Performance book series.

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Tags: Sports Performance, Conditioning