NASCAR in the Pit

by Michael Satterfield - 10/11/2017

I arrived the day before the Bank of America 500, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Being a chase race, it was an important one, and it was being held at the home track of NASCAR, Charlotte Motor Speedway. This was my first race at the historic race speedway, and I was looking forward to it.

I was invited out to the race by Tide Pods, the main sponsor of Matt Kenseth’s number 20 car for the Bank of America 500. We would start with a tour of Joe Gibbs Racing, the state-of-the-art racing facility that employs over six-hundred people and runs four teams in the Monster Energy Cup Series as well two teams in the XFINITY series. It is also the first team to bring Toyota a manufacturer’s championship in NASCAR with Kyle Busch in 2015.

At Joe Gibbs Racing, everything with the exception of a few items mandated by NASCAR or manufactured by Toyota is done in-house. Engineers, machinists, fabricators, graphic designers, vehicle wraps, even the gym, and physical therapy have a department at the company’s Huntersville headquarters.

We were given a tour by Senior Athletic Advisor Michael Lepp, who explained, that while the drivers may sometimes utilize the gym space, the main focus is keeping the pit-crews in shape and injury-free. Around the back there is also a pit-stop practice area where the team trains constantly perfecting their pit-stop drills. 

Preventing and treating injuries for the entire Joe Gibbs Racing family is Dr. Jena Gates, who is a specialist in exercise-based recuperation and physical therapy. She showed us around the physical therapy wing of the fitness center. From studying the types of movements team members need to make and the common injuries that occur, Dr. Gates has developed routines and treatments to limit injuries and shorten recovery times. She travels with the teams to all 36 NASCAR races around the country making sure the teams are in top form, hydrated, and eating right.

Race day came under threat of rain, with my “Hot-Pass” I had access to the entire pit area before, during, and after the race. Then I was told by our team representative that I would be allowed to with the crew up on top of the pit box. Trackside the pit crew is setting up the pit-box, two members of the team are gluing lug nuts onto the spare wheels, while Dr. Gates is working on a crew member’s arm on a massage table by the team’s big rig. As the start of the race draws near the team suits up in their matching Tide orange race suits and head out to pit-row.  

A parachutist flies in with a massive American flag, we stand for the national anthem, and a C130 does a wing dipping flyover, to the roar of the crowd. “Start your engines” is announced and I slip on my headset to listen to the team’s channel. Once the race is underway you see how the training and physical fitness come into play with six members of the pit-crew jumping over the wall some carrying up to 100lbs, they change four tires and refuel the car in about 10 seconds.

The race is a good one, hard-fought, but in the end, Matt's car, in the iconic Tide Racing colors slips from his 2nd place starting position down to 11th. In a race filled with cautions has all teams in the playoffs are pushing themselves to the limit. You can tell everyone is disappointed with the result, but that is racing. The team packs up and we head out from the track, next week they will be doing it all over again, in another part of the country. They will keep pushing forward as Matt Kenseth is still in the playoffs along with his two teammates Kyle Bush and Denny Hamlin.

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