RCR Pit Crew Training Combine – Round Two

This week was one of new beginnings in my life. One of which was to be intentional in becoming healthy and fit. This decision plunged me into joining a local ‘fitness boot camp’. ‘Boot camp’ is one term for it, but most mornings I felt ‘body torture’ was probably closer to the truth. After three days of cardio, weight training, core workouts, and obstacle courses, every muscle in my body was crying out in pain.

Richard Childress Racing Facility
in Welcome, NC  Photo – RCR

So when I heard that Richard Childress Racing and Advocare were hosting the “RCR round two Pit Crew Training Combine”, I considered the opportunity to see how this organization trained their pit crews. At the very least, I could see if my boot camp instructor was on target or if she really just enjoyed torturing me. At the most, I would get an inside glimpse into the development of the Richard Childress pit crews, which, in my opinion, are among the best in NASCAR. 

“No Excuses… No Regrets…”

On Thursday July 12th, at 1:00pm in Welcome, North Carolina, I reported to RCR’s campus. As competitors arrived at the front desk they were greeted by Kellie Gastley, who pleasantly interacted with each of the participants and answered their questions about what to expect and where to report. She was genuinely excited for each person as they embarked on this adventure.

The two RCR employees heading the combine were Ray Wright and Eric Wilson. Ray is the strength and conditioning coach for RCR and the #27 team Rear Tire Carrier at the Sprint Cup level. Eric is the Director of Human Performance for RCR. They work together to make this event a success.

Eric Wilson
Director of Human Performance

I was surprised only 24 participants showed up. In the April inaugural event, the numbers were easily triple that amount. There could be many reasons for the lower number: Summer vacation, not as much press, or perhaps, after experiencing the first event, the participants realized the job and training of a pit crew member is much harder than they originally thought. I can speak for my own previously uninformed knowledge, that what I see on TV during a racing event does not fully represent the heart, training, skill, and physical abilities of the pit crews that I saw at RCR during this event.  

After a short instructional pep talk from Eric and warm-up from Ray they entered the RCR gym to begin the most consuming part of the day. Four stations were setup and the competitors were broken up into groups. The stations would measure each competitor’s hand/eye coordination, agility, natural strength, and endurance.
5-10-5 Drill

First up was the 5-10-5 drill guided by Ray. This drill shows the ability of the athlete to change direction and explosion in short areas while having the hand/eye coordination as they perform. The participants started in a three point stance, then sprint five yards in one direction and knock off a ball from a cone. Then they pivot, run ten yards, knock off another ball from a cone, and finally sprint five yards back to their original starting place. 

Cross Agility Drill

The second station, is the cross agility test, administered by Steve Price, Rear Tire Changer for the #2-Truck at RCR. At this station, participants tested speed, explosion, body control, and the ability to change direction. The competitor begins crouched at the bottom of the cross. As the time starts, they run and touch the top of the cross, middle, right, left, middle and back to the bottom of the cross. A lot of the participants realized the amount of traction on their shoes was a huge concern during this drill.

Vertical Jump Drill

The third drill was the vertical jump guided by Andrew Childers, Jack man for the #31 RCR Sprint Cup team.  It was perhaps, the simplest to execute of the drills measured. Showing power and explosive strength in the lower body which is needed in changing directions while pitting a car and for jumping off the wall to begin a pit stop.

The Dead Tread

The final drill was affectionately called the ‘DEAD TREAD’.  The always entertaining #29 team Rear Tire Carrier, Aaron Shields and Gas Man, Bryan Smith together timed and measured the competitors during this drill. Participants perform a 20-second sprint on a non-motorized treadmill to see how many revolutions the belt can get around. This is one of the most talked about and anticipated drills of the day. As Ray Wright commented, this drill truly shows the ‘heart’ of the competitor. The averages were in the upper teens to lower/mid-20s; but I did see one participant, Brian, accomplish a record-tying 28 belt revolutions. I also saw at least three people, including the lone female participant, attempt the ‘dead tread’ multiple times. That certainly showed a lot of their heart, however was perhaps also the most regrettable decision of their day.

Troy- First time with a Gas Can
The most impressive outcome for me out of the 1.5 hours of drill exercises was the encouragement from both the RCR employees and the fellow participants. One participant, Troy who had a year left in his army enlistment and had traveled from New York to participate was one of the most vocally supportive participants throughout the day. He consistently motivated others through the drills and gave them encouraging feedback. 

Troy was an inspiration to me. He blew out his knee while serving in Iraq and is on his road to recovery. He was interested in what his future would hold and was nervous about the event but was put at ease through the training and exercises. I believe, it surprised him with how well he did. It was an honor to shake his hand and thank him for his service. I often wonder what members of the military do after their dedicated service – it’s great to hear that some of them are interested in being involved in NASCAR. I’m a great supporter of the troops, service men and women who fight for our freedoms. 

Chris never gave up.  
Steve Price walking him through 
Front Tire Changing
Another participant, Chris had arrived from Roanoke, Virginia with his young son and his son’s grandfather to participate. I had a chance to chat with them prior to the combine while touring the fan walk at RCR. It is always a neat experience when kids get to see the shop and the different stages of the cars being built and painted. 

It was Chris’s first time at a combine and he was interested in a new opportunity and learning what the Tire Changer position would be like. Chris made the mistake of eating lunch right before arriving and the ‘dead tread’ garnered its first victim of the day. Not making excuses though, Chris managed to finish three of four drills and joined the team outside for the final hour of the combine. I was impressed at his dedication to not give up. He found that he had an internal fire to complete the day on a good note. Chris learned and improved as much as he could throughout the process. That’s not something that you train someone for, that’s an inherent natural desire.   
Ray Wright 
explaining hand placement 
for Tire Carriers

During the final hour the participants were broken up into their perspective positions on the pit crew team. This allowed for specific and direct one-on-one basic training for those having never performed the position before. The pros of jack man, rear tire changer, and rear tire carrier were able to practice a tire stop together with each rookie. Ray Wright, Bryan Smith, Steve Price, and Andrew Childers worked individually and in groups with participants and answered any questions they had, giving insight and advice to each one. 

This was really a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for all participants. How many other places can you go and get one-on-one guided and individual consultation prior to applying for a position? As I listened and watched the interaction, I found the RCR employees truly cared and wanted these guys to succeed. None of them held any information back and they gave specific, individual attention to anyone who asked. They willingly stepped in to explain a better form or provide correction whenever necessary.

Andrew Childers 
Jackman #31 Training

As the combine came to a close, other RCR employees came out to watch and encourage the participants in action. As I sat back taking pictures and watching in awe, I recognized and introduced myself to Jeremy West, Rear Tire changer for the #29 team. We discussed briefly the life of a pit crew member changing between teams inside of an organization and between multiple organizations.  As an employee being at my job over 14 years, it’s hard for me to grasp changing positions or companies the way some pit crew members do routinely.  Every time they come over the pit crew wall, their future depends on their performance. It proves the stability and home life is truly unique for these professional athletes.

Running through a pitstop

Tim “Pop Tart” Sheetz was also in attendance. I had the privilege to see him win the individual skills challenge for Front Tire changer in May’s Pit Crew Challenge on the #31 team. We discussed the body type of the athlete and which position they gravitate to in order to do each job well. 

It was great to have PopTart there to show some of the guys they can be successful and accomplished at a position that might on first impression, seem as though they could not be successful at even attempting. 

Matt Kreuter #27 Gas Man
& Bryan Smith #29 Gas Man

I also had the opportunity to talk with Matt Kreuter, Gas Man for the #27 team. He was working with Bryan Smith mentoring participants checking out that position during the event. 

Matt is a great example that you can start in one position and migrate or be needed in another position on a team.  He started as a Front Tire Carrier before being moved to Rear Tire Carrier after a year. He held that position for many years before stepping into the role of Gas Man for the #27 team this year.

The primary focus of the event was to learn and measure the skill-set of what it takes to be a pit crew member through fitness skills and practice. I believe the endurance, agility and athletic ability these guys must excel in, is probably one of the most hidden secrets of the sport. I recently heard someone describe these crew jobs as a ‘lazy’ sport since the crew members are resting between pit stops. I respectfully counter that opinion with my own, a 9-15 second high-stress, high intensity, and highly dangerous pit stop probably takes more preparation, and natural ability, more teamwork and as Ray so properly explained, more heart, than any other sport I watch.

Driving home, I thought about what I intended to get out of the combine and what I was bringing home with me. Coming to the event, I was hoping to find out if my fitness boot camp instructor was torturing me physically. What I came home with is the knowledge that fitness isn’t just “physical.” It’s the emotional encouragement and motivation you have within yourself and for others. It’s the mental ability to see past a certain ‘body type’ and persevere through stereotypes.  It’s the internal ability of your heart to learn and teach others what knowledge you have to pass on along to support their growth. In it’s simplest terms, it’s loving your neighbor as yourself. 

And with that, at 5am tomorrow I report to my boot camp with a renewed dedication for my personal effort at becoming healthy and fit.
 Ray Wright’s 
Galatians 5:14 shoes

Galatians 5:14: 
“For the entire law is fulfilled 
in keeping this one command: 
“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

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