The Unsung Heroes of KOH: Pit Crews & How To Pit
There are myriad of factors that are required to win the Nitto King of the Hammers. These include a talented driver, capable vehicle, and plenty of luck. There are people behind the scenes that are just as important though. These are the pit crews who keep guys like Loren Healy and Erik Miller moving through a long, grueling day of racing.
In desert racing there are services from organizations such as Mag 7 and Dust Junkies Racing that will provide pitting along the race course. You provide them with your spare tires and fuel (with your car number on them), pay a fee, and they will take care of you in predetermined locations.
At King of the Hammers though it is more common for teams to rely on their friends and family for pitting. No one is making it 250 miles through all of the Hammers trails (twice!) without some help along the way. And KOH is a "no chase race," which makes the pits even more critical,as these designated locations are the only places that a race team can receive assistance. These behind-the-scenes team members can make or break the race for a team; they are not to be underestimated.
Here is what a quality pit stop requires:
King of The Hammers Race Preparation
Prior to race day, the pit crew should familiarize themselves with the race car. This includes items such as how to fuel the car, what size socket is necessary and where to place the jack when changing a tire on the race car, plus the general layout of the vehicle (front engine, rear engine, IFS, solid axle, etc).
Pitting at KOH
As the driver is coming into the pit, he or she should notify the pit crew a few minutes ahead of time and let them know they're coming in. Any issues with the vehicle should be relayed on the radio so the pit crew can prepare to address them as quickly as possible.
The pit itself should be clearly labeled with the team number so the driver can see where they need to go, and a tarp should be staked down to catch any fluids that may spill. The pit should have fuel and spare tires, as well as tools and spare parts to fix any potential issues.
The Job of the Pit Boss
The Pit Boss will have a radio and communicate with the driver clearly without the need to yell. The Pit Boss stands in front of the car for the entire pit stop, and does not move out of the way and wave on the driver until he or she can confirm that everyone is out of the way and it is safe for the car to leave the pits.
It is a good idea to train the crew to step back from the car with their hands up after performing their task to signal they are clear. This person also directs the pit crew to perform tasks and check items on the car based on input from the driver.
The Job of the Fuelers
Dump cans weigh over 100 pounds and can be awkward to lift. Two people are required to fuel a race car, one to lift the can and another to guide the nozzle into the filler. The goal is to refuel the car as quickly as possible while spilling as little fuel as possible. Ideally, the fuelers should be wearing fire suits or fire resistant coveralls, leather gloves, and face shields in case any fuel splashes back at them.
The Job of the Firemen
When a hot race car pulls into the pits and the crew is scrambling to get them in and out as quickly as possible, fires are a very real possibility. At least one team member should have a fire extinguisher in their hands, ready to use in a split second. Ideally there would be two firemen, one on each side of the car.
The fire extinguisher should be as large as realistically feasible, such as a 10-pound or 20-pound unit. A common 2.5-pound fire extinguisher expels all of its contents in just a matter of seconds. The fire extinguisher must also be fully charged and be certified within the last year.
King of the Hammers will pound even the strongest, best prepared of race cars. When in the pits there needs to be at least one person dedicated to looking over the entire race car to check for damage, leaks, a clogged air filter, or loose parts. It is much better to tighten or replace a loose link bolt in the pits than to find out about it when doing 100 mph across a dry lake bed. Paint pen marks make this process easier. This team member should also be prepared to change a tire if the team is coming into the pits on a flat.
Small Job? Hydration and Visibility
Racing takes its toll, and someone should be available in the pits to provide the driver and navigator with water, food, and anything else that they might need, such as a cloth to clean off the visor of their helmet. Putting a straw in the water bottle will make it much easier for the driver to drink without having to take his or her helmet off.
Other often overlooked tasks include cleaning mirrors and lights and wiping down the car numbers so they are visible. This team member should ideally be prepared to help change a tire if the team has flat and there are not enough other crew members to perform this task.
Not every team has enough resources to put seven or eight people in each pit. The pit crews take time off work and roll around in the dirt, all for a t-shirt and a handshake. Some of the tasks above can be performed by a single person, but a better option is to share resources with other racers. In other words, one pit crew can assist more than one vehicle in the race.
The next time you are walking by the pits at an Ultra4 race, give a thanks to the men and women who bust their knuckles as they help our favorite drivers! Their job might not be glamorous, but it is an integral part of every race team.