Anyone whos watched a NASCAR race has witnessed the sheer speed of which tires are changed. No sooner does the car pull into the pit lane the car has all four tires replaced and its already speeding off down the race track, but just how do the pit crews manage to change the tires so fast?
NASCAR pit crews are able to change tires so fast as a result of highly-skilled pit crews working in perfect unison: these 5-member pit crews use powerful pneumatic wrenches with specialized sockets, lightweight hydraulic jacks and high-pressure fuel pumps to replace tires and refill gas tanks for the race cars to re-join the track in less than 15 seconds.
A pit crew needs to work with precision and speed to replace tires and refill the gas tanks to send their race car back into the racing action. Carrying, lifting and moving those four 58 lb tires around the race car requires the strength and stamina of a college athlete with the training and skills of a mechanic to carry out these pit stops and minor running repairs. There is an art to a speedy NASCAR pit stop and we have the insider tricks that will surprise you.
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How Do NASCAR Tires get Changed so Fast?
A NASCAR car’s pit stop is over within 15 seconds. A pit crew comprises of just 5 people: 2 tire changers, 2 tire carriers and a refueller. We’ll break the pit stop down for you to see just how fast pit crews change tires to get their race cars back onto track:
- Elapsed Time: 0 Seconds: As soon a team’s race car enters pit lane, the pit crew stands ready at their designated pit box area (an area allocated to them for the duration of the race weekend) with new tires, pneumatic wrenches (also called air guns) and refueling rig. Once the race car stops in its pit box, the pit crews are allowed to enter the pit box too.
- Elapsed Time: 1 Second: The refueller immediately attaches the fuel hose to the car’s gas tank to begin pumping in 18-gallons of fuel. The remaining pit crew – the 2 tire changers and 2 tire carriers – split into two groups, with each group working on a section of the car: a tire changer and a tire carrier will, for instance, only work on the right front and left front tires, while the other 2 crew will work on the right rear and left rear tires. The 2 tire carriers and 2 tire changers run to the right-hand side of the car and one of the tire changers slides a hydraulic jack under the right-hand side of the car to lift it up.
- Elapsed Time: 2 Seconds: The tire changers fire their air guns into action to loosen the wheel’s 5 lug nuts to allow them to pull the old tire off. Each lug nut takes approximately 200 Milliseconds to undo, and all five can be removed in under a second. The lug nuts spin off at 10 revoloutions per second, that twice as fast as a helicopter blade. You will notice the pit crew memebr will have moved onto the next lug nut whilst the previous one is still spinning off. The tire carriers then place the new wheel onto the hub and roll the old tires away towards the pit wall for their other team members to safely lift out of the pit box.
- Elapsed Time: 4 Seconds: The tire changer will once more fire up their air guns to tighten the lug nuts to the hub. Once all 5 lug nuts are tightened, the tire changer runs around the car to the left-hand side of it. A tire carrier will release the hydraulic jack’s pressure with a turn of its handle to cause the car to quickly drop to the ground, and then grab the jack while running to the left-hand side of the car too.
- Elapsed Time: 7 Seconds: On the left-hand side of the car, the tire changers loosen the lug nuts while the designated tire carrier installs the hydraulic jack to quickly raise the left-hand side of the car up.
- Elapsed Time: 9 Seconds: Once the car’s jacked up, the tire changers pull the loose tires off the hub and roll those old tires to the pit wall once again to be lifted over safely by their other team members.
- Elapsed Time: 10 Seconds: Tire carriers then place the new wheels onto the hubs and the tire changers then fire up their air guns to tighten up the 5 lug nuts.
- Elapsed Time: 12 Seconds: The designated tire carrier then drops the hydraulic jack once more to speedily lower the car to the ground again.
- Elapsed Time: 15 Seconds: As soon as the refueller’s filled the car’s gas tank, they signal to the race driver to exit their pit box to re-join the race track.
Why it’s so Important NASCAR Pit Crews Change Tires Fast
A NASCAR race can run 3-4 hours long and cover 400-600 miles. Pit stops are an intense rush to replace the tires and push the car back out onto the track as quick as possible.
The importance of a quick tire change cant be understated; a NASCAR can cover 2 miles per minute when racing at 200 mph. For each second that a NASCAR car is parked in the pit lane changing its tires and refilling its fuel tank, the driver is losing precious positions on the leader board.
For a race driver to reel in a handful number of seconds on the race track is extremely difficult when 42 other drivers are also speeding at 200 mph in a bid to do the exact same thing.
That’s why teams concentrate on shaving off split seconds everywhere else: it is far easier to cut time in the pit lane and during pit stops, and that better helps the race driver maintain his track position and remain in the race’s fight.
A NASCAR pit lane’s a constant hive of activity. Pit crews run and jump over (and around) their race cars to complete multiple pit stops in the least amount of time.
These 5-member pit crews will need to change their car’s tires and refill their gas tanks as many as 12 times during a race. Each movement the pit crews make is well rehearsed and each member has a very defined function to perform.
With large scope for mistakes cropping up in each stage of a pit stop and a high potential for damaging wheel parts while changing tires and injuries to pit crew members, practice is key to chipping away seconds off pit stop times.
NASCAR’s rules allow only pit crews access to pit lane to touch and handle the race cars during a race, the 5-member pits must comprise 2 tire changers, 2 tire carriers and a refueller.
Those NASCAR tires are wide, heavy and hot when they come off a race car and refilling the gas tank is one of the most dangerous jobs in motorsport – the cars’ engines are still running and every exposed part of the car is piping hot making these moments a recipe for disaster.
For this reason, pit crews wear helmets, goggles, gloves, and thick protective suits while the refuellers also don fire suits from head-to-toe to avoid any burns from dripping fuel or in the case of flames. Thankfully, NASCAR’s safety measures mean injuries are rare.
Each wheel is secured to a NASCAR car’s hub via 5 lug nuts in exactly the same way as your road-going car does. There is a trick that pit crews use that we don’t need on our road cars when changing wheels, though…
The wheel lug nuts are glued into place on the wheel before the race – when a crew member slams a wheel on the car during a pit stop, the studs punch the lug nuts away from the wheel, but the glue keeps the lug nuts attached. Then the tire changer can tighten all five lug nuts in about one second.
Securely attaching air guns onto the wheel lug nuts requires a lot of practice, especially with all the commotion around, the heat blasting off the parts, and the intense time stresses.
A tire changer can usually loosen or tighten all 5 lug nuts within 1 second. To perfect that and to reduce the chances of errors, a pit crew will usually spend a few hours each race weekend (and time at the team’s race shop) practicing their teamwork and pit stop synchronization.
The danger for pit crews and drivers isn’t quite over just yet. Only once all 4 tires have been changed and the gas tank’s been refilled does the team give their driver the go-ahead to accelerate out of the pit box to re-join the race.
This is still a dangerous time for pit crews: as the cars pull away from the pit boxes, they drive over the old lug nuts and spin them out into the air, sometimes accidentally striking members of the pit crew.
A race cars’ speed in the pit lane is limited to 45 mph and you’ll see NASCAR drivers flooring their car’s throttle to reach that speed as fast as possible. The drivers must keep their eyes on their car’s mirrors though as other drivers are also either heading towards their pit boxes whilst others on their way back onto the track.
Insider Tricks to Fast NASCAR Tire Changes
NASCAR tire changers have to work as fast as their hands possibly can to change tires. To cope, pit crews have devised tricks to make sure they don’t mess up in these vitally important pit stops…
- Tire changers glue the wheel’s lug nuts to the wheels to make changing tires faster. The main reason for this is so that the lug nuts don’t get knocked off when the tire carrier positions the wheels onto the car to be tightened up.
- Each tire changer has their own gluing technique that they’ve found works best for them. The secret is that most tire changers find that gluing the lug nuts to the wheels 3 hours before the start of the race allows the glue enough time to set and form a sticky bond for them to not fall off.
- In the unlikely event that a lug nut does fall off the wheel, the tire changers glue extra lug nuts onto helmets and gloves for easier access to replace them. While instinct will see tire changers scrabbling for the fallen lug nut, the experienced tire changers will quickly rip off the extra lug nuts.
- A NASCAR pneumatic wrench (air gun) is costs as much as an entire second-hand road car. Priced from $4,500 each, these air guns are able to rattle off five lug nuts in 2 seconds. The sockets that these air guns use cost another $1,500 each.
- Pit crews use lightweight aluminium jacks. They are designed to lift the side of a NASCAR race car to 10” in just one pump of the handle, but it comes at a steep price: $1,400 each. This helps pit crews to devote more time to replacing the tires.
- Pit crews build practice rigs at their team’s race shops and at race tracks. The pit crews also practice their pit stops with a stop watch for a few hours every day of the race weekend to hone their techniques and to synchronize their movements.
- We’ve saved the biggest trick for last… Pit crew work is so physically demanding that NASCAR teams hire college athletes and train them as mechanics. These athletes are able to pick up the 60 lb NASCAR car’s steel wheel and tire, fit to a car and move speedily to the other side of the car to repeat the same feat. After 12 pit stops per race, it makes sense to pick college athletes for these heavy-lifting, non-stop running jobs on race weekends.