Heart rate and core temperature spike for NASCAR pit crew athletes during pit stops, a combination of physiological demands that may take a toll on crew performance, says a study presented today at the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) 56th Annual Meeting in Seattle. These factors, linked with demand for highly skilled pit crews, heighten the need for physical conditioning of pit crew athletes based on the unique demands of the sport.

A research team based on 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 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 then 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."

According to an article published by ACSM, the tasks of a pit crew are generally split among four different positions:

- Tire Changers: Requires short-distance speed and remarkable hand-eye coordination. These athletes are assigned to either the front or rear tires, and are tasked with removing the lugnuts from the wheel and tightening the lugnuts on the replaced wheel. In many cases, the tire changers are also responsible for pulling off the tire once the lugnuts are removed.

- Tire Carriers: Requires significant upper body and core muscular strength in order to carry extremely heavy tires (40 lbs.) and then place those tires on a hub in a bent-over position. Tire carriers are also assigned to either the front or rear tires and are responsible for carrying the new tires to the hub and placing (i.e. indexing) the new tire on the hub so the tire changer can tighten the lugnuts.

- Jackman: Requires a unique combination of strength and speed. They must be able to run around the car as fast as tire changers, but must have the strength to carry the jack (10-15 pounds) and then lift the car with one pump of the jack. The jackman controls when the stop is over; dropping the car to the ground is the signal for the driver to go.

- Gas/Catch Can Man: Gas and catch can men are responsible for putting 22 gallons of gasoline in the car during the 13-second pit stop. The gas can holds about 11 gallons of gas and weighs about 69 pounds. The catch can man, whose primary job is to hold a small can that catches the gas overflow, often holds up the gas can while the gasman reaches for a second can of fuel and makes adjustments to the rear suspension of the car.

American College of Sports Medicine

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