IT BEGAN on a whim. One afternoon in January 1996, several pear-shaped members of Bill Elliott's pit crew walked into the New Life Gym in Hickory, N.C., told the owner they wanted to get fitter so they could do their jobs better and asked him to be their personal trainer. Ten months later Elliott's firmed-up, aerobicized team won the pit crew championship--an event that measures the speed of each team's stops. Pit road, where beer guts were once as common as lug nuts, hasn't been the same since. Says Wayne DeLoriea, who in 1997 sold his portion of the gym to become the pit crew coach for Elliott and now works with Roush Racing's 12 teams, "Elliott's crew started a wave."
Today every multicar team in NASCAR employs a pit crew trainer and coach. The goal: to shave precious milliseconds off the time it takes to make a typical four-tire pit stop. Twelve to 14 seconds is considered good, but a 10-second stop is the holy grail, and Busch's crew, for one, think they can achieve that if they focus on their workouts and keep upping their goals. "Our training is much more advanced than it used to be," says Kevin Gilman, an 11-year pit crew veteran in the Nextel Cup Series who is the rear tire changer for Busch (left). "You don't want to get too big and muscle-bound when you're on a pit crew; what you want to be is to be limber and strong enough to get the job done. But really we're all about speed."
DeLoriea's basic exercise plan could work for baseball or football players, or any other athletes who need to balance flexibility, power and quickness. "We work on range of motion, agility and core strength," says Deloriea. "My Number 1 goal is to have no injuries out there. My second goal is to make my guys the fastest on pit road."
To that end, DeLoriea and Roush Racing conditioning coach Roger Johnson have developed several drills that their pit crews perform in the gym three days a week. "If you put the work in at the gym, it'll show up on Sunday," says DeLoriea. "We want that 10-second stop."
THE WHEEL DEAL
Kurt Busch's pit crew performs these drills on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during the season
* THE LADDER DRILL
For 10 minutes all seven crew members run back and forth in a tight line, stepping carefully between the 15-foot-long ladder's sections. "This is for footwork and agility," says Johnson. "We need our guys to move in concert when they jump over the wall, and this helps them realize how the other guys move. It also helps build teamwork."
* LUG NUT DRILL
To build strength in the forearms, a crew member attaches a power-wrench gun to an elastic band, then hooks the band to a belt strapped around his waist. Working against the resistance of the band, tire changers, who also must take off and put on the lug nuts during a pit stop, replicate their usual movements, lifting the gun, hitting all six lug nut marks, then putting the gun down. They do two sets of 10.
* TIRE CHANGER DRILL
This exercise simulates how changers remove the tire during a pit stop--with added resistance. Johnson uses a pulley system to connect the 70-pound wheel to a weight machine, then has his tire changers do two sets of 10 repetitions of pulling the tire out before setting it down on the ground.