LAS VEGAS — They jump into action as soon as the car hits pit road. The pit crew is responsible for the success of NASCAR’s best.
Race day at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for a member of a NASCAR pit crew is a lot of wait, wait and then go.
“You gotta have the right team and the right group around you. You gotta believe in your guys, and you just gotta go do it. Half of the battle is just getting there, committing, and doing it,” said Michael McDowell, NASCAR driver.
McDowell drives the #34 car, and his crew is led by Chief Drew Blickensderfer.
“It’s a rush. Trying to make it to inspection on time, getting the changes you need to in the race car and kinda overseeing everything. This is go time for us,” said Blickensderfer.
Like on game day, all of the preparation ahead of the race is done in the early morning and late at night, so when the green flag drops, everything is ready.
“When I was first becoming a crew chief, the adrenaline got the best of me. You were nervous before the race, and now I’m kinda chill before the race. It’s kinda out of your control at this time,” said Blickensderfer.
Some variables might be out of control when the race is underway, but the work of changing tires, ripping off new windshields and making sure fuel levels are right is the responsibility of the crew members. Blickensderfer oversees them.
“You gotta be a good leader. I think it’s very similar to being a good football coach or a basketball coach. You gotta manage people well and people are different. The guys I have working on the 34 are different than the guys I worked with last year or the guys I worked with five years ago,” said Blickensderfer.
Then there’s the trust factor for the driver hopping into the car each race day.
“When you strap in that car and you go 200 mph down into turn one, you have to know that everything is good and that you can trust it, otherwise you’re gonna be so hesitant to do what you have to do,” said McDowell.
Blickensderfer joined Front Row Motorsports and McDowell this season, but previously served as crew chief for three wins in the NASCAR division, including a 2009 victory with Wisconsin’s Matt Kenseth.
“You gotta be able to mold. I think you see that with a lot of great NFL coaches, especially, because what we do is very similar to an NFL coach. We have coordinators or managers that we deal with and we gotta manage all those people, and depending on your skill set of players, or drivers, or team, you gotta have different expectations and adapt to them,” said Blickensderfer.
Adapting and learning on the fly is the key to earning that checkered flag.
Because of the physical nature of the job, the majority of pit crew members are former collegiate athletes, and on Sunday, March 31, NASCAR will be in Texas for the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 — only on FOX6!