Pit crews showcased in N.C.

Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 1:01 a.m.
ROCKINGHAM, N.C. - The pit crew is a vital part of every race team, a group of unsung heroes who make sure the cars are fast, repairs are made and tires are changed in lightning-quick time.
Under pressure every weekend, the over-the-wall guys get one chance a season to truly showcase their talents. It comes at North Carolina Speedway during the Union/76 Pit Crew Competition during the Pop Secret 400 festivities.
Up for grabs to the 25 eligible crews is a record purse of $100,000 during Saturday's competition and bragging rights as the best team in the business.
Matt Kenseth's crew from Roush Racing won the event a year ago, emptying two seven-gallon gas cans into the No. 17 Ford and changing four tires in 17.695 seconds.
"I would like to see them win it again, but this year there is a lot more pressure on them," crew chief Robbie Reiser said. "I have told them this is their chance to shine, and it's about them so they should have some fun with it."
The pressure is also on the drivers, who must accurately pilot their car into the stall to ease the crews' task. And the driver has to be patient - if he pulls away too soon, mistakes can happen. One loose lugnut leads to a costly penalty.
"I'd be devastated if I made a mistake that cost my guys a shot at winning the pit crew championship," points leader Tony Stewart said. "I'm just so nervous for them because I know how badly they want to do well there."
Bobby Burrell is one crew member looking for a flawless performance in the competition. The front-tire changer for Johnny Benson's Pontiac, Burrell is back in action after a serious head injury in a pit road accident in Homestead last November.
Burrell was working for Ricky Rudd's team at the time and was bent down over the car when another car hit him, sending him headfirst into the concrete retaining wall.
The accident led to NASCAR tightening its rules for crews by mandating that anyone who goes over pit wall must wear a helmet.
Once healed, Burrell went back to work for Rudd's team until he left to join Benson's crew last month. He had no qualms about jumping back over the wall and servicing race cars for a living.
"You can't be scared, you can't afford that," he said.

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