To work in the pits, you must have a deep knowledge of cars, but you may not know that you also need to be athletically gifted. Those working the pit stalls today are not the everyday mechanics that you saw in NASCAR’s past. Knowing this, you may wonder how to become a member of a NASCAR pit crew.
To become a member of a NASCAR pit crew, you must possess an athletic background more than anything else, as the job is very physically demanding. You’ll also normally need to have 3-4 years of experience as a pit crew member in the lower levels of NASCAR to reach the Cup Series level.
Below, we will go into more depth regarding what it takes to become a NASCAR pit crew member. We will elaborate on why NASCAR teams seek to recruit athletes, and discuss how long it takes to become a member of a Cup Series pit crew. We will also touch on how much pit crew members earn.
How To Become A Member Of A NASCAR Pit Crew
When you watch a NASCAR race from its older days, like the 1982 Talladega 500, you may be shocked at how slow a NASCAR pit stop used to be. During that race, Harry Gant had a pit stop that lasted nearly 40 seconds. Dale Earnhardt also posted a stop that was more than 30 seconds long.
Fast-forward to 2022, and a pit stop lasts less than half of that time. So why are NASCAR pit stops so much faster these days? This is because during the old days, the only real way to become a member of a NASCAR pit crew was if you were a NASCAR mechanic. And as you may guess, these mechanics weren’t necessarily major collegiate or former pro athletes.
They worked in race shops all day, and perfecting a pit stop took a back seat. These days, if you are a NASCAR mechanic, chances are you won’t become a member of a NASCAR pit crew unless you happened to be a former athlete or if you also have natural athletic ability. And even then, it’s a stretch, because NASCAR teams like to specify roles for each individual on their team.
Only a tiny percentage of people go on to play sports at a major collegiate program, but if you are not in that number, don’t lose hope. There is quite a learning curve for former athletes since they still need to know a thing or two about cars before they even attempt to service them.
Several Routes To NASCAR
Recruiting former college athletes is also just one potential route for future NASCAR pit crew members. Drive for Diversity, for example, is another pipeline. And while many who enter Drive for Diversity have an athletic background in some type of capacity, it is not universal.
More than half will have a background in college sports, but others either took part in the Olympic games, played sports at the semi-pro level, or even the professional level. Roughly 12% either have either no athletic background, or did something in auto racing before entering NASCAR.
Of the pit crew members you see in NASCAR, roughly one-fifth of them entered the sport via recruitment from NASCAR itself. Another 20% entered the sport via connections that were already part of NASCAR. A few were even local to the NASCAR scene, and entered the sport through its proximity to them.
Why Not Stick With Mechanics Then?
While NASCAR drivers and teams weren’t as well known for being in the type of physical shape they are in today, there was still physical conditioning involved. For example, Bobby Allison used to drive around town in the middle of summer with the windows rolled up so his body would better adapt to the sheer heat of being inside a NASCAR car during the season.
There are a slew of other examples, and physically training these mechanics to become faster, stronger, and more agile was no exception. Unfortunately for these mechanics, no matter how they trained, they never became athletes.
KEY FACT: Once NASCAR teams started predominantly hiring athletes, it cut the average pit stop time in more than half, leading to the 13 to 16-second stops we see now
At one point, it wasn’t uncommon to see stops as quickly as 11 seconds. New NASCAR mandates that kicked in regarding equipment, however, forced teams to lose between one and two seconds.
How Long Does It Take To Become A NASCAR Pit Crew Member?
It can take 3 to 4 years of work to become a NASCAR pit crew member, with the journey usually beginning in the lower levels of NASCAR’s tiered system. Many Cup Series pit crew members start out in the ARCA Menards series, but many have an earlier background in college or semi-pro sports.
Today, NASCAR pit crew members are near the same rung as lower-level pro athletes. When we say lower-level, we don’t mean they are any less talented, but instead they are athletes who play in sports with smaller audiences.
Often, it takes between three and four years to gain enough ability and experience to service a Cup Series car, just as it often takes at least three years for a college athlete to make the jump to the NFL. Also like you see with the NFL, not everyone who tries to get there will make it.
You can expect the same result for many who aspire to become NASCAR pit crew members. And although it might look like a simple job when you watch a NASCAR pit stop from your television screen, it is actually an incredibly tough career.
Not An Easy Endeavor
Think about how heavy a tire or a jack is, and handling them not only during a race, but during practice both at the track and repetition after repetition during weekdays at team headquarters. Not to mention all the weight training, functional training, and cardio sessions needed to fully hone the craft of changing tires, carrying tires, operating a jack, or a full gas can at quick speeds.
Just because it often takes at least three years to earn a spot on a Cup Series pit crew, it doesn’t mean you would be stuck practicing in some obscure training facility for three years. NASCAR drivers don’t make the Cup Series immediately. They often start their odyssey in ARCA, and that’s where most entry-level pit crew members end up.
This usually occurs after six months if the member landed in the Drive for Diversity program, but not before they go to a booking agency that will try to find them a NASCAR team for them to work with. Others may go straight to a NASCAR team and join their development program, much in the same way a professional hockey player lands with a minor league affiliate of an NHL team.
Once a member has some experience in ARCA, they will often move up to the Truck, Xfinity, and Cup level on a part-time basis. Even those under contract with a Cup Series team may float around the top three levels before they ultimately land a full-time spot somewhere. Ideally, it would be the Cup Series, but there is nothing wrong with working full-time in Truck or Xfinity.
Like Learning A New Sport
With athletes taking up the pit stalls on race day, NASCAR teams know they have people fast enough to win the race off pit road. Even though being in a pit crew isn’t a sport high schools and universities offer, even the best athletes will liken the journey to become a full-time NASCAR pit crew member as learning a new sport.
They need to take the athleticism they are born with and tailor it to a sport that involves carrying tires, a gas can, or a jack. They also need to learn how to use tools like impact wrenches, and to get used to carrying components they are tasked with operating.
Athletes must also condition themselves differently, as many positions on a NASCAR pit crew are not easy on the knee joints, elbows, or back, given all the movement required in those areas. This requires aspiring pit crew members to learn proper technique when handling such components, and once they get in enough reps with proper form, the initial wear and tear will dissipate.
A Risk-Taking Measure
Just like many things worth having in life, there is a certain level of risk involved if you aspire to become a NASCAR pit crew member. Many servicing the Cup Series teams you see today believed the benefits outweighed the costs of leaving a sport they’ve played since grade school behind for NASCAR, with no guarantee they were going to make it at that level.
Those who were not college athletes often leave their homes and in some cases steady jobs behind. Becoming a NASCAR pit crew member is by no means a simple endeavor, and your chances of making it to the Cup Series are slim. But if you earn a spot at the Cup or even the lower levels, you accomplished something few others have in NASCAR’s 70-plus year history.
KEY POINTS• Many NASCAR pit crew members started out as college athletes
• The journey to reach the Cup Series usually takes at least 3-4 years
• Being a NASCAR pit crew member is far from an easy job
How Much Do NASCAR Pit Crew Members Make?
NASCAR pit crew members can earn anywhere from about $50,000 to $300,000 or more per year, and they may get bonuses per race. NASCAR pit crew members earn different amounts of money depending on the team they work for, their experience level, and the role they play on the crew.
The crew comprises a jack man, two tire changers, a fuel man, a tire carrier, and during the race’s second half, a utility man. Each job ranges in difficulty, which explains the variations in pit crew salary.
NASCAR Pit Crew Salaries
|Pit Crew Member||Salary|
|Tire Changer||$50,000 – $90,000|
|Tire Carrier||$50,000 – $90,000|
|Fuel Man||$150,000 – $200,000|
|Jack Man||$150,000 – $300,000|
One reason for the jack man and fuel man’s larger salaries stem from the dangers and mental demands of their respective jobs. The fuel man is operating heavy amounts of flammable liquid while the jack man must multi-task with helping the tire changers, ensuring the car is back on the ground, and that the old tires are against the wall, before the driver presses the gas pedal.
Once they see everything is clear, they will signal the driver to leave the pit stall. If they make a mistake and the tires, for example, are not in contact with the pit wall, it will lead to fines for their driver and team. These high-pressure situations mean they get paid the big bucks.
Becoming a NASCAR pit crew member isn’t easy, and it is a job that many may try out for, but few will make a living in. Joining a Cup Series pit crew requires you to have a fairly athletic background as the job is physically demanding, and you’ll normally need a lot of experience too.