Physical Online
September 2002 - Feature Stories
The Trials and Tribulations of a NASCAR Pit Crew
By Lynne L. Hall
With time so precious, the crew makes every workout minute count.
"Talk to me, Hank!" Over the radio, the concern in crew chief Gary Cogswell’s voice was clear. "Hank, where are you?"
Just seconds before, the Talladega Superspeedway had exploded into a mass of flying, tumbling cars. The GNC Live Well No. 36 car piloted by Hank Parker Jr. had been racing at breakneck speed in the middle of the pack. Now, everything was obscured by an ominous cloud of dust, and Hank’s radio was silent.

Down on pit road, all eyes were glued on the track, every ear tuned to the radio headsets connecting them to their drivers. In the No. 36 stall, Wendy Parker, Hank’s bride of three months, sat unmoving, one hand over her mouth, the other pressing the headphone to her ear.

Finally — "I’m OK! I’m OK! I don’t have a scratch on me. I don’t know how, but I missed the whole thing. There’s no damage to the car!"

"Great piece of driving, Hank!" said Cogswell. "Just hang in there." When the dust settled, 27 cars were towed off the track, and the race continued with just 13 cars left to battle it out. Parker maneuvered the No. 36 car into fourth place and settled there, waiting for his chance to move ahead. He was running strong, and hopes were building among the crew for the season’s first win. But those hopes were soon dashed.

In avoiding the massive pileup, Parker had put enormous pressure on the brake pedal. It snapped as he pulled in for his second pit stop of the race. Instead of the 16-second stop they had hoped for, the crew found themselves scrambling to install a new pedal — a task that cost them 15 precious minutes and any chance of a win.

Though disappointed, rear-tire changer Ira-Jo Hussey was pragmatic. "That’s NASCAR racing," he said, shrugging. "Stuff happens. No time to dwell on it. We’re off to California."

Never Enough Time
Off to California, then to New Hampshire, Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina. "The biggest problem in training a NASCAR pit crew is the constant traveling," says "Personal Trainer" columnist David Hawk, who’s working with the GNC Live Well No. 36 crew. "They’re at home just three days a week, and then they’re working 12-hour days getting the cars ready for the next race. It’s very hard for them to work out even two days a week during the season."

By now, David knows all about the trials and tribulations that a NASCAR pit crew faces in their quest for fitness. When GNC took over sponsorship of the No. 36 car more than a year ago, the pit crew was not in good physical shape. Their average pit stop was 19 sec, and in a sport where speed is everything, that’s moving slower than Aunt Fanny. Granted they were changing four tires and filling the gas tank in that time, but they needed to shave off some seconds to be competitive.

Knowing that a fitter pit crew would be a faster pit crew, GNC commissioned David to design a fitness program for the guys. He had his work cut out for him: Several crew members were overweight, and they all needed to gain muscle and strength. Fast food was their main diet.

After spending time with them at the track and during their practice sessions to learn what their individual jobs entailed, David designed a complete workout, diet and supplementation program that he hoped would fit into their busy workweek.

The Supplements
Pro Performance Protein 95 Powder from GNC
A new product from GNC, Pro Performance Protein 95 provides 25 gm of high-quality soy protein. It’s lactose-free, and because it contains just 5 gm of carbohydrate, David especially recommends it to the guys who are watching their weight.

RTD 40 from MET-Rx

These ready-to-drink shakes contain 40 gm of protein and a precise ration of 26 vitamins and minerals. They are crew favorites because of their convenience and unique flavors.

Pure Protein Bars from Worldwide Sports Nutrition

Pure Protein Bars provide 34 gm of protein as well as 100% RDA of essential vitamins and minerals. Because of the low-carbohydrate content (9 to15 gm), they serve as an alternative bar for crew members who are trying to trim their girlish figures.

Xenadrine from Cytodyne Technologies

The thermogenic actions of Xenadrine are well-documented. In a recent study reported in Current Therapeutic Research, subjects taking Xenadrine showed fat-loss results 38.6 times greater than subjects using diet and exercise. In addition to its fat-burning properties, Xenadrine provides a significant energy boost.

Z-Mass PM from Cytodyne Technologies

Z-Mass PM is an anabolic supplement that stimulates muscle growth, increases free testosterone levels and stimulates natural growth hormone production.

AquaLean Fitness Water from Pinnacle
AquaLean is water with a twist. It contains blueberry extract and anti-oxidants that enhance thermogenesis and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels. It’s also popular for what it doesn’t contain: no calories, no carbs and no caffeine.

Horny Goat Weed from Pinnacle

Pinnacle’s Horny Goat Weed is an extra energy booster. It’s also well-known as a sexual support supplement.

TRAC Creatine from Maximum Human Performance

Trac Creatine is a sugar-free, timed-release creatine that doesn’t require loading. It also contains arginine, which works as a vasodilator, allowing muscles to engorge with blood and stimulating growth.

Ripping Gel from Urban Biologics

This fat-emulsifying gel designed for use on the abs penetrates into the skin and dissolves surface fat, providing better definition.

"From the beginning, time was an issue," David remembers. "These guys build the cars from the ground up, and even in the off-season they work long hours. Then, there’s the problem of sticking to a diet on the road, where fast food is the main fare. I was able to come up with some alternatives for them, such as a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a hamburger. Of course, the protein shakes and bars helped a lot. The guys jumped right into the program, and I was surprised by the quick progress they made in spite of the difficulties."

Throughout the year, David adjusted the program to the guys’ changing fitness needs. As they trimmed down and built muscle, he added individual exercises to the weight routine that concentrated on the requirements of each job.

"It was a challenge to come up with a workout that would give them overall strength and conditioning, and would also concentrate on the individual bodyparts that each job required — especially since they had only 45 minutes twice a week."

Yet a larger challenge was in store. When the new season began in February, time became an even bigger obstacle. "Busch Series races are usually on Saturday," says gas man Art Harris. "The car has to be at the track several days early, so we usually leave Wednesday night and come back on Sunday. Getting in two workouts a week is almost impossible."

Despite their busy schedules, Harris says the crew felt it was important to maintain the fitness edge they had gained in working with David. "I joined the crew just a few months ago, so I haven’t been on David’s program long. But I’ve already lost 13 pounds of fat and gained lean muscle. I can see what the program has done for the other guys, too. Jim Kent is a better jack man because of it. He’s much stronger and more agile," says Harris.

The crew asked David if he could design a once-a-week workout that would keep them performing at their peak. Oh, yeah, and they had to be able to finish it in one hour, so they could get back to work. Once again, David rose to the challenge.

One-Day Fitness

"For a once-a-week maintenance program to be effective, it’s necessary to hit all major bodyparts. But with our time constraints, we could work in just one or two exercises per bodypart," says David.

In deciding which exercises to incorporate, David says he chose the ones that would be most helpful to the guys in the pits. "I’m having them do the wide-grip bench press and dumbbell flye, because the tire carriers have to have a strong wide grip to be able to pick up the tire in a bear hug and move it into position quickly. The back exercises are designed to strengthen the lower lumbar region, because all of the guys work bending over. The equipment they have to lift — tires, jacks, gas cans — has to be maneuvered in this awkward position, and their backs need to be able to take that punishment without injury."

The program includes just one biceps and one triceps exercise. David chose the hammer curl for the biceps because the equipment is gripped more in the hammer position than in a curling position. The machine dip was chosen because this triceps exercise is similar to the movement of pushing the jack down or pushing the tire onto the car.

"These are the exercises I feel are most important for every job category," he says. "This training is as good for a jack man as it is for a gas-can man or a tire changer or tire carrier."

The exercises are performed in drop sets, starting with heavier weight for 10 reps, immediately lowering the weight for 12 reps, and lowering it again and doing reps to failure. This keeps the guys moving throughout the workout, saving time as well as building their cardiovascular strength.

"The objective of this workout is not bodybuilding or even to lose body fat or get in better shape," David explains. "The goal is to maintain the conditioning and strength that the guys have gained over the last year and to improve their performance in the pits."

The One-Day Weight Workout

Warm up on the bike or treadmill for 10 minutes. Then do a good warm-up set of each exercise, followed by 1 drop set. Drop sets consist of 3 sets done with only enough rest to change the weight. Start with a heavy weight and do 10 reps, immediately lower the weight and do 12 reps, then lower the weight again and go for 15 reps or to failure. Stretch between each exercise.

Wide-grip incline bench press — 10, 12, 15 reps
Dumbbell flye — 10, 12, 15 reps

Wide-grip barbell row — 10, 12, 15 reps
Medium-grip deadlift — 10, 12, 15 reps

Alternating dumbbell front raise — 10, 12, 15 reps
Medium-grip upright row — 10, 12, 15 reps

Machine dip — 10, 12, 15 reps

Hammer curl (both arms at once) — 10, 12, 15 reps

Lying leg curl — 10, 12, 15 reps

Leg extension — 10, 12, 15 reps
Wide-stance machine squat — 10, 12, 15 reps
Adductor — 10, 12, 15 reps
Abductor — 10, 12, 15 reps

Standing calf raise — 10, 12, 15 reps

2 giant sets of:
Decline crunch — 30 reps
Leg lift — 30 reps
Cable oblique pull-down — 30 reps
Cardio: 20 to 30 minutes on a treadmill or exercise bike

A Force to Be Reckoned With
The strategy seems to be paying off. Asked about his crew before the Talladega race, Parker was full of praise. "This crew is fantastic. They’ve gone from averaging 19 seconds in the pits to an average of 16 seconds. And I see them just getting better as the season goes on."

Harris agrees: "The team has really come together. We’re averaging 13-second pit stops in practice, which translates to 15 or 16 seconds on the track. The car’s running well, and Hank’s a super driver. We are a force to be reckoned with."

Extra Workout

During the weeks when the pit crew has time to do more than the usual one-day program, David recommended that they try adding the following workout.

  • Begin with a five-minute walk, then do a five-minute jog to warm up.
  • Start by working your abs:
    Ab crunch on ground — 2 sets of 15 and 1 set to failure
    Leg lifts (six inches off ground) — 2 sets of 10 reps with three-second holds, then 1 set holding to failure
  • Now bring both knees up to your chest, put your arms around your legs and lightly rock on your lower back to stretch it out.
  • Lie facedown. Keeping your quads against the ground, push up with both hands and arch your lower back. Stretch three times. Then get on your knees and hands and arch your back up three or four times.
  • Now work your chest, shoulders and triceps:
    Push-up (hands at shoulder width) — 2 sets of 10 reps, then 1 set to failure
    Push-up (hands wider than shoulder width) — 1 set to failure
    Push-up (hands six inches apart) — 1 set to failure
  • Stand up and bend over gently, stretching out your hamstrings and lower back.
  • Move on to tire squats. With your feet pointed slightly out in a wide stance and your back straight, grab a race tire with both arms and squat until your thighs are parallel to the ground. Do 4 sets of 10 to 15 reps.
  • Do 20-yd two-handed tire walk — 4 sets

After joining the guys in their workout, freelance writer and firefighter Lynne Hall says, "Now I know why they’re in such good shape!"


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