Last week, we discussed this “prototype pit crew suit” from the prototype aspect. This week, we will discuss the pit crew aspect. This is a very interesting aspect of racing suits. Pit crews have a very dangerous job. They have to change 4 tires, make any adjustments, and refuel the car in a matter of seconds. The risk level is as high as you could possibly imagine. Fire is a frequent risk, especially when refueling the car or repairing the damage from a wreck. As such, pit crews are required to wear fire protection identically to what the driver wears.
This footage is from the 1984 Miller High Life 400 in Charlotte. Note what the crews are wearing in this pit stop:
Yes, pit guys for many years had no fire protection or helmets at all, and there were no speed limits at all, so pit road was a very dangerous place. That all changed at the 1990 Atlanta Journal 500, the final race of the 1990 season. Bill Elliot was on pit road at lap 300, when Ricky Rudd lost control of his car at high speed, and hit a couple of Elliot’s crew members by accident. One of those crew members, Mike Rich, suffered unsurvivable injuries and died. To help insure that something like this would never happen again, the first pit road rules were implemented in 1991. As time went on, more rules concerning safety were implemented, including head protection, fire protection, radio gear, so that now a pit stop looks like this:
Notice that every crew member, including the crew chief wears a fire-suit, this is not an option, it is a rule. That is because when a fire starts on pit road, the crew members won’t get hurt, as seen below:
That was from earlier in the year, and none of the crew members from that incident were seriously hurt.
While most crew members have the option of one or two piece suits, those involved in refueling the car don’t have a choice. NASCAR uses high octane E85 fuel, which is an 85 gasoline/15 ethanol mixture. IndyCar uses an ethanol blend, which is not as flammable, but will still burn if ignited. Marco Andretti’s crew accidentally set his car on fire during a race last year. Again, no crew members were hurt. Gas men wear a one-piece suit, with a full-face helmet, thick gloves, and racing shoes as shown here. Crew members often wear two-piece suits, as it provides the wearer with less restriction in movement than a one-piece, which comes in handy when changing tires. Tire carriers, changers, and jack men wear open-face helmets, frequently with LED lights for extra visibility at night races.
Remember that the ultimate goal of a driver or pit crew suit is to protect the wearer from fire. The protection may be uncomfortable. The suit might be hot, or constrictive, but all that matters is that the wearer is safe. SFI and FIA certification comes standard on these suits. The risk on pit road is transparently clear to the crew members, and these uniforms are designed to keep the crew from being injured in case the worst case scenario happens.
No paint scheme news this week, will be back next week with something interesting, an analysis of the evolution of NASCAR series logos…