All along the wall, gunfire sounds. The men standing on the wall in their helmets are ready to charge when given the signal. The tension mounts as they look down the road leading to their posts.
They see their target exit the corner and enter the road. In a flash, they jump to action.
This isn’t a battle in some far away war; this is the life of a NASCAR pit crew.
As the cars peel out of their stalls, laying down a heavy coat of tire rubber, smoke clings in the air, the fog of their war. The heavy burnt smell wafts toward the crowd.
“I love that smell! WOOO!” shrieks one female fan standing behind Kyle Busch’s M&M’s pit as she jumps up and down.
To stand behind the pits at a Sprint Cup NASCAR race is to enter another world. Some fans spend the entire race just watching their teams’ crews work and service the car, the oval seen only in spots past the stands decorated with sponsor logos and the men at work.
But it isn’t easy to get access. You have to be sponsored to even get close, and then there are several checkpoints you have to pass to enter.
The men in these pits are athletes, and put your local garage to shame. In one pit stop, they can change four tires, fill an entire tank of gas, and clear the windshield in about 16 seconds. Any slower, and they could cost their team valuable places on the track and prize money.
From the outside, it looks like a team of misfits. Crew members have all manner of helmets on, including some that look like they would be more at home in a roller derby. During the stop, when the number of men over the wall is restricted, other members quickly pass forward replacement items. A short member of the team hangs over the wall, passing forward near-side tires. He is held from behind by another crew member to make sure he doesn’t fall into the pit box. It is almost a mechanized circus act, one complete with a cast of real characters.