Formula 1 and NASCAR racing are highly competitive sports that millions watch every week. Car racing has evolved over the years from a handful of car enthusiasts competing to brag over who has the fastest car to big business. Competition is fierce, and every racing team looks to gain an advantage wherever they can. Performance parts, new tires, and aerodynamics all play into a car’s performance. There is a part of the racing team, however, that can win or lose a race: the pit crew. It is difficult to pass another car on the race track, so drivers try to improve their position in the pit—and it’s up to the pit crew to make it happen. Races can be won or lost in the pits.
What is the pit crew?
The pit crew is a team that changes the tires and refuels cars during the race. Formula 1 allows six crew members over the wall. There is one jackman, two tire changers, two tire carriers, and a gasman. The objective for the pit crew is to change tires and refuel the car as fast as possible. The average pit stop in F1 is from seven to 16 seconds, depending on how many tires need changing.
Why does the pit crew wear helmets?
Pit road safety has been an issue with NASCAR lately because of a spate of crewmen injuries during races. It wasn’t until 2002 that NASCAR required all pit crew members to wear helmets. Prior to that, only the gasman had to wear one. In 2011 they reduced the number of crew that could go over the wall from seven to six, and further reduced that number to five in 2017.
These decisions were made with safety in mind. One of the most dangerous things on a race track is a stray tire. Crew members change tires so fast that one can easily get away from them and start rolling down pit road. The tires cause chaos for other drivers and crew and can get hit by a car coming into the pits. Once it gets hit by a car, the tire becomes a projectile looking for something to stop it. Racing is a dangerous sport, and the pit crew members that go over the wall to service the car are exposed. The front tire team willingly steps in front of a car moving at 50 mph—so wearing all the protective equipment possible seems like good policy.
How the helmets function
The crew wears a helmet like the driver’s, but with some strategic differences. Their helmets are a full-face hybrid of the driver’s and fuel man’s. The front part around the chin is thin and has a low profile, so the crew member can see down more clearly. There is no obstruction, giving them a clear view. The fueler wears a full-face helmet with a visor to protect their eyes from fuel spray. They also have to wear a fireproof balaclava under the helmet.