In the last few decades, NASCAR has become one of the most popular sports in America. In fact, the Fox broadcast of a recent race in South Carolina drew 6.32 million viewers. Much of NASCAR’s appeal derives from its relatively simple nature: top-tier automobiles pushing it to the limit via drivers who can’t afford to make a single mistake.
Drivers aren’t the only ones responsible for vehicles performing at peak capacity. Pit crews are equally important. They’re responsible for refueling, changing tires, adjusting the suspension, and more — all in the middle of a race. Let’s look at what it takes to be a pit crew member, how they differ from mechanics, and how much money they make.
What it takes to be a NASCAR pit crew member
As you can imagine, it takes a highly specific background and ability set to succeed as a NASCAR pit crew member. The most basic requirement is an absolute mastery of automotive knowledge. The average pit crew member can likely ID every single component in a car, while also understand at least the basics about how to repair it.
Unless you happen to be an automotive savant, you’ll probably need to dedicate several years to some combination of automotive school and/or apprenticing for a local mechanic. Once you have attained general automotive mastery, you can move on to pit crew-specific training. Such training covers everything from aerodynamics to chassis design and repair, to the ins and outs of racing engines.
Such courses also include a heavy dose of welding and metal fabrication—skills that are vital for designing, building, and repairing things like body panels and roll bars. Once you’re in a pit crew, your skills will be relegated to one single task. Yet in order to get there, you’ll have to prove yourself a master of virtually every aspect of race car maintenance and repair.
Pit crew members vs. mechanics
So far, most of the requirements hold equally true for race car mechanics and pit crew members. This doesn’t mean the positions are considered equal, however. Mechanics do their work in the calm of a garage setting, in between races. There they enjoy a comparative degree of ease, where technical accuracy is more important than working speed.
A NASCAR pit crew member enjoys no such luxury. Not only must they perform their tasks accurately and without flaw, but they must also do so as quickly as possible. In other words, mental focus and physical endurance take on far more importance in a pit crew. The environment is tough and loud, the working hours are often brutally long, and the pressure is as high as it gets.
The physical demands of a pit crew are so intense that many racing teams have begun recruiting athletes rather than mechanics, reports Jalopnik. The idea is that it is often easier to teach an athlete a mechanic’s job than it is to make a mechanic athletic. Even the seemingly simple task of jumping over the pit wall rules out plenty of otherwise talented mechanics.
How much NASCAR pit crew members make
Base salaries vary greatly between mechanics and pit crew members. A qualified mechanic getting their first NASCAR job can usually expect to earn between $45,000 and $65,000. More technical engineering knowledge—specifically with regard to shocks—can push that salary up to over $100,000. Pit crew members, meanwhile, often take home $150,000 or more per year.
Of course, not all pit crew members will make the exact same amount. The relative salaries depend on the importance and pressure of the pit crew member’s particular role. For instance, tire changers face more pressure than tire carriers and tire catchers — and thus make more money. The jack operators and re-fuelers also tend to get larger paychecks, with the crew chief usually earning as much as $200,000 a year.