Thursday, July 19, 2012

What Can a NASCAR Pit Crew Teach Us about Team and Leadership?

I am not a follower of NASCAR, but after working with a group at the Michael Waltrip Racing Center, Cornelius, NC, recently, I am more likely to watch a NASCAR race just to see the pit crews in action. Lots of team and leadership lessons to learn and re-learn!
These pit crews of six members are athletes and they train like athletes! Michael Waltrip Racing has an excellent workout facility with a full time trainer. I’d pay to be a member! Pit crew members workout in this facility five days a week. They simulate race-day pit crew routines daily. Practices are video recorded and studied to see what was done right as well as what could be improved. 
Race day, the pit crew members are dressed in fire-proof suits with helmets that can cause them to lose up to 8 pounds of weight race day! Talk about having to focus under incredibly uncomfortable conditions for at least 6 hours is a huge feat.
Each pit crew member has a specific role of jackman, front tire changer, rear tire changer, gas man, front tire carrier and rear tire carrier. The jackman  has to lift a 3400 pound car with driver on each side of the car at a strategic location two times in a pit stop to change up to four 60 pound tires. The gasman has to lift two 90 pound gas cans. All this has to be done in 12.5 seconds or less if possible! They may need to do this process every 15 minutes for four hours. Add to this that these people get up at 3 AM on race day to catch a plane to fly to the race track and do not return home until 11 PM or later that night! 
Little things make a difference for the pit crew. For example, lug nuts are glued onto wheels about three hours before a race. At three hours the glue will be set just right. If there is rain delay, the lug nuts need to be removed and re-glued. 
To be successful at helping to win a race requires knowing your role as well as each member’s role. One of the pit crew members shared he was not good at handling the jackman position. He acknowledged his weakness and focused on his strength as as the front tire changer. (FYI - when not working out or practicing with the pit crew, he is in the marketing department of MWR!) Precision and accuracy come from practice, practice, practice. Endurance and perseverance are essential especially when things go badly. I noticed in the workout facility on the white board the #1 item, “The mind is primary.” There are incredible mind games and challenges at work on this team. Finally, encouragement is like secret sauce! It does make a difference!
How do you and your team measure up to the required behaviors of being on a NASCAR pit crew? What do you and your team need to work on to win your race?

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