Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Women in NASCAR: Liz Snyder

Credit: Beth Reinke / Skirts and Scuffs  
Many women are multi-taskers, but Liz Snyder puts a fresh spin on job-juggling in her roles at Tommy Baldwin Racing and Premium Motorsports. As a crew member for teams in all three NASCAR series – Alex Bowman’s No. 7 Sprint Cup car, Derrick Cope’s No. 70 in the Xfinity Series and the No. 94 NCWTS truck – she’s a jill-of-all-trades, working as tire specialist, rear tire changer and mechanic.

“When they need me to, I can do just about anything on the car,” Snyder said. “Like at Bristol we had both of our rear end seals blow out. I was under there right there with them fixing it. I dive in wherever needed because I can do all of it.”

Back at the shop, Snyder applies all the decals to the cars and pit boxes for Premium Motorsports. At the track, she performs tire specialist duties throughout the weekend, goes over the wall, and helps out in the garage. Instead of having a breather between pit stops, she manages her tires and keeps alert to what’s going on in neighboring pit stalls.

“I go through a mental checklist: ‘Tires are done, (air) guns are oiled, air pressure is good, amount of air I’ve got left is good.’ I pay attention to where we’re running on the board and what’s going on with the teams in front of us and behind us.”

Snyder on the wall in the Xfinity race at Dover, May 30, 2015.
Credit: Beth Reinke/Skirts and Scuffs
The youngest of three sisters, Snyder inherited her dad’s love of racing. He not only took her to races as she was growing up, but taught her how to work on the cars, too. She broke into NASCAR as an intern with Jennifer Jo Cobb Racing in 2012, and became a full-time mechanic within weeks. A few races later, they trained her to go over the wall, and she pitted her first NCWTS race as a tire changer at Kentucky.

After budget cuts at JJCR, Snyder worked with other drivers, including Michael Waltrip and Brian Silas, until she was hired by Jay Robinson, part-owner of Premium Motorsports, to work on the No. 62 of Brendan Gaughan. Last week she changed Cup teams, so this weekend’s FedEx 400 at Dover was her first race as tire specialist for Bowman’s car and Tommy Baldwin Racing. It was a triple-series weekend, as she performed multiple duties for Premium Motorsports in the Xfinity and truck events as well.

Snyder trains at XCalibur Pit School where she works on different skills from day-to-day, depending on where she needs to improve, and does workouts to develop her agility, legs, core and arms. There are a couple of other female students at XCalibur, and Snyder said she’d love to see the training lead to more women going over the wall.

Because she’s petite and has smaller hands than most guys, Snyder fine tunes her movements on pit stops, such as the way she pulls her tires or completes her runaround.

Changing the left rear on the No. 94 truck at Dover, May 29, 2015.
Credit: Beth Reinke / Skirts and Scuffs
“I’m not built the same as them, so I have to work out harder and train my body differently. I learn to adapt and adjust to do whatever I need to get my job done,” she said.

The physical aspect of being a pit crew athlete is important, but Snyder thinks balancing the mental aspect of pit stops may be the key.

“Anyone can go out there and muscle it, but if you mentally psyche yourself out, you’re not gonna be able to do it; you have to mentally be under control. You can’t let the pressure or the people around you or just the entire environment affect you doing your job.”

Although she loves the competitive, adrenaline-pumping side of working as a mechanic and pit crew member, the uniforms presented uncomfortable downsides, especially the pants. To wear the standard men’s firesuits, she’s had to roll the waist of the baggy trousers and wear several belts to keep them from falling off.

To prevent a wardrobe malfunction that could potentially affect her performance, Snyder ended up getting a custom-fitted firesuit made when she worked solely for Premium Motorsports. She dreams of designing a line of clothing for female pit crew members – apparel that is tailored for a feminine athlete’s frame.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do farther down the road ... because I know how hard it is to find clothes that actually fit girls and are functional for working on the car.”

Snyder in the garage.
Credit: Beth Reinke / Skirts and Scuffs
Aside from her special firesuit, Snyder fits in pretty well with most of the crew members around the garage, although she says a little bit of trash-talking is bound to occur.

“Overall I get treated just like everyone else, but there’s still a select few who are old school and don’t like girls in racing and think it’s still a man’s sport,” she said. “I’ve run into more who at first they’re kind of hesitant and they watch what they say. And once they realize I’m just like a guy, they treat me exactly the same.”

One thing that’s the same for all crew members is the chance of injury on pit road. Snyder has experienced a few mishaps, all involving fuel or fire. Last year at Watkins Glen she slipped in gas and fell during the last stop of the race, and the force of the air gun in her hand broke her finger. Another time fire blasted out of the exhaust and singed her firesuit and hair at the side of her neck.

After a fuel spray during a Fontana pit stop left her with a chemical burn down the side of her face, Snyder and the gas man worked out a system to help prevent future gas spills, and hopefully fires as well. She thinks about safety more since several crew members, including rear tire changer Anthony O’Brien, suffered burns in a pit road fireball during the Xfinity race at Richmond in April.

Credit: Beth Reinke / Skirts and Scuffs
“Most of us have never really thought about it until we saw this,” Snyder said about the fire. “That makes us all realize we need to be more cautious, especially being in the rear of the car. We’ve always known there’s that risk but it took all of us seeing him getting hurt to see what we need to do to change our safety.”

Despite the hazards, Snyder is in her element, no matter which hat she’s wearing at the moment. Whether she’s in the shop, under the hood or over the wall, it’s exactly where she wants to be.

“I love what I do,” she said. “I’ve learned to ignore the negativity. I just focus on the good, the positive, and make sure that I’m enjoying myself and having fun.”


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