Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Rookie Stripe: Not Quite as Easy as ABC – The Classroom for NASCAR’s Best Athletes

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
By Logan Stewart

Not very far from Charlotte Motor Speedway, down a small side road, sits a nondescript metal building with a few small windows. On most days, the garage doors in the back are open, and if you listen closely you’ll hear the shrill squeal of an air gun. Inside is one of the most unique training camps around; a top-notch facility for pit crew development. 

Xcalibur Pit School, a premier pit crew training school, offers instruction from basic to expert for anyone hoping to launch a pit crew career. Run by Chuck Efaw, a former pit crew member, and his father-in-law Jeff Rudd, the programs offer the same tools and equipment used in ARCA and NASCAR for pit road pit stops. An indoor pit stop facility provides shelter for days when cold or rainy weather won’t permit outdoor practice. XCalibur students are men and women with an eye on going over the wall and a drive for a NASCAR job. Many are high school or college age, but some are older graduates of the school just trying to keep their skills current and the door open for work.

Something important to know about working in NASCAR: there are no teacher’s pets in racing.

Covering ground

It can be a long road to become a pit crew member in NASCAR’s top series. NASCAR sometimes recruits from professional sports, but many work their way up through the ranks to one of these elite positions. When most people think of NASCAR, they associate it with the popular Monster Energy Cup Series. And like the sport itself, working on a NASCAR pit crew can be a grueling, high-speed job. The craftsmanship of a successful NASCAR team is painstaking, synchronous work, and a team’s pit crew members need to be skilled athletes who excel at their jobs. Experience, adroitness and teamwork get the job done.

According to Efaw, XCalibur has around 60 students enrolled at any given time. Many are trying to improve their skills to earn a coveted, competitive spot on a top Monster Energy Cup series team. It’s tough practice for a tough job; in a given day students are divided into teams and repetitively practice over-the-wall drills. They sweat. The physicality of the job wears on them.

Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs

A need for speed

Beyond pit crew training, XCalibur has a big role: putting together pit crews for ARCA and Xfinity races. Besides the students who show up to practice day to day, Efaw and Rudd’s school normally has 60-70 more students and former students pitting these series on weekends. The better they are, the more chance they have to pit a race.

XCalibur works as a one-stop shop. They decide which students and former students will pit races and in what formation. They manage itineraries, team rosters, team communications, and booking hotels, rental cars and flights. At any given ARCA race, XCalibur Pit School puts together anywhere from 11-16 pit crew teams to work the race. If they have enough ARCA teams they can sometimes buy flights, which cost tens of thousands of dollars to charter, depending on the distance, but rental vans and cars are more common. The Xfinity season is 33 races, the truck season is 23 races and the ARCA season is 20 races.

Efaw emphasizes how draining the travel can be for his students and pit crews, especially when they travel by van. He has had crews pit a race in Iowa, drive to Kentucky to pit a race, drive home to North Carolina, and fly back to Iowa to pit again the next morning.

That’s a tough schedule, student or not.
Photo credit: Logan Stewart for Skirts and Scuffs
But for many XCalibur Pit School students, the speed and competition and drive to part of the sport that to them is so innately American makes the effort worth it.

And for most fans, they pass the test with flying colors.

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