The automobile racing known as NASCAR is one of the fastest growing spectator sports in the United States. There are more than 75 million racing fans and NASCAR is a multi-billion dollar industry. The popularity of stock car racing attracts fans and people looking for jobs.
These are the sights and sounds of NASCAR. Every weekend tens of thousands of fans watch it. As NASCAR has grown in popularity the competition for jobs in this sport has intensified too. Besides the drivers, one of the most important jobs on the track is in the pits. During a race, cars make pit stops where crewmembers frantically change tires, refuel the car and make adjustments in a matter of seconds. A fast pit stop can often mean the difference between winning or losing the race.
Pat Bernall, NASCAR Pit Crewmember, says "We are changing four tires and putting 22 gallons (83 liters) worth of fuel in the car in 13 seconds or less so it is one big dance if you want to think of it that way."
In 2001, 37-year old Pat Bernall took a chance on landing a job as a NASCAR pit crewmember. He left a job as a tool salesman in Colorado and moved to North Carolina to join Pit Crew University. After spending 22-hundred dollars, he graduated from the eight-week course and was hired by a NASCAR racing team.
Pat Bernall says, "It was pretty much of a dream. I was a big fan of racing, I went to a lot of races, started watching in 1999 and I thought it would be quite a thrill to be able to go over the wall and pit for a team like this."
Pat was lucky. Only a handful of Pit Crew University graduates are hired by a NASCAR team. Doug Burns is a senior recruiter at the school.
Doug Burns, Senior Recruiter, 5 Off 5 On Pit Instruction and Training, says "I think the biggest thing you have to be is up front and tell them there is no guarantee. Just because they graduate from the program does not mean they are going to go racing."
But that hasn't' stopped young students from enrolling in the school. Outside Charlotte, North Carolina, home to most NASCAR teams, students with no experience get specialize training for pit crew jobs. They keep a demanding schedule first learning team strategy in the classroom. Then they spend hours strength training and running laps around the track. The students also carry out sets of pit drills. Mr. Burns says the workouts are designed to make students stronger and faster on their feet.
"I tell people we are looking for athletes. This a very athletic endeavour that they are going through here. You have to have the upper body strength to pull a 70 pound (31 kilogram) tire, you have to have strong legs to get up and run around the car," says Doug Burns.
When they are not racing Pat Bernall and other pit school graduates train to keep their skills up. Pat says the workout schedules are demanding.
"We train three to four times a week. We also pit practice about three to four times a week. Keep in mind we also have to have a job as well. Some of us work for the race team and some of us work outside the shops so we are working 40 to 60 hours a week," says Pat Bernall.
The people who run the pit school say three out of every 10 graduates get hired by NASCAR teams. Those who do can earn between 250 to 1,700 dollars a race. For many NASCAR teams, the cost of hiring a good pit crew team is worth it because come race day they earn their weight in gold.