IT BEGAN on a whim. One afternoon in January 1996, several pear-shaped members of Bill Elliott's pit crew walked into the New Life Gym in Hickory, N.C., told the owner they wanted to get fitter so they could do their jobs better and asked him to be their personal trainer. Ten months later Elliott's firmed-up, aerobicized team won the pit crew championship--an event that measures the speed of each team's stops. Pit road, where beer guts were once as common as lug nuts, hasn't been the same since. Says Wayne DeLoriea, who in 1997 sold his portion of the gym to become the pit crew coach for Elliott and now works with Roush Racing's 12 teams, " Elliott's crew started a wave."
Today every multicar team in NASCAR employs a pit crew trainer and coach. The goal: to shave precious milliseconds off the time it takes to make a typical four-tire pit stop. Twelve to 14 seconds is considered good, but a 10-second stop is the holy grail, and Busch's crew, for one, think they can achieve that if they focus on their workouts and keep upping their goals. "Our training is much more advanced than it used to be," says Kevin Gilman, an 11-year pit crew veteran in the Nextel Cup Series who is the rear tire changer for Busch (left). "You don't want to get too big and muscle-bound when you're on a pit crew; what you want to be is to be limber and strong enough to get the job done. But really we're all about speed."
DeLoriea's basic exercise plan could work for baseball or football players, or any other athletes who need to balance flexibility, power and quickness. "We work on range of motion, agility and core strength," says Deloriea. "My Number 1 goal is to have no injuries out there. My second goal is to make my guys the fastest on pit road."
To that end, DeLoriea and Roush Racing conditioning coach Roger Johnson have developed several drills that their pit crews perform in the gym three days a week. "If you put the work in at the gym, it'll show up on Sunday," says DeLoriea. "We want that 10-second stop."