Workers behind cars keep things running
It was in between races at the Hayden Speedway on Saturday and Mickey O’Conor and his brother, Dave, were at their usual place — in front of a car with the hood up.
The racers, who are brothers, are each other’s pit crew, and they were cleaning the spark plugs of Mick’s Mini Stock car.
“It’s natural that we help each other since we’re brothers,” said Dave, who races in the Ultra Mini division. “We all help each other out in the pits.”
A majority of the Minis and Ultra Minis park down the same lane in the pit. It’s not uncommon to see a driver with his or her head under a competitor’s hood.
“In between races, we’ll bend over backward to help each other,” Dave said. “Then out on the track, it’s a different story.”
Matt Hoffman, another Mini Stock driver, said he does a majority of his own pit work, but that’s a rarity at the track.
The drivers who are part of W.A.R. Racing park underneath the shade of the group’s tractor-trailer, and their pit crew works on seven cars in one night. Drivers help each other out, as well, but there are also those who do just pit crew.
“You can’t put a price on it,” W.A.R. Racing driver Phil Goodwin said about his pit crew. “They’re the unsung heroes of the track.”
Even though a majority of the pit action is hidden out of view from the grand stands, it’s easy to know who the pit crew is. When a car hobbles off the track, the crew members for that car will take off at a dead sprint from the viewing area at the north of the to reach their driver in the pit.
“It’s always entertaining to see the pit crews hop up and take off for their car,” IMCA driver H.D. Craig said.
All of the running and emergency tire changing is done for the love of racing. That’s because it’s rare for the speedway drivers to have any money available to pay the pit crew. It’s all done on a volunteer basis — plus, it costs extra for the pit pass. Track members get entry to the pit for $10, while non-members pay $15 in comparison to the $6 fee for spectators.
“Most of my pit guys have either driven in the past or they want to drive in the future,” Goodwin said. “Being in the pit is about as close as they can get without getting behind the wheel.”
On Saturday, a couple of W.A.R. Racing’s regular pit crew members were gone, so drivers were filling in. Todd McDiffett, Goodwin’s brother-in- law, is a regular pit crew member.
“I’m here to do what I can,” he said. “It helps you learn about what it takes.”
McDiffett said he hoped to race next year but that until then, he was happy hanging out behind the scenes and helping other drivers.
For Craig, his pit partner was also his mentor in racing.
“Jeremy Lueck basically taught me everything I know,” he said. “He and I would help each other out in the pits all the time. There was one race where I blew an engine during the heat races and Jeremy had an extra engine with him. We put it in before the main, and I was able to race.”
Lueck took time off from racing this summer, so Craig has found a couple of new guys.
“You really want to do well for your pit because they invest a lot in helping you,” he said. “When you win, they feel like they won, too. Since they take their own time and money, you feel like you let them down if you don’t do well.”
Craig’s wife, Melissa, has been to every race except one during his time, and she helps in the pits, as well. On Saturday she had the never-ending duty of helping clean off the mud after the pre-race packing of the track. She also films every race.
Craig said that the Hayden track and Rock Springs, Wyo., have reputations for pit by committee.
“Anybody will jump in and help if you need it at both tracks,” he said. “If a driver from out of town shows up without a crew, we’ll help them out.”
Goodwin summed up the importance of the people behind the scene.
“Without a pit crew, you’re done,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
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