A new appreciation

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

By GEORGE MAHL – Sports Editor

I arrived back in town Sunday afternoon from my vacation to Charlotte. I must say that I have a new appreciation for NASCAR drivers and their pit crews.

Friday afternoon, I visited a pit crew training school called “5 on, 5 off” I have no idea how it got to be called that.

Let’s think about this for a moment.

Maybe it should be called “4 on, 4 off” because of the number of tires. No matter how you look at it, you can only change four tires on a car when it comes into the pit stop.

“5 on, 5 off” might be a sign the apocalypse is on us. Anyway, one of the students was showing me how to change a flat tire. I thought it would be easy. Boy, was I wrong.

To start with, the tire he gave me weighs a little more than 50 pounds. “There is a right way to grab the tire and there is a wrong way to grab the tire,” is what he told me.

“I said, ‘please, show me the right way’, while laughing. So, I grabbed the tire in the correct position but could not line-up the holes on the first try. You have to remember that for these guys this IS their life.

“You will get the hang of it after about 300 times or so,” he said. “I don’t plan on being here to see that many,” is what I said in response.

I then embarrassed myself.

I whipped the tire around and tried to put it on when the tire bounced back and hit me in the face. I don’t think I have seen my older sister laugh so hard in her life.

It gets better.

I then tried to jack up the car. Well, let’s just say that did not go according to plan. I just could not hit the mark I needed to underneath the car.

I even had the wrong grip going for a while. I can honestly say that I have a new respect for the job a pit crew does. Their work is not easy.

I then went over to take a tour of Lowes Motor Speedway. It was a truly amazing experience.

FYI: in three year’s the seating capacity at Lowes Motor Speedway will be 300,000.

I said 300,000.

That is incredible.

“When that happens, the Coca-Cola 600 will be the largest one-day sporting event in North America,” our tour guide explained.

We then went on the actual track itself. Some of the turns are a lot steeper than I thought they would be. We were going 75 MPH in the tour van around the track.

While sitting in the passengers seat, I said “whoa, hold on.” The driver said “this is nothing. Try doing it at 175 miles per hour.

I responded, “I’d rather not.”