“In what other sport do you get a 15-second break every hour?” –Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
These days NASCAR pit stops are closer to 12 seconds than 15. As athletic performance has grown in importance in racing, teams likewise have fine-tuned their physical fitness strategies to shave critical seconds off pit stops. The speed of pit crew maintenance is part human performance, part skill, and part pure adrenaline.
In some close races, every fraction of a second counts.
Sports medicine in recent years has gravitated towards studies that track the injury rate of various sports, but epidemiology in motorsports is still evolving. At OrthoCarolina, part of our motorsports team’s job is to continuously collect data that can be used for preventative medicine and techniques in racing. In NASCAR, like many sports, drivers and crew are susceptible to certain injuries depending on the job or role they play on the team. We see position-specific injuries in pit crew members in particular due to the repetitive and fast-paced nature of their job.
Ken Breath, Manager of Motorsports Outreach shared what NASCAR injuries his medical team sees the most:
Jackmen – Back pain and injuries can be common for this position, responsible for raising the car with a jack. Some jackmen experience knee injuries such as ACL and or meniscus tears from stopping abruptly and pushing all their bodyweight onto the knee.
Changers – These crew members are highly susceptible to elbow injuries from vibration in the torque guns and the way they have to grip inside the spokes of the wheel, which is just a fingertip grip (two or three fingers) rather than a full-on grip. If they go to pull a tire off and one of the lug nuts doesn’t come off all the way, or the car isn’t jacked up high enough and the wheel catches on the concrete, it creates a lot of force on their body. That’s when acute injuries can happen. Changers can also get shoulder injuries affecting the labrum and biceps from pulling a tire and placing it to the side, or from pulling against a wheel that has a hanging lug nut or is not all the way up and off the ground. They may also experience back issues from kneeling, pulling heavy tires off and twisting in the same direction, and are susceptible to muscle imbalance issues similar to golfers because they swing one way all the time.
Carriers – Back issues are a problem in carriers because their job involves squatting and pushing an 80-pound tire on, plus carrying the tire and running. The momentum of these types of movements is hard to control. It can create a lot of stress on one side of the body, which is called asymmetrical stress. Carriers also get lateral epicondylosis (pain on the outside of the forearm) because of the constant wrist extension pulling the tire.
Gasman – Shoulder and biceps injuries are a big deal for gasmen, from having to control the heavy weight of the gas can (about 90 pounds) mostly on one shoulder. They also get medial epicondylosis (inside of the forearms) from gripping the wide part of the gas can, distal biceps tendonosis and rotator cuff tears.
Crew chiefs – This role may not be as physically active during the race as the other pit crew but crew chiefs are prone to neck problems. Some of them have poor posture as a result of looking at computers for hours during a race, which results in neck pain.
Ken Breath, PT, ATC, LAT serves as Manager of Motorsports Outreach for OrthoCarolina and assists in evaluating motorsports needs and coordinating coverage for all teams. He has provided extensive therapy to the motorsports community for many years.
For acute orthopedic injuries after scheduled clinic and urgent care hours, please utilize the HURT! App, in partnership with OrthoCarolina, for fast free access to orthopedic advice with a response time of ~4 minutes. Download here.