With NASCAR's "level playing field" today, pit stop ergonomics and race craft have never been more important. Because so much of each team's on-track makeup is similar--basic engines, tires, fuel, profiles, and aerodynamic properties--the human element in a team's pit stops becomes key. The search for a way each crewman can save a step here to save a second there is a never-ending pursuit. Every moment counts and the teams that consistently save that time on each pit stop help their driver gain immense ground during the course of a race. They can usually be found leading the points chase as well.

Roush Racing's Exide Batteries team agreed to let Stock Car Racing have a look at their work in progress. Meeting up at the Southern 500 at Darlington, the team allowed us to learn how their pit space has helped contribute to their success this year. Several are pictured here.

Under the wing of the team's jack man, Chuck White, while he moved the pieces into position at sunrise, we discovered a few of the little details that help make a difference in lightning fast pit work, crisis management, and the handling of the unexpected.

According to White, the Exide team's basic approach to pit preparation and ergonomics is simple. "Each crewman has the same pit setup assignment every weekend," says White. "That crewman doesn't do one thing this week, another job the next. He gets to know his equipment and how it operates each week. He is able to notice any changes and make sure they don't affect the tool's performance. Having each crewman responsible for a particular piece assures that something never gets overlooked."

White's pit setup assignment is looking after the compressed air hoses and controls. He stresses that the most important part of the hose preparation is consistency. "Each hose is attached to the same control valve and the same air tool every race," says White. "It's our way of making sure that if we have a problem, it is either noticed immediately or can be traced and solved right away. I mark each hose nozzle with a code that helps me join the same sets together for each race. Once they are joined, I always stretch each line out to remove kinks and twists before adding any air pressure, otherwise the line would twist more and possibly bind." Once all hoses are set up with the matching air tool, they are wound into a tight coil and anchored to the "War Wagon" with wrap-ties. The wagon is the base for the team's compressed air bottles, laptop computers, satellite link, toolbox, NASCAR's data feed, and crew chief and team manager stations.

Great care is taken to arrange each element of the pit space so that it is always in the same place. "If something happens during the race and Jeff comes in, we need to instinctively know that if we reach for a tool, it will be there," stresses White. "If the main jack breaks, I know I can reach for the spare and it will always be at the end of the tool box. No one moves the jacks." Part of White's race assignment as jack man includes treating the jack to a race-day checkup. The reservoir is checked thoroughly for dirt and the fluid flow is checked over its complete range. Anti-seize compound is spread on the handle's threads and eventually, the jack's lifting plate is preset for the No. 99 race-day right-side ride height. "I know that I can save time by not having to pump that extra couple of inches to get the car up," says White. Crewmember Dave Ballard has, by this time, established the NASCAR data link, joined his laptop units to video screens for crew chief Frank Stoddard and team manager Buddy Parrott, and located the direction to point the satellite dish to receive ESPN.

It's attention to these little details that helps set the team apart. Sherman Forrester, personal assistant to Jeff Burton, helps out during race-day pit setup by assuring that each pit tool is mounted on long fiberglass poles. The windshield and radiator cleaning brushes and Jeff's drink bottle are preset for exact length. Forrester then sits down and hand checks the entire stock of the team's lug nuts. One by one, he spins a nut on and then off a shaft, feeling for any resistance. Any burr or hang-up gets the lug nut replaced. There are hundreds of nuts in the box. Meanwhile, Rodney Halverson has set up the pit stop video camera overhead, arranged the team's race tires in sets, and is busy gluing the now checked lug nuts to the faces of the wheels. Beginning before sunrise, the setup crew has the space fully operational by 8:15 a.m., awaiting only full fuel cans to be race ready. It should be noted that later on this day, the Exide team's attention to pit setup and planning proved itself flawless. Jeff Burton's No. 99 Exide Batteries Taurus captured his second Darlington win of the season after dominating the rain-shortened race, and with his Southern 500 victory came another prize--a Winston No-Bull 5 check for $1 million.