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Hangin’ in the Pit

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Jason Stahl has 28 years of experience as an editor, and has been editor of BodyShop Business for the past 16 years. He currently is a gold pin member of the Collision Industry Conference. Jason, who hails from Cleveland, Ohio, earned a bachelor of arts degree in English from John Carroll University and started his career in journalism at a weekly newspaper, doing everything from delivering newspapers to selling advertising space to writing articles.

Don’t stand in the middle. This is the advice front tire changer Mike Lingerfelt of the 3M “Pit Bulls” pit crew gave me for the Pit Crew Challenge. I definitely did not want to become the latest YouTube video sensation: “Check this out! Guy gets creamed by a race car at the Pit Crew Challenge!”

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I didn’t really know what he was talking about because I had never seen the Pit Crew Challenge, a skills competition that showcases the talents of the top 24 pit crews in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. But I got the picture pretty quickly. After jacking up the cars, changing the tires and gassing them up, the teams have to push them down a straightaway, running full bore and sometimes scattering onlookers when the cars overshoot their mark and barrel into the crowd.

During the first contest, I ignored Lingerfelt’s advice and stood smack dab in the middle of the straightaway, hoping to get a great photo of the guys coming right at me. Instead, I almost became a hood ornament. After that, I made sure to stand safely to the side, but other more daring photographers still took their chances by loitering in the line of fire, bailing out at the last minute before the cars could take out their kneecaps.

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I had no idea how fit the pit crew has to be. They’re currently being trained by the same guy who works out the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars! At 6-foot-3, 250 lbs., jackman Rodney Fetters looks like an NFL lineman, but he insisted that even a puny, pencil-pushing runt like myself could do his job.

“I could teach you no problem,” Fetters said. “It’s more about technique.”

And it’s not just the pit crews who are fit – the drivers are physical specimens, too. At one point during the Pit Crew Challenge, I found myself sandwiched between Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, who were discussing abdominal exercises called “planks.” Gordon looked to be no more than 5-foot-6, a buck forty-five. Jimmie was no big deal either – maybe 5-foot-9, 160. For some reason, I thought Dale Earnhardt Jr. was tall, but he also looked no more than 5-foot-9. I had no idea these guys were as small as jockeys!

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I heard that one of the Pit Bulls, appropriately nicknamed “Bondo,” used to work in a body shop, so I was very excited to meet him. When I finally did, I asked him, “Is making it to this level from working in a body shop the equivalent of making it to the Major Leagues?”

“Yes,” he said after some thought. “Yes, I think it is.”

Bondo is proof positive that the dream aspiring collision repair and automotive technicians have of one day working for a racing team may not be that far-fetched after all. But like in many professions, you have to start at the bottom. And a lot of times, it comes down to who you know.

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