UM student athletes vie to join NASCAR pit crew teams

CORAL GABLES, FLA. (WSVN) - Students athletes at the University of Miami were put to the test to prove they have what it takes to work a NASCAR pit stop.

Drivers might get all the attention racing on the track, but when there’s a pit stop, it’s the pit crew that must work together in a matter of seconds to get the driver back out.

NASCAR pit crew coach Phil Horton came to UM’s Coral Gables campus on Thursday to hold a local combine as part of the requirement process for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

Horton said the days of hiring just anyone to work the pits are long gone. In today’s NASCAR, he said, pit crew members must have the quickness, speed and strength of an athlete.

“Like a tire changer. We’re looking for wide receivers,” he said. “We’re looking for a defensive lineman or an offensive lineman. For our carrier, we’re looking for linebackers, those type of skill positions.”

Horton put student athletes at UM through a series of agility tests. Their next pit stop is NASCAR’s combine. There it’s hands on to see if these hopefuls are ready to be a pit crew member for a team in any of the three NASCAR series.

“When I look at it, it just reminds me of football, basketball, sports that I’m used to,” said former Hurricanes linebacker Terry McCray, “because you actually have to have teamwork for the driver to be successful. If everyone does their part, then we can all win.”

“The sport of football being the contact sport that it is, that athlete is used to putting their body in harm’s way,” said Horton. “As a pit crew man, when you jump out in front of a car — what, about 45 miles an hour — you need that type of mindset that you can do the task and do the job without worrying about bodily harm.”

There are former female athletes currently working the NASCAR pits.

Dalanda Ouendeno, who played defense on the ‘Canes women’s soccer tams, said she already knows how she can help a team.

“I would be a tire changer. I also like the rush, the adrenaline,” she said. “I like the competition in it, and I like the fact that we travel all the time, and it’s a super good experience to have.”

Horton said times have definitely changed to work the pits.

“The pit stops used to be conducted by mechanics, and they were very good. They knew how to use the tools, he said, “but the problem was that they were not performers, so what we are looking for are individuals who are performers.”

These UM students will join other athletes nationwide at the upcoming pit crew combine.

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