What does World’s Toughest Mudder and NASCAR have in common? The need for speed and a handy pit crew - that’s what. Pit crew members are the supportive teammates who’ll help you get across the finish line in record time, safely.
Being part of the pit crew isn’t a walk in the park and it takes an incredible amount of teamwork to develop a winning track record. We asked veteran pit crew captain, Trent Cherry of Team Penske, who since 1966 has achieved more than 420 major race wins, over 480 pole positions and 28 national championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports racing competitions, to share some tips that have influenced him and strengthened his overall team performance and precision over the years.
Here's how to build your toughest pit crew:
Look for the level-headed
In tight situations while on the clock, you need a pit crew who can keep stay calm and organized under pressure. Even the World’s Toughest Mudder needs a lending hand to get to the finish line. So what do you look for in a team member? The unflappable. They’re easier to find than you may think: ask around; those legendary names will already be floating in the ether.
Coach ‘em up
Just like other sports have minor and farm leagues, develop a breeding ground to groom your best up-and-comers. Train them up to the top level. The cream will rise to the top. The less dedicated will fall away. This system is practically foolproof. You’re always going to be dealing with turnover and retirement, so it’s good to have some dependable competence waiting on deck.
Mix up your A's and B's
You may not want two Type A personalities on one team. You have to evaluate who gets put on what team. In some situations, alphas work better than betas, and vice versa. Feel it out.
Which to blame: equipment or people?
Be careful not to point fingers at a team member if, ultimately, it’s the equipment to blame. A gas can or soldering gun can be the true culprit in a messy mistake; sometimes it’s hard to make a judgment call in the heat of the moment. Here at World’s Toughest Mudder, the people are your most important assets to help push you to the finish line. That’s why communication is key so make sure you let your members know what’s happening. At the end of the day, it’s all about getting there with your team by your side every step of the way. Work on learning how to decide, and save that blame for where it belongs.
You’ll never have “seen it all.”
In two decades, Trent has surely seen all sorts of things go wrong. You can’t avoid it, but best practice: log it into the ol’ noggin. Build a memory bank of scenarios where something – anything – can go wrong. And assure yourself that you are never, ever going to “see it all” when it comes to bloopers, goof-ups and blunders. Remember how you react to situations that go wrong – and remember how you acted, and how you can fix it better next time.
You can’t control the uncontrollable
Don’t try. See where the team is good, and where the team is maybe not as good, and make the best adjustments you can make. The rest is out of your hands.
Dance with the person you brought to the dance
Don’t believe this: “you’re only as strong as your weakest link.” Trent says you have to believe in the guys you bring onto the team, and commit to them. You can’t always be looking for the next best thing, or if somebody better is going to come along if you keep looking. The grass is not always greener. The easy part is to place blame and point fingers; the hard part is to bear down and get to work and believe in the people you’ve already got.
Trent adds that pit crewing is like a twelve-second burst of adrenaline. Teamwork is reinforced time and time again after the racecar pulls away. When the team wins the race, there is no better feeling on the plane ride home – a real sense of accomplishment. On the flip side, if you mess up in the pit, it’s one of the worst feelings you can ever have. You have been training for months to get this far and you never want to be that person bringing back the bad news. You never want to let the team down, so you have to keep working on bettering your own place on the team.