#Hendrick30th spotlight: Nos. 5/24 pit coach and former NFL scout Chris Burkey recalls his journey
- Nov 15, 2014
- Team Hendrick
Many NASCAR enthusiasts live for the drama of the track; the daring passes, the constant risk of collisions and the tension of a close race to the checkered flag.
But in my eyes, the most interesting part of the race is what takes place in 12-second increments – the pit stops.
As a former collegiate athlete, the physicality of the pit stops is what really drew me to racing. I remember watching the races at Charlotte Motor Speedway after I became a coach at Hendrick Motorsports in 2009 and thinking, “How can I make these pit stops faster?”
During that time, Andy Papathanassiou—the director of human performance – had been crafting a similar vision for the future of pit crews. He wanted to use his athletic background to change the dynamic of pit crews from mechanics that made necessary adjustments to the car during pit stops, to strong athletes who trained for these pit stops year round.
But to make our vision a reality, we needed to start from the beginning – the recruiting process.
Being a former scout for the Miami Dolphins, this was an area in which I felt I could offer assistance. I had spent the last few years in South Florida recruiting college football players from across the United States and developing relationships with their coaches. Since we travel to a different track every weekend, I began to string some thoughts together on how we could utilize the constant traveling to our advantage from a recruiting standpoint.
And that’s how the pit crew combine was born.
Similar to the NFL Scouting Combine, we put potential pit crew members through a series of football-style drills that test their abilities and allow us as coaches to stack them athletically. For the past few years, we’ve used these combines – held three times a year in three different locations—to recruit pit crew athletes, which have elevated the athleticism of our program.
But when we hold these combines, we’re not simply looking for guys who can change a tire in six seconds right off the bat – we’re looking for strong, agile and hard-working athletes who fit our system at Hendrick Motorsports. And that system is very specific because there’s a huge amount of pressure on these guys to perform perfectly every week.
I always think about it as an NFL kicker. If an NFL kicker is going to miss a field goal, he needs to miss it by inches, not feet. If he misses by feet, he’s probably not going to kick next week. Our mishaps on pit road have to be NFL-kicker misses, in the sense that they’ve got to be so small that you’re questioning where we even made the mistake. It’s the difference between losing a tenth of a second on pit road and losing a half a second. And in 12-second pit stops, those moments could mean the difference between a win and a loss for one of our drivers.
This weekend, I’ve taken the trip back down to South Florida with the Nos. 5/24 teams for the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. But just because we’re not in the running for a championship doesn’t mean we’re going to slack off today. We’ve worked too hard all year and are determined to finish strong for the fans, drivers and everyone who has proudly worn the Hendrick Motorsports name for the past 30 years.