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By: Robert Janis

It’s the Pits

Racers of ATVs know how important their pit crews can be--whether it is a motocross race where the pit crews stay in one location, or long distance races like those produced by Best in the Desert and SCORE where the pit crews must travel to several pit locations. A good pit crew makes the difference between a great finish and no finish at all.

For the pit crewmembers themselves, the motocross races where they stay permanently in one location can be somewhat of a bore. For most pit crews, it is the long distance races, or what they call the Chase Races, that elevates their adrenaline levels.

The Chase in the Desert
The Chase Races are commonly run in the desert and are produced by such racing associations as Best in the Desert who run races in the deserts of Nevada, and SCORE, which holds a number of races in Baja, Mexico.

Casey Folks, director of Best in the Desert Racing Association, noted that his organization produces a number of races. The length of each race determines how many pit locations there will be. He gave some examples:

"The Parker 250 ATV Race has two pit locations. Those locations are permanent. One is called the Main pit, and the other is called the Midway Pit.

“The Vegas to Reno race is 571 miles long. The pit crews move as the race progresses. There are 15 different pit locations. One is 15 miles into the race; the next one is 40 miles away; the next is 38 miles away; the next 32 miles away and it goes like that throughout the course.

“The Henderson Terrible 400” has one pit location that is permanent. The race runs on a 35 mile loop, and the racers keep coming back to the pit location.”

Folks suggested that an average crew should consist of about eight people and two trucks. “Most support crews use four-wheel drive vehicles in Best in the Desert events, but you can get by with a two-wheel drive vehicle,” said Folks. Parts for the ATV are stored in the trucks, and each truck may have a complete ATV from which parts can be scavenged if necessary. Folks added that the most important “parts” to carry are tires, extra wheels, and the components needed for the wheels. “There are a lot of flats,” he said.

Communications between rider and pit crew can be difficult. Folks noted that some use radios, but due to the fact that the radio antenna for an ATV has to be small, the effective range is not very good. “If you’re lucky, you may get a range of two miles or so with a radio on a quad,” he said. However, Folks added that many riders still carry radios and use them when they are within range of their pit crew. This type of communication allows the rider to alert his crew as to what problems he is having with the ATV so the crew can prepare before hand to deal with them.

If a racer’s ATV breaks down during the race, Best in the Desert personnel can get to him and get him out of the desert. According to Folks, the group uses four different types of communications systems, and they have eight retrievable vehicles that they can use to rescue the stranded rider. In addition, Best in the Desert supplies each racer with a “Stuck Stub.” “It’s a card that a racer who has broken down can fill out and give to another racer. The racer who takes the card then gives the card to a Best in the Desert employee at a checkpoint or at the pit location as he continues the race.” Thus, Best in the Desert knows who is stranded and needs to be picked up and the rider’s pit crew is also informed.

Best in the Desert supplies each racing team with a map and pit book. This provides information on the location of the pit stops and helps crews devise a strategy for the race weeks before the event.

Folks noted that a race team would sit down with the map and pit book in hand and set up a strategy. For example, they can decide where they will switch riders, where they will gas up the quad, etc. Also, during these meetings a crew boss will assign a job to each member of the crew. The creation of a strategy can be very detailed. If, for example, the crew knows how many miles the ATV can go on a tank of gas, they can determine at what pit stop the machine will be gassed up. If the ATV can go 75 miles on a tank of gas, and since the information they get from the Best in the Desert tells them how many miles a racer must travel between pit stops, the crew can decide at what pit stop to gas up the vehicle, thus saving time and permitting more efficient logistics.

In the Field
Johnny Campbell is the race team coordinator for American Honda Off-Road. He has held the position for one and one-half years. He is responsible for finding racers for Honda’s racing teams as well as organizing the pit crews. The Honda Racing Team participates in Best in the Desert as well as SCORE events. According to Campbell, Honda has been organizing and doing pit crews for its pro racers for 30 years. The members of the crews are all volunteers and include Honda employees, members of the Honda Riders Club of America, the Hilltoppers Motorcycle Club and friends and family of the racers. He pointed out that most of the volunteers are 40 years old and older so they take the responsibility very seriously. Campbell said that the Honda Racing team consists of a good core of pit crew captains, and it is these captains who ultimately select the members of the crews. The Honda crews are mostly involved with motorcycle racers, but they do offer fuel, wheels, and tech support to ATV racers. “If we have a new model ATV coming out and it will be raced, we show racers how to maintain it, how to change the oil, how to change the wheels, alert them to look out for one thing or another as they race the ATV. Then they can practice on a model,” said Campbell.

Campbell noted that the Honda Racing Team has got things so much down to a science that it offers a pallet of boxes containing what the pit crew will need. One pit equals one pallet.

Kristen Matlock is the pit crew chief for her husband,Wayne Matlock. Wayne races in SCORE and Best in the Desert events and is sponsored by Honda. He has competed in 30 Best in the Desert races and 15 SCORE races to make a total of 45 desert races in five years. Kristen has been pit crew chief for five years.

According to Kristen, she uses the same people in the pit crews for every race in which she has been involved. Actually, it has become a family affair. Included in the crew are Kristen and her father, Eddie King and mother, Cathy King; and Wayne’s father, Cliff Matlock, and mother, Marla Matlock. They use two trucks for the most part in all races. Kristen mans one truck and Cliff works the other.

“Two to four weeks before a race we’ll start organizing,” said Kristen. “We decide who is going to race, what leg of the race he will run, and where the trucks will go. In SCORE races we can pit where we want. So we set locations based on how far the quad can travel on a full tank of gas. We’ve concluded that we can’t go beyond 55 miles max. So we set our pit locations about every 55 miles.”

Pit locations are marked on a map supplied by SCORE. SCORE also supplies them with what is called “Tulip Notes” which indicates where everything is down to one-tenth of a mile.

During the preparatory meetings, each pit crewmember is assigned a job. One will be assigned to put the bike on a bike stand. Another will be assigned the task of working the lug nuts, changing the tires, etc. The group talks about the strategy. They do not practice because everyone involved has experience. So there is really no need to practice. In fact, this crew can change a tire in less than a minute and gas up a quad and change riders in 7 seconds.

Each truck is stocked with all parts of the quad. So there are two of each part on hand. Each truck also carries a complete spare quad so that they can scavenger parts if needed. However, Kristen volunteered that they try to have each part loose to save time and to assure easy accessibility. Kristen tries to arrange for both trucks to be at each pit location so there are more hands available. However, if the race is long and has more pit locations, then a truck will work one pit location and leap frog over the other to their next pit location. So, for example, Kristen’s truck would work pit 1, pit 3, and pit 5 and Cliff’s truck would work pit 2, pit 4, and pit 6, etc.

The racer uses a satellite phone to communicate with the pit crew. This allows the racer to alert the crew about a problem before he gets to the pit location so that the crew can prepare in advance. In addition, SCORE allows the crew to fix breakdowns that occur in the desert. So the racer can call the pit crew using the satellite phone, give his location and what parts are needed, and the crew can drive out to him to make the repair.

Kristen indicated that the pit crews need to be prepared for anything. The crew chief, for example, better know how to read a map. “We had an issue one year when the Best in the Desert accidentally told us to turn right out of a pit area to get to the next pit location when we were actually supposed to turn left, and we missed our rider,” she said.

She has plenty of stories to tell and also volunteered that experiences have provided them with ways to prevent problems. “The worst thing to happen to us was in the Baja 1000 last year. A crewmember forgot to tighten a bolt on the motor allowing oil to leak out. We had to change the top end of the motor and that took a lot of time, and we couldn’t catch up. Also, in the first Best in the Desert race this year, a stick stabbed through the backside of the radiator. The quad lost fluid, and the repair put us too far behind to catch up. Usually you want to protect the front side of the radiator. It’s rare for the backside to get damaged like that. So now we have a screen on the back side of the radiator so the problem won’t happen again.”

Tina Pedersen is the pit crew chief for Ed Teixeira and the Teixeira Technologies’ racing team. The group races in Best in the Desert and SCORE events.

Tina explained that she basically begs, pleads, and bribes friends to participate in a pit crew. The people she approaches are familiar with ATV racing. “We rely on people who know ATVs, friends who ride them or have an ATV business, and customers of Teixeira Technologies and riders whom we sponsor,” she said.

Like Kristen and the Matlock race team, Tina and the Teixeira Tech race team meet prior to a chase race to set strategy. “We plot out our plan,” she said. “If we are going to use two trucks, we decide during the meeting what truck goes to what pit. And since we have multiple riders, we decide where we switch riders, and that means we have to make sure that the right rider is assigned to the right truck. The drivers of each truck study the map so they know just where we have to go to set up a pit.”

How many trucks they use depends on the length of the race, explained Tina. “If a race is 250 miles, we will use one or two trucks. If the race is longer than 600 miles, we will try to have three trucks.”

She added that each truck is a crew. That is, each truck carries enough people to provide the service necessary at a pit stop. The ideal number of pit crewmembers, she said, is four. But she has had to work races in which there were only two--herself and the other rider. “When there are not enough members of a crew, there is more responsibility on the part of the other riders to get involved.”

Like Kristen’s crew, for the long races, the trucks used by Tina’s crew leapfrog each other. For example, truck one works pit stops 1, 3, 5 and truck two works pits 2, 4, 6, etc. “Each truck will stop, set up, pit the vehicle, clean up and then race off to the next pit,” she said.

She explained that most of the races the Teixeira Tech team competes in are Best in the Desert events. That association, as mentioned earlier, designates the area where the pits will be located and Tina said that Best in the Desert supplies her team with a map that shows the locations. “Pits for Best in the Desert are usually along main highways,” she said. “Rarely is there a pit out in the middle of no where.” She confirmed that each racer gets a Stuck Stub or card from Best in the Desert that they can fill out and give to a passing racer if they breakdown. “The racer with the card will bring it to the next pit location and turn it over to the main pit boss at that pit. If, say, Ed is late and doesn’t come in, I can look for the pit boss and ask if anyone had turned in a stuck stub for him. That way I know that he’s broken down and is out of the race. Sometimes, if our rider has a cell phone and reception, he can call and let us know that he’s broken down.” She added that crews are allowed to send parts on to the course, but no member of the crew can go out and make repairs. So if parts are sent out, the rider makes the fix.

She has plenty of stories to tell as well. She noted that once when Ed Teixeira had broken down, he was stuck in the desert for seven hours waiting for someone to pick him up.

“In one race a fellow racer told us that Ed had broken down and was out of the race,” said Tina. “He told us that we should pack up and go, but we decided to wait. Out of nowhere, Ed comes racing in on three wheels because he had broken a rear hub. He was riding with all his weight forward and off the side of the quad trying to keep it on three wheels so he could get in. He didn’t give up. We fixed the quad, got the next rider on it, and kept on racing.”

Tina has worked track races also, in which the pit crew stays in one location throughout the event. “The rider comes around, we gas him up, we may fix a flat and then send him on his way and spend the rest of the time just waiting for him to come back again,” she said.

“In some motocross tracks the race goes so quickly that even if the rider has a problem, he will try to finish the race without a pit stop. If you pull off, that pretty much puts you too far behind to place high,” she added. “It’s very boring for a pit crew. And sometimes you really can’t see the race.”

She also noted that for those shorter track races in which the pit is permanently located in one place, racers wouldn’t even stop for gas or to fix a flat.

It may be the pits, but the pit crew is more involved and experiences the adrenaline high the racers do when they also have to race to the next pit.


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