An endurance race of any significant length will require a pit stop for tires. A tire swap can be one of the most time-consuming pit stops if it is not done correctly. What NASCAR pit crews make look very easy is actually a pretty complex ballet of movements. There are a lot of things that can go wrong during one of these stops, causing a delay in the pits, which can be disastrous. After walking the paddock during a few 25 Hours of Thunderhill events, I realized tire changing is an art form some NASA endurance teams have overlooked. Here are a few tricks of the trade to help every racer get out of the pits quicker and with little risk of running into a problem.
First, let me say that I am a paranoid person. I know that if anything can go wrong, it will. I believe in this guy Murphy and all of his pessimistic laws. I know that if we are leading a race and we need to come in for a right front tire, chances are we will cross- thread a lug nut and spend 15 minutes trying to get the thing off the car and lose the race. Because of my racing anxiety, I try to ensure that we are prepared for every possible emergency that can arise from a simple four lug nuts off, old wheel off, new wheel on, four lug nuts back on. Sounds simple doesn’t it? When trying to do it in a hurry, it isn’t simple at all. Jacks suddenly don’t work, lug nuts go mysteriously missing, batteries in electric impact guns die, or nuts get cross threaded. You name it, and it has happened to teams during crucial pit stops.
To be quicker out of the pits and to avoid losing lug nuts, we adopted methods from the boys at NASCAR. We installed bullnose studs on our hubs and glue lug nuts to our new wheels so the wheel swap is quicker. The bullnose stud gives the lug nuts, which are glued to the wheels, a place to land once the wheel is slapped onto the car. Then a six-point socket on an impact gun can quickly thread the lugs down. We use 3M weatherstrip adhesive (Part No. 03602) to glue the lugs to the wheels. We don’t want the bond to be too strong, only enough to hold the lugs in place as the wheel is placed on the hub. For this reason, we try to glue the nuts onto the wheels within a 30-minute window of our pit stop. We want the lug to break away from the wheel and land on the end of the bullnose stud. From there, the impact gun will thread it into place.
For this process to work, you will need to have extra sets of lug nuts — a set on the car and a set on the new wheels to go onto the car. Having lots of extra lug nuts around is a great idea in case one gets lost in the melee of the tire swap. Our crew members keep extras in their pockets. To tighten the lugs to a certain torque specification, we use a torque stick between the impact gun and the six-point socket. This stick will twist once it has reached its designated torque spec. These can be ordered in different foot-pound increments.
As an insurance policy for cross-threaded lug nuts — my big fear — we ensure that the hardness of our wheel stud is greater than that of our lug nuts. If one or the other has to fail, we want the lug nut to fail because it is easier to replace a lug nut than it is to press out a wheel stud in the middle of a race. But if one of our studs were to get its threads buggered up, or a piece of the lug nut is left behind in the stud threads, we have the exact thread pitch thread cleaners ready to clean the threads. For emergencies, we keep a “wheel box” filled with thread cleaners, extra lug nuts, 3M adhesive, and sockets ready to go in case something unspeakable happens during a stop.
We have found that this method is effective and is much quicker than trying to thread each lug nut by hand, especially hot lug nuts that just came off of the car. The torque stick is also quicker than having to use an impact gun to put the lug nuts on and then a separate torque wrench to torque each nut individually. We also use a lot of people over the wall to assist with a tire swap — a minimum of three: jack man, lug-nut man, and wheel man —so each person can do his or her job quickly.
The jack man has a marked spot on the side of the car so he can quickly place the jack at the right location. Our lug-nut man ensures the impact gun is charged, has the correct torque stick and socket on it and that it is ready to take lugs off. Our wheel man has a new wheel ready to go, lug nuts glued on and tire pressure correct. He also will remove the old wheel and get it out of the way so the lug nut man can switch the impact to clockwise direction and tighten the new wheel quickly.
Each of these little tricks saves a few seconds each, but cumulatively it saves enormous amounts of time. Add that time up over 25 hours and possibly 16-20 tire changes, and you are talking about a race-changing amount of time. How much would you pay to cut 10 minutes off of your last endurance race? How would five more laps have helped last year’s finishing position? This time-saving modification —new studs, extra lug nuts and glue — costs less than one tire. Convinced?
For teams who want to roll like the pros, nitrogen tanks and expensive air impact wrenches are quicker than electric impact guns. NASCAR teams use a special socket with a spring inside that automatically kicks out the old lug nuts. If you really want to save time and spend serious money, you can switch to a single-lug wheel setup. But for your average E3 teams, the tips in the photos here will improve your game in the pits exponentially. Good luck, and remember, righty tighty, lefty loosey.