In endurance racing, pit stops are crucial to success. Any team that has run endurance events understands races can be won or lost in the pits, and NASA has specific guidelines for pit-stop procedures, particularly when refueling.
These rules are set up for the safety of all participants and to preserve the surface of pit lane. One aspect of pit stops where NASA is a real stickler is fuel spills. If a single drop of fuel touches asphalt during a fuel stop, the team will be hit with a five-minute penalty. That means the car has to exit the pits, go around the track, come back into pit lane, sit for five excruciating minutes, then leave pit lane again, without going back to the pit stall. Bummer. Nothing steams a driver like a five-minute timeout while their competitors fly past over and over again.
There are many different methods to ensure you get fuel into your car quickly and safely without spilling gas everywhere. Teams use catch cans under the cars, carpet on pit lane, all sorts of things. While I was cruising down pit lane at the 25 Hours of Thunderhill one year, I saw one team attach a towel to the side of the car near the fuel door with a couple of large magnetic clips. I thought it was a pretty smart idea. I stole the idea and came up with a little cleaner method for attaching the magnets to the towel. Instead of the large and clumsy clips, I decided it would be better, and also wouldn’t damage the paint, if the magnets were sewn into the towel. The only thing standing in my way was the fact that I didn’t earn a Boy Scout achievement patch in sewing.
After a trip to Wal-Mart and some begging for my wife to get her sewing machine out, I had my own slick little magnetic fuel-spill towel. When the car comes into pit lane, a crew member tosses the towel up to the side of the car near the fuel door and the towel just sticks to the metal fender (sorry Corvette dudes, I don’t have a solution for fiberglass). The towel collects those impossible last little drips from the fuel nozzle and ensures our team gets out of the pits without penalty.
I wish I could remember the team I saw do this first so I could give them credit, but it was a while back. For those of you who can’t sew and can’t convince your wife to do it for you, I/O Port Racing Supplies sells a version of it at www.ioportracing.com.