If you are going to run any sort of NASA racing event that requires fueling, then you will need to drum up some friends who will work as your pit crew. Per NASA regulations, those friends, who will be going over the wall and fueling your car, need to wear safety equipment that is equal to that of the driver, minus the head and neck restraint.
Safety equipment is costly and it isn’t easy to convince your friends to use their own expensive driving suit, and then have them spill gas all over it while trying to help you win a race. It is much better to have safety gear for your friends to borrow when they are volunteering their time to make you a hero.
Here is the good news, NASA allows expired equipment, Snell rated helmets specifically, to be used for pit crews. The requirement is that the expired helmet be clearly labeled “FUEL” and never used again while driving a car. On our team, our pit crew gear has taken shape over the years through mostly retired driving gear. If one of our drivers gets a new pair of Nomex socks, then the old stinky socks go to a volunteer crew member. How lucky for them?
Most NASA teams don’t have a steady, returning pit crew. People come out and have their fun, standing in the pits of a hot racetrack for six hours, work on the racecar for free, and then for some odd reason, race teams never hear from them again. So, to ensure you always have a pit crew that is outfitted in the correct gear, you need to separate the gear from the person.
On our team, we have four crew bags, each numbered, with each numbered bag in incrementally larger sizes. Bag No. 1 is for the anorexic. Bag No. 4 is for the burger lover. We give these bags to whoever shows up to make sure they have what they need. Inside the bag, we have everything required by NASA for that member to go over the wall, plus a few other items we have found helpful to crew members. The person can show up to the track in shorts and flip flops, and with our gear, he or she can be outfitted to do a very important job for us.
Here is what we put in the bags: First is an expired Snell rated helmet, which we have labeled with stickers “FUEL” and “CREW” and have outfitted with a clear face shield. Smoked face shields don’t work for nighttime pit stops. Each of our helmets is set up with a GoPro mount to add a camera to for cool pit stop shots and also for data and training to ensure better future pit stops. Next is an inexpensive single-layer driving suit with Nomex underwear — top and bottoms, as required due to the inexpensive single-layer suit.
We also have Nomex socks, fire-resistant gloves, and a Nomex balaclava, which is required for crew members with facial hair. The hardest fit for a crew member is shoes, but we include a pair of worn out driving shoes in each bag. The only requirement for shoes is that they be leather and cover the entire foot without large cloth venting. Work boots suffice for crew members. We also include knee pads for protection during tire changes, a head strap LED flashlight to go on the helmet for working on things at night and reflective arm and leg bands to make our crew members visible in the dark.
We also provide a radio for every crew member so they can hear and talk to the crew chief during the race. This can be done two different ways depending on the crew helmet. If the helmet is already fitted with radio wires, we use a cord from Sampson Racing Communications, which goes from the helmet to the radio and has a PTT button on it. It works great. If the helmet isn’t wired for sound, then we use an inexpensive throat microphone setup with an ear bud that will fit under the helmet. The crew member can hear everything that is going on. Communication is key, especially during a crisis.
Each numbered bag has a laminated inventory list so the crew member knows what he or she was given in the bag and what is required to be put back into the bag. This helps immensely for us to keep track of our gear as these bags get passed from one crew member to the next from race to race. After each event, I go through the bags wash all of the gear and ensure nothing needs to be replaced due to wear or loss.
I have found that handing a new crew member a bag of gear with a uniform with the team logo on it gives them an immediate sense of being a part of the team, and this creates buy-in for that new team member to work hard to help us to succeed and win races. Since volunteers get paid a total of absolutely nothing, the least we can do is ensure they are safe and look sharp doing the job. A few duffle bags filled with old driving gear may not seem like the best speed secret in racing, but I assure you a little organization goes a long way. So, dress for success, and help your crew do the same.
That’s a good idea to get a microphone for all of the helmets. I feel like it can get pretty loud on the race track, and that would be a good way to make sure that you can still communicate. I’ll have to think about getting some of those to help the whole team communicate if my friends and I decide to really get into racing.