If YOU ever wanted to know what it’s like to go over the wall for a pit stop at Daytona International Speedway, then keep reading! Let me set the scenario: It’s a chilly Saturday morning on February 14, 2015 and there is NO time to think about fuzzy hearts and chocolates on this Valentine’s Day because we have an ARCA race to prepare for! The green flag is set to drop at 4:15pm later that afternoon! We arrive at the track at 9:30am and wait until 10:00am for the ARCA garage to open! We’re NEVER late to the track, It’s a cardinal sin and a sign of disrespect to the sanctioning series to be late to the track. Aside from that most teams want every second available to work on their race car to be able to put the best product they can on the track!
10:00am comes and we all rush into the garage where the cars have been in impound since yesterday’s qualifying session. Our truck driver; Keith and I bring our race hauler to life by cranking up the generator, which turns on the lights and the heat! Computers are set up and chargers are plugged in. Then it’s time for me to grab my trusty “catch can” and have it fitted to the car, meaning I needed a piece of plastic tubing about 7 inches that wraps around the piece/pointer that goes into the back of the car opening the flap that allows excess fuel to fall into the can. The thick clear plastic tube surrounding that pointer will allow me to secure the can to the outside of the car resulting in little to no fuel spillage. So.. I get that all taken care of and check it on the car to make sure I have a good fit with an ARCA official watching at all times to make sure no one does anything “funny” to the race cars… The only thing I had to do was borrow a fire suit and a helmet from one of my buddies because “someone” forgot to load my pit equipment onto the hauler.. It was the only fiasco I thought I had to deal with and I got it taken care of thanks to my friends on the No.32 Go Fast NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team who let me borrow the things I needed. I was a happy chick! I should have known “Something” was going to go wrong..and sure enough….
About 11:00am I receive a text from my tire carrier who was flying in to the track at about 2:30pm that afternoon, saying the other pit guys who were supposed to be doing pit stops with us will not be able to make the flight due to a change in their schedule! That’s when the panic set in and the search for replacements began!
I headed straight over to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage and began to ask everyone and I mean EVERYONE if they could spare some of their pit crew so we could hire them to help us over the wall! I needed 2 tire changers, a jackman and 1 more tire carrier. The only pit crew guys that would be at the track that day were those pitting for teams in the Sprint Unlimited race that evening which really lessened my chances of finding the crew I needed. It also made me realize that if I were successful in finding the crew we needed, we would have some of the best pit crew members in the business! I went to all the top teams and was told the same thing.. “Those guys won’t get here until 2:30 -3:30pm but you can come back later”… keep in mind out race was set st start at 4:15pm, not leaving me much time to get this all together!
I head back to the ARCA garage with lunch for the crew that I got from Bruce and Jackie (in the cup garage) who run a catering service called “the Garlic Garage” (That’s what we call them) and told our Kurzejewski Racing No.54 team the news. After lunch, I told them not to panic just yet because I’m not known to give up on anything and I will find the crew we needed. On that note, I headed back to the Sprint Cup Series garage. I noticed some of the “Big Guys” walking around and started talking to all of them! Some of them had accepted jobs working pit stops for ARCA teams already which wasn’t what I was hoping to hear! I spoke to every Hendrick team, Roush team, MWR team and whoever else I could find… Thankfully I saw the Penske pit crew walk into the garage and I stopped them right away. They referred me to their pit coach, who saved the day! He coordinated the crew members we needed as I got on the phone with Brian Keselowski to tell him the EXCELLENT news! Trent (pit coach) came over to the ARCA garage to meet with our team, Dan Kurzejewski, team owner, Matt Kurzejewski, driver, Brian Keselowski, crew chief and Bob Keselowski, car chief. Trent informed us that we would have the tire changers from the No.22 Cup team and we would have the jackman and tire carrier from the No.13 Cup team! I couldn’t thank him enough! I went back to my buddies on the No.32 Cup team and borrowed a few more of their spare uniforms for everyone on our crew so the cup guys didn’t mess up their uniforms they needed for the Sprint Unlimited race later that evening. Fast forward to 4:00pm.. we’re all in our pit stall getting ready for the National Anthem and driver intros just ended. Matt gets to his car and straps in. I’m in my fire suit snapping pictures on pit road (of course)…. The drivers get the signal and off they go! We are now in our pit stall and getting ready to go to work! When the first caution comes out, you instantly get ready for a pit stop until you hear further instructions from your crew chief not to if he decised not to come in for a pit stop. Brian made the call not to come in so everyone in the pit area takes a deep breath and pulls their helmet off and relaxes again. While the race is going on it’s kind of uneventful in the pit stall for the crew. You just listen to your team’s radio communications between driver, crew chief and spotter. There was no television broadcast to watch it from other than the big screen behind pit road so you wind up watching the race (if you can see the screen) from your pit stall. When the cars pass by we watch them go by and turn our attention back to the screen and wait for one of two things… the driver to say there’s a problem and he needs to come in for a pit stop or if the caution comes out and the crew chief tells the driver to come in for a pit stop.
After the second caution around lap 35 we got the command that Matt was bringing his No.54 in for a pit stop! That’s when you know it’s “Go Time”. I got my giant full face helmet on as quickly as I could, tightened my big silver fire proof apron around my waist, grabbed my catch can and climbed up on the historic Daytona pit wall. Just standing on that wall was enough to make your knees want to buckle and everything leading up to that moment was running through my head. The biggest thing I said over and over in my to myself was “Ok Jen.. Don’t screw up & Don’t drop any fuel”!
Still standing on pit wall, I hear our spotter, Tony Micale say “3 – 2 – 1 speed” as he counts Matt down onto pit road speed..
It was hard to see Matt enter pit road because he was so far up the lane on pit road we were in pit stall No. 12. Daytona’s pit road is massive! I felt my adrenaline pump as Tony counted him down and I waited until I could see Matt’s Costy’s Energy logo on the hood of our car. He came into site at about 5 stalls away and in that moment everything went quiet as I focused on nothing but his car. I literally heard my heartbeat in my ears and then it was go time! Matt screeched into our pit box and we all flew over the wall. Our tire changers & carriers whizzed into action changing right side tires only. Our fuel man, Cesareo Oliva plugged a full can of Sunoco fuel into the side of the car as I plugged my catch can into the back of the car. Once I’m “plugged in” I stayed put. I held the catch can with my right hand and threw my left arm up and onto the fuel can to help steady it as it filled the car with fuel. My eyes are focused on Cesareo’s face as he plugs the second can of Sunoco fuel into the car. Then he focuses on my face waiting for me to give him the signal that I feel excess fuel pouring into the catch can meaning the car’s fuel tank is completely full. I gave the nod when I felt the fuel start pouring into the catch can and he pulled his fuel can out. Brian Keselowski, our crew chief was also watching our body language and screams over the radio for Matt to “GO GO GO” when he saw Cesareo unplug from the car. I remained standing in the same spot, never pulling the catch can out of the car until Matt pulled away from me, leaving the catch can still in hand. The whole pit stop takes mere seconds but it felt like an hour passed in slow motion. I stood in that spot until I saw Matt almost leaving pit road. Then I spun around and hopped back over the wall with a smile on my face from ear to ear! The first thing I asked before I flipped up the visor of my helmet was “Did you guys get pictures of that”?? Thankfully everyone answered with a resounding “YES”! I was on cloud nine for the rest of the race because now I have been over the wall at the 2 biggest and prestigious tracks on the circuit, Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway! Going over the wall for pit stops was something I never even dreamed I would do when I used to fantasize about having a job in racing. I can literally say I’m capable of doing everything from “P.R. to Pit Crew”.
It’s amazing to be able to have experienced all the things I have been able to do in racing since Brian Keselowski hired me just 2 weeks before the 2011 Daytona 500. My first technical day on the job was my best experience overall when I watch Brian cross that finish line and race his way into that magnificent race. If I only knew then that, that day was just one of many unbelievable days full of incredible experiences to come for me, I wouldn’t have believed it! The fact that I can share each and every amazing experience I have with so many race fans that follow me is a true blessing and I’m so thankful that I can provide that service to them.
Check out some of the pics taken as I hopped over the wall at Daytona for Matt Kurzejewski’s pit stop. He went on to finish the ARCA Racing Series, Lucas Oil 200 in 7th position! A great finish to a great week at the track!