Ladies Auto Know: Working in the Pits
It was my first Pit Crew Challenge and I was a big loser: I was teamed with Brad Lovell, one of six BFGoodrich brand ambassadors in the Baja Challenge. We were at an event simulating what would happen in a real-life race.
The task was to take off and put on a set of tires and perform a mock refuel of a racing car. Since I was with a pro, our official time was used as a benchmark for the rest of the competition. Let's just say that another team did the job in less than 60 seconds. Our score was 2 minutes and 15 seconds. That's due to the fact that I am a klutz. During the tire change, I put the lug nuts on backwards and then they flew off and went under the car. And forget about refueling the gas -- I couldn't even lift the can!
Lovell, the much-awarded off-road champion, was a real team player. As I apologized profusely, he said, "Don't worry, once during a desert race I was changing a tire and the lug nuts went everywhere and got lost in the sand."
I admit as a woman I felt completely out of my comfort zone. Competing with other pit crew teams and gearheads, well I just wanted out. I would have felt more comfortable in the wilderness. But in the end I stretched myself and learned how to wield an electric wrench, wrestle with a tire, screw on a lug nut. I'd do it again and try to peel a minute off our team times.
Why were we doing the challenge? BFGoodrich Tires has used motorsports as a proving ground for more than 40 years, and is involved in every type of racing, including sports car, desert, dirt, short course, and extreme rock crawling.
The mock racing event was at this year's SEMA show -- a yearly convention for the automobile aftermarket and accessories business -- which was a few weeks away from the Baja 1000, a racing series in which BFGoodrich is heavily invested. The event starts in Encinitas, 90 miles south of San Diego, and is an 828-mile loop that runs for 24 hours.
Lovell, already a champion off-road racer, has wanted to race in this event since he was a kid.
"I saw a trophy truck flying over a ridge and I thought, 'that's what I want to do!' It's been a life-long challenge coming up the ranks and we're not there yet," he said.
Almost a decade ago, he (an engineer at the time) and his brother, Roger, started rock crawling, and became enamored with the sport. Now they own the Lovell Racing team, and compete in the off-road arena. The brothers live less than a mile apart in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and they train by racing and working out in the gym.
I asked him about the Baja 1000, which he has competed in numerous times. Lovell said, "So much in Baja is raced at night. And there's danger out there -- dust, silt, people, traps, it's surreal, it's like scuba diving at night."
Even before the company started racing in Baja 1000, BFGoodrich was testing out their tires in that region of Mexico. Peter Calhoun, Motorsports Marketing Manager at Michelin/BFGoodrich, noted, "BFG has been testing tires in the Baja peninsula since the mid 1970s; there is no tougher lab then going into the Baja." Calhoun explained, "We are the leading field tire company, we have been racing since 1977, and we've won all four races in the Baja series."
Although most of the tires they use are specific for motorsports, Calhoun said that the BFG engineers get a lot of research and development out of testing them in the harsh desert.
"Part of that test is to test out the environment and the design elements before they trickle down to consumer," he noted.
"Racing in Mexico is a unique open-road race experience, there are no formal spectators but lots of people watch. It's very much like a tailgating party. They love the spectacle of trucks flying through the air," said Calhoun.
"Just a few years ago, some in the industry were ready to shovel dirt on the grave of BFGoodrich Tires when it came to desert racing. Instead, the finish-line crowd saw the parade of race vehicles on BFGoodrich Tires crossing the line with class championships. We painted the desert in title-winning performances," said Chris Baker, motorsports director for BFGoodrich Tires.
HOLLY REICH has been writing about automotive and travel since 1982. She has reported on the automotive industry for television and radio broadcast stations including; Fox News, SPEED, Car TV and Autolab. Reich has contributed to publications such as RIDES, Edmunds.com, kbb.com, Elite Traveler, automotiverhythms.com, The New York Daily News and The Washington Post. Holly is based in New York City.