Life in the pits
By Paul Kogut
Published: Sunday, July 3, 2005,
Pit crew chief Scott Durick rubbed his oily hands together in nervous anticipation.
Sitting next to him, fellow crew member Doug Emmert glanced quickly to his right several times at the No. 83 Modified car waiting in line to roar onto the clay track at Lernerville Speedway.
Time to see if they had correctly adjusted their car for the track's conditions and properly prepared it to survive 20 laps of digging in the dirt.
After veteran driver Brian Swartzlander gets behind the wheel, Durick, Emmert and other crew members, including Brian's son, B.J., climb into the stands.
The crew's job is to ensure the car gives the elder Swartzlander a decent chance to capture the checkered flag.
When it's time to race, all the crew can do is sit, watch and wait.
June 17 was a wild ride that ended in a rare way for Swartzlander's team, which hails from the Leechburg area.
But it also contained many moments every pit crew in Western Pennsylvania can relate to -- scenes few local racing fans see but are as important to Swartzlander's success as his skills behind the wheel.
These scenes have few similarities and many differences to what fans can see during NASCAR races on television.
Here's a behind-the-track look at Swartzlander's pit crew during a memorable evening of racing at Lernerville in Buffalo Township:
Where is Swartzlander and his crew?
Their usual spot in the pits (at the end of the second row) is occupied by an orange cone. His team usually pulls in and starts getting ready around 6.
Keith Swartzlander, Brian's brother, has parked his trailer and car next to No. 83's place. Brian's and his crew's lateness baffles Keith and his helpers.
One of Keith's crew climbs onto his trailer to get a better view of the spectator's parking lot and the road that goes by Lernerville. He shields his eyes from the sun. No sign of No. 83.
Swartzlander is in the second heat, and if he doesn't race in that event, he can't participate in the feature later.
His crew hurriedly opens the back door of the trailer and unloads the car.
The pit gate is located near the gate of the 4/10-mile track. So, Swartzlander rolls through the pit gate and into line near the track gate.
His crew, breathing a sigh of relief, drives the trailer past the heat lineup and into their usual spot. They jump out, drop a few pieces of equipment at the rear of the trailer -- where the car will park -- and rush to the stands to watch the heat.
Swartzlander's team was late because they had to change the trailer's dead starter at the last minute. There was nothing wrong with the car.
One major hurdle down, and the racing hasn't even started yet.
The crew squirms when No. 83 and the No. 777 of Kevin Bolland -- one of Swartzlander's chief rivals -- get close to bumping into each other several times. Later, they look a little nervous when Swartzlander trails a car spewing white smoke.
But Swartzlander negotiates the obstacles, finishes fourth in the heat and qualifies for the feature.
Then, they check for loose nuts and bolts, which could develop during the stress of speeding around the oval and sliding through turns.
They also scrape off the gooey clay from the car. It might seem like a purely aesthetic thing, but eliminating every little bit of extra weight helps.
The car can hold about 22 gallons, but the crew likes to keep the maximum at about 18 gallons. Once again, this reduces any excess weight.
Fuel can be bought at Lernerville, but Swartzlander's crew brings theirs.
He makes sure nothing has leaked onto the motor. Clay could throw off the oil pump belt. All is good.
By changing the gear ratio, the car's wheels will not spin as hard and will come out of turns more gradually.
This increases the driver's amount of control and reduces the chance of damaging the tires and motor.
If the pan hard is adjusted up, the car will slide better through turns. Usually, this is done when the track is not slippery.
If the track is slippery and the wheels need more bite to get through turns faster, the pan hard is adjusted down.
On this night, Emmert and Swartzlander decide to move the pan hard down.
It's still a little dark under the car where Emmert is sprawled on a mat marked with a large Pepsi logo.
"You sleeping under there?" Durick asks Emmert.
Emmert lays out and crosses his legs jokingly in response.
The wrong size cap is brought from the trailer first, but the crew eventually finds the correct size.
He then gets in line for the feature, while the crew stays behind to put away some equipment.
Durick and Emmert don't say much as they watch Swartzlander, who starts third.
The car is particularly strong through the turns, Swartzlander says later, and he takes the lead early.
The Allegheny Township resident wins his first race since April 16, 2004, and notches his 100th career victory and 44th at Lernerville.
The crew celebrates with Swartzlander in Victory Lane near the center of the track.
"This feels real good," Durick said. "I've been with Brian's team for many years. Brian's like family. We've been thinking about the 100th win for awhile."
"They're good," Swartzlander said. "I've got a lot of good guys. Scott debated me on changing gears. We changed our mind, and it went good."
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