Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge a chance for crews to shine

Updated: 

If the Indianapolis 500 showcases the greatest racing drivers in the world’s most legendary race, the annual Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge is a chance to focus the spotlight on the crewmembers on pit road.

It’s one of the cornerstone events of Carb Day and the pressure to win is very real to each team’s crewmembers that participate.

“I’ve had guys throw up on Carb Day before the competition,” said longtime Team Penske crewmember and former crew chief Rick Rinaman. “It’s something that is hard to explain. Race Day is half the nerves and tension of the Pit Stop Competition.

“You do carry the confidence with you for Race Day. As a crew chief, you know you have the best crew. If you come off winning the Pit Stop Competition, that’s some consolation. It’s a confidence builder. It’s a much different mental feeling come Race Day than it is Carb Day.”

Team Penske’s drivers have won a record 18 Indianapolis 500s and this teams have won the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge a record 17 times.

“That tells you where your pit crew is, because it’s the same pit crew that can win races,” said Acura Penske IMSA General Manager Jon Bouslog, another longtime team crewmember at the Indianapolis 500. “I, personally, have never been on a winning crew in the Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition. Team Penske has won it 17 times and everybody that has ever won it has done an incredible job.”

“There is a ton of pressure on every guy out there. If you ask those guys, there is more pressure in that pit stop competition than any race because you have to be so good for so many times in a row. It’s like the last pit stop in the race for the Indianapolis 500.

“It’s shows the brotherhood of the whole crew.”

John Haslett has been a crewmember at Team Penske since 1981. He understands just how important it is to everyone on the team to show the cheering fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day they are the best at what they do.

He also credits Rinaman with demanding excellence from the endless hours of pit stop practice over the years.

“The thing with Rick Rinaman is he is so competitive in whatever he does,” Haslett said. “Rick was very, very, very competitive. If you messed up, he would let you know. We practiced and practiced and practiced. I have to give Rick credit for taking us to where we needed to go. He was the engine that drove the team in terms of pit stop success.

“To win it is huge. It showcases how effort equals results. It’s the backbone of Penske Racing. How much you put into it is how much you are going to get out. To do that year after year and be in the finals or the team to beat, there are a lot of good teams out there. To win is a monumental effort on everyone’s part, from RP (Roger Penske) all the way down.”

Rinaman’s crew has won the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge six times. During two of those championships, he was changing the inside rear tire. The other four championship crews, he was the crew chief on the outside front tire.

Rinaman demanded excellence at the team’s shop, which led to seemingly endless hours of pit stop practice early in the morning.

“It’s something everybody on the team works relentlessly on the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge,” Rinaman recalled. “It’s tough to get people motivated sometimes with pit stop practice at 7 a.m. at the shop. Then, they realize you get dialed in for the Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition. When we were at the shop, I had my guys doing pit stop practice like it was always the Indy 500 pit stop contest. I would tell them we need to do four pit stops in a row. We would do four in practice that had to be good in a certain time. If you did three and then you messed up, you had to do all four over again.

“We would not end the day of practice until we could do four pit stops under the time the we set to do. Everything was about the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge.”

Will Power’s chief mechanic is Matt Jonsson. He credits INDYCAR Technical Director Kevin Blanch’s involvement in the Pit Stop Challenge at making it a successful and highly anticipated event in the INDYCAR Series.

“It’s a fun event, but we take it seriously,” Jonsson said. “Everybody involved in that event takes it serious and there is a lot of pride in winning that.”

From the fans