One event I look forward to each year is NASCAR at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pennsylvania. I am always incredibly impressed by the Pocono staff’s intense detail in coordinating such a large-scale event that more so than any other sport caters to the fans, as the fan experience that is established by NASCAR and Pocono Raceway over the three days extends well beyond the asphalt of the 2.8 mile “Tricky Triangle”.

Sunday’s M&M Fan Appreciation 400 was the most anticipated race, but it was just one of the many races that Pocono Raceway hosted over the long weekend. The General Tire Delivers 200 (ARCA Menards Series Race) was on Friday, and the CRC Brakleen 150 (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Race) and Explore the Pocono Mountains 225 (NASCAR Xfinity Series Race) were on Saturday, with many practices and qualifying sessions in between. The weekend ended in controversy though, as the original winner Denny Hamlin became the first NASCAR race winner to be disqualified since 1960 after illegal material was identified on the car’s front fascia by NASCAR during the car’s post-race inspection. Interestingly enough, the second-place car of Kyle Busch also failed the post-race inspection and was also disqualified, which then resulted in original third-place finisher Chase Elliott being awarded the win. I was told that the reason for the disqualification is that the material on the front fascia could potentially enhance the car’s aerodynamics.

You may be thinking though, what can I possibly learn from NASCAR as a college basketball coach? Equally impressive to Pocono’s outstanding fan experience is how drivers and their teams work together to accomplish what far surpasses an individual achievement of winning a race. I am fortunate to attend the race at Pocono and document my observations each year, which I hope will enhance the exposure of such an exciting sport to those who may not currently watch and provide a guide for you to view when attending or watching a race similarly.

While the driver of the car may gain recognition, NASCAR is undoubtedly a team sport. The performance of the pit crew and strategy determined between the crew chief and driver are just as important as the driver who controls the car in determining where the car finishes the race. Like any team sport, however, multiple individuals must work together like a well-oiled machine to ultimately achieve success. Just watch the pit stop below by Kyle Larson and his team to see for yourself.

    • Roles: Each NASCAR pit crew can contain up to eight members, with only five over the wall during a pit stop. Each position, from the crew chief to the jack-man to the tire changer, has a well-defined, specific role with responsibilities that requires a total buy-in. No position is too big or too small, as each role must be executed flawlessly in order for a car to be in a position to win. While you may only see on tv the action of changing a tire or gassing up the car, what I enjoyed watching was each crew member’s preparation prior to carrying out their responsibilities during the 10 to 12-second pit stop and evaluation following the stop. For example, the tire changer meticulously checked the air levels of the tires and cleaned the groves of the threads for the lugnut on the tire rim. After the pitstop, the tire changer then obtained measurements of the tires that were removed from the car to evaluate wear. The pit crew’s intense attention to detail showed the importance of “sweating the small stuff”.
    • Communication: Much of the communication that is heard over the radio during a race occurs between the crew chief, the spotter, and the driver. While the crew chief is able to communicate strategy during the race, the spotter communicates with the driver and must provide immediate, clear, concise insight on what they are observing in order for the driver to be aware of his surroundings, as well as to react. This type of communication entails strong listening skills by the driver, as well as an enormous amount of trust in what the spotter is sharing with him or her because the driver may need to react in a matter of split seconds. Another reason NASCAR is tremendously accessible to fans is that all of this communication can be heard over a scanner available to anyone who’d like to listen in. As a leader who must communicate with your team don’t the court, listening to a spotter communicate with the drive on a scanner is an invaluable learning opportunity.
    • Efficiency: As discussed above, each crew member’s role is clearly defined and a pit stop can only be a matter of seconds, which demands a crew member’s maximum effort in completing their assigned task in as short a time as possible. As you watch, for example, as a gas man works during a pitstop, you will notice each movement is well-practiced and made with a purpose. There are no wasted movements, as each second wasted prevents a driver from being closer to the lead. I wanted to learn more and found this great video below that details the exact movements made by a tire changer during a pit stop to ensure a quick and efficient pit stop.
    • Teamwork: No position is too big or too small, as each role must be executed flawlessly in order for a car to be in a position to win. There must be an enormous amount of trust between the driver and spotter when the spotter communicates with the driver about the driver’s surroundings. There may be no better visual of the teamwork that takes place amongst a NASCAR team than in the video of Kyle Larson’s pit stop above. I want you to focus on the crew members that are not allowed over the wall and their roles in passing and catching the tires to and from the tire changer and tire carrier.

As a coach, you are responsible for bringing together a group of individuals to work collectively towards a similar goal. Working together for a common goal, no matter how large or small the role or no matter how large or small the detail, is evident in watching how a pit crew operates and a learning opportunity I hope you take advantage of yourself by attending a NASCAR race.

I’d like to thank Pocono Raceway for an amazing three days, as they always create an incredible experience for all in attendance.