I consider Ray Wright a good friend. We don’t see each other as often as I would like to but when we do link up the conversation and interaction always teaches me something. Ray has not been on the podcast yet but he will be at some point because I recognize and respect his attitude, his open mind, and his adherence to an ideal. Several years ago I was fortunate to see him and his crew in action and it reminded me of why I started my old gym in the first place: to improve under controlled conditions and to take the new you outside, to test, to analyze, and to come back inside to start the cycle again.
We insist that—sooner or later—training must be applied. Use your skill and fitness for performance outside the gym. In sport. At work. Wherever. Just get out and DO something. A lifetime of preparations without a test is a life unfulfilled.
When we say these things we can never know how the fitness and skill may be applied. Our temperament and personal interest give us ideas, so we make suggestions but the best outcomes are often those that surprise us, and compel us to think further about the training and how to improve it.
In August 2014 I was fortunate to close a circle that began turning in 2008. Ray Wright attended a seminar that year. At the time he was working as a strength and conditioning coach with Richard Childress Racing. The organization realized the importance of fitness for the pit crews, and how it could benefit athletic longevity. The longer a man’s body is viable the more the organization benefits from his experience and expertise. We discussed the demands of the job but I didn’t understand it accurately enough to help as much as I might have.
In the intervening years Ray earned a spot on the Menards #27 crew as a rear tire carrier. In the mix, he understands the demands of the job in a way the simple observer can’t. Now he can integrate physical training with technical practice, balancing the work, and shifting focus to the current weakness as other characteristics improve.
My upbringing prevented me from understanding NASCAR. I’m quite sure my parents loathe the mere idea of it. Today, as the national anthem was sung and the pre-race prayer recited, as the fireworks exploded and WW II era planes flew over, as the American flags strutted on the breeze and the controlled explosion of high octane fuel resonated across the track I got it. As a new guy, I have never been so warmly welcomed into any community as I was today.
Then, when the first pit stop happened and I watched the precision of the crew, the speed, the teamwork, and the physicality required I understood what Ray has been doing all these years. I’ve seen the pit crews at work on TV. I thought I knew what I was seeing. I didn’t. And you likely don’t either. It took multiple replays of the stop on the pit cart DVD recorder to fully comprehend the individual tasks that make up the whole. I was stunned.
Of course my mind raced: how would I train for this, or practice for that? Watching the choreographed movements and shifting responsibilities, especially as the stops became more complex, it was clear that physical training was a small factor but nonetheless essential to the outcome. Specific technical skill and the ability to assess, think and adapt on the fly put a pit crew on par with top performing athletes in many sports.
More shocking was to see the aggression required, and to see guys switch it on instantaneously. As laps counted down to a stop the tension mounted in the pit. The guys geared up. Prepped the tires and tools and fuel tanks. And waited. Constantly communicating about exactly what had to be done. Suddenly the car screeched in and anywhere from five to twelve seconds of precisely controlled explosive effort ensued.
The crew flowed like water but hit fast and hard. Every move and act is precisely measured, broken apart, and analyzed. The average time it took to change out two rear tires was 11.92, which Ray said was, “Smoking.” Human performance, under diabolical pressure, that looked like the most precisely choreographed, excessively rehearsed fight scene.
The parallels with climbing struck me. Ray exclaimed, “If you doubt yourself on the (pit) wall you will mess it up when you get to the car. You have to attack it.” And trust the result of the hours and hours of practice.
Go in hard.
And when it’s done be done.
Because the next one is coming.
If you’re interested in a unique look at life on Pit Row check out Ray’s book here.