From an early age, Chris Krieg knew that he wanted to be a coach, but he never dreamed it would lead him to NASCAR. After 17 years as a college football coach, Krieg was looking for a change, and he found it unexpectedly through an ad on the Hendrick Motorsports website.
“I happened to be on their site and saw a job opportunity for a coach – and it fit my background perfectly,” says Krieg, head pit crew coach for the Nos. 48 and 88 cars. “I enjoy racing and was looking to get out of football, and they hired me. It all happened really fast.”
That was four years ago, and the whirlwind pace at which he launched his new career hasn’t slowed down. Today, although he is coaching a team in fire suits instead of football helmets, he says he uses many of the same skills he honed during those years guiding college athletes.
“The biggest difference is the skill sets,” he explains. “In football, you coach on emotion, but in NASCAR, you want to control those emotions. The NASCAR pit stop is a carefully choreographed dance. You can’t have too much adrenaline; you have to stay in control. Once a driver masters that, you see a vast improvement; they become an elite performer.”
Watch the below video to see skill and speed in action at NASCAR pit crew practice:
A Cut Above
Becoming a top-tier pit crew member doesn’t just happen; it takes commitment, training and lots of practice. Krieg says his team practices three days a week and adjusts their routine based on where they’ll be racing.
“Every track is a little bit different, so we watch footage from the previous year’s race and practice each stop exactly. We try to learn from our mistakes and remember any problems we had so we can correct them,” he says. “The key is to be proactive rather than reactive.”
When pit crew members aren’t watching footage or practicing pit stops, they’re learning about nutrition or working out. Strength and conditioning play an important role for every individual on the pit crew, and many crew members are former college athletes.
“In addition to the emotion that is running so high on race day, there is a tremendous amount of physical stress. It’s often more than 100 degrees at the track, and when you factor in the humidity and put on a fire suit, you’re adding another 15 to 20 degrees. Then the pavement [holds] so much heat, and the noise is unlike anything you can imagine. It takes a special person to be able to concentrate and perform in those kind of conditions.”
It Takes a Team
As a coach, Krieg recruits and trains team members, and says one of his challenges is that few people come to a job interview with experience in this area.
“You grow up throwing a baseball or football – not seeing how fast you could change the tires on Mom and Dad’s car,” he says. “For most people, this is the first time they’ve seen a fuel can or a pit wrench; when they walk in the door, they are starting from ground zero.”
Krieg says much of what separates those who make it from those who don’t is mental. An ability to work closely with others is crucial for every member of the team, particularly when the pressure is high and the heat is on – literally.
“Being a great teammate is absolutely one of the most important things to make this work,” Krieg says. “If you can put your head on your pillow at night, knowing that together you outworked all the other teams, then you’ve done your job.”
For Krieg, the reward of the job goes beyond being part of a sport he loves; it also lies in helping develop the skills of his team members and watching them grow into top performers.
“If I can give them a little something and watch them grow, it’s so rewarding,” he says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. I love what I do. If they banned pit crew coaches from the planet, I’d be in big trouble.”