The drivers get the fame, glory, and bottle of milk. But it's teams of mechanics and engineers who make victory possible. To understand what goes on inside Pit Road, we spoke to two Team Penske mechanics—Travis Law, chief mechanic for 3-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves, and Trevor Lacasse, on the team of defending champ Juan Pablo Montoya—who will be in the thick of things at the race's 100th running on Sunday. For more, listen to the latest episode of How Your World Works, the weekly podcast from our pals at Popular Mechanics, on iTunes now.
1. No one is winging it.
With 200 laps from start to finish, strategy is key. Before the race, the chief mechanic, race strategist, and engineers create an ideal plan based on how many laps a car can go between refueling, past winners' performances, weather, and tire pressure. But during the race the team also looks at specific windows – the times a driver will stop within a predetermined number of laps. Drivers in the lead tend to refuel at the end of a window, while caution flags can help drivers who pit early.
2. A stop should take no longer than 10 seconds.
Everything's fast at the track, including the mechanics. The team should take 4 and 1/2 seconds to change the tires and 6 to refuel. When a driver pulls into the pit stall, adrenaline pushes the mechanics over the wall dividing the garages and Pit Road. Getting back over is another story.
3. Every pit booth looks the same, no matter the track or the driver.
To optimize speed, Team Penske has a standardized garage system at each track. Truck drivers help teams build the exact same workstations – from fuel carts to flooring and Snap-on cabinets – at each track for every car on the team. That way, mechanics know exactly where tools are located if they have to switch cars.
4. The driver doesn't hear everything.
While the driver circles the track at 200+ mph, the Pit Reporter, Engineer, and Pit Chief monitor the fuel, competition, and tire pressure on the timing stand. To keep the driver from becoming overwhelmed, the Pit Chief relays information only on a need to know basis.
5. Drivers aren't the only ones in collisions.
The worst time to get your timing wrong isn't when you're changing tires, but when you're taking the old tires back into the stall. That's how Travis Law "made " with a racecar. Thankfully, the standard uniform of a fireproof suit and helmet meant he was just shaken up.
6. There is a worst tire.
Not all tires are equal. The outside rear tire is the most stressful to change because it takes extra time to run around the car.
To hear more from about Pit Road, check out the , available now on iTunes.