For Trackhouse Racing and its two NASCAR Cup Series teams, the pit box – also known as the war wagon – is a sort of home away from home.
The box, located adjacent to the teams’ pit stalls at every Cup track, is many things:
- A workstation for pit crew members, crew chief, engineers and other key team personnel.
- A depository for tools of virtually every type, from small wrenches to heavyweight hammers and saws, almost anything that might be needed to deal with issues associated with a NASCAR race car.
- A center for a vast web of information, from timing and scoring charts to telemetry reports to weather radar to on-track photo images.
- A “welcome center” for sponsor representatives and other important racetrack visitors.
The pit boxes are built by several companies and vary in style and substance, although the sizes are essentially the same. Individual teams modify the boxes to fit their in-race needs and typically design them for high-level exposure for sponsor signage.
“You want them to look good, look professional, for sponsors,” said Trackhouse’s Kenyatta “Kap” Houston. “You want to have the prettiest pit boxes on pit road. There’s a lot of personalization to the boxes, and I think ours are some of the best-looking on pit road.”
Beyond appearances, however, the boxes obviously are vital parts of the Trackhouse Racing mission – to keep its drivers and its cars performing at high levels and to respond to any problem or issue that might impact those performances.
The central figure on the box is the team’s crew chief. In the case of the No. 1 team and driver Ross Chastain, that’s Phil Surgen, who sits alongside team engineers and other Trackhouse personnel in the main seating area of the box.
From that spot, Surgen has access to an array of tools and information, much of it displayed on monitors and laptop screens within easy reach.
Surgen said there are four “data sources” he typically accesses during the course of a race.
“NASCAR provides closed-loop video at the track through a series of cameras that aren’t part of the television broadcast,” Surgen said. “They’re fixed cameras, and they give us a bunch of views in addition to the general broadcast views and the in-car video. Then we have telemetry data from our car and all the competitors. There’s advanced timing and scoring application software that General Motors provides that gives some advanced analytics regarding strategy elements and fuel consumption. Then we have weather radar and live pictures that photographers shoot around the track.”
Behind the team members on the main level of the box are seats for guests of the team -- for example, sponsor representatives or others interested in an up-close view of how a race progresses from the pit-box viewpoint.
The “ground level” of the pit box contains numerous compartments for tools and other hardware, video screens so team members can watch the race broadcast or review videos of pit stops and other computer monitors.
The rear side of the box also includes a scale so that the team’s fueler can determine how much fuel has been dumped into the car after a pit stop. The person in charge of checking tire wear also has a compartment in that area.
Also in the area is surplus and backup equipment, including such things as spare jacks.
One of the tasks of the crew chief is to determine which information he wants to access during real time as the race progresses, as opposed to information that might be reviewed when the team returns to its shop.
It’s typical, Surgen said, for teams to take a look at the video of pit stops. Video of each stop is recorded through cameras mounted on pit crew members’ helmets and through an overhead camera that extends from the pit box to a spot over the pit area.
“It’s all situational,” he said. “When it’s applicable, I’ll watch it. If a driver slides too deep into the box, I’m watching that live and I can relay to him based on what I’ve seen. That’s part of the value of being on the pit box as opposed to being in a suite or a trailer or something. Then we can watch the video, even slo-mo it to take a closer look.”
The video recorded by cameras on the pit crew members’ helmets is fed into the system and can serve several purposes, including giving team members a quick look at the extent of damage after an accident or blown tire.
“If we’ve gotten damage on the track and we’re unsure of the severity, we can look at the helmet-cam video and get a visual into the wheel opening and to the suspension,” Surgen said.
Each car manufacturer has photographers stationed around the track to provide still photographs of cars during the race. The team uses those images to supplement video, Surgen said.
“We get those photos in our feed really quickly,” he said, “and if there’s damage to the car we can analyze it even before the driver gets back around to pit road so we’ll have an idea what’s going on early.”
The pit box is important not only because of what it contains but also where it is located.
Some tracks (for example, Martinsville Speedway) have curved pit roads, and teams with boxes located in the corners have excellent views of how cars are performing through the turns. Although this consideration wouldn’t take precedence over a pit stall that might offer better entrance and exit, it’s not a matter to be ignored.
“If you’re in the corner, watching the car on track is a definite advantage,” Surgen said. “Using a pit stall based solely on that view is not generally something people do. The value of having a more optimum pit stall outweighs that. But seeing the car in the corners can definitely help.”
Pit boxes are too large to be transported on the team haulers that carry race cars and various equipment. A transportation company delivers the boxes to each race location, and they are restocked after each race.