Being a NASCAR gasman: Behind the scenes of a job that might end up in flames – For The Win
Despite carrying a 95-pound gas can while running onto pit road as NASCAR driver Erik Jones barrels down toward the stall at up to 55 miles per hour, his gas man, Matt Hewtyrrell isn’t thinking about the highly flammable 12 gallons of fuel on his shoulder.
“If you’re worried about catching on fire, you’re not doing your job,” he said Saturday at Richmond Raceway before the Federated Auto Parts 400.
It also helps that every single thing on his body – from the fire suit, gloves and socks down to his underwear – is fireproof.
So instead, Hewtyrrell concentrates on anticipating the exact spot where Jones’ No. 77 Toyota is going to stop. When every tenth of a second could ultimately be the difference between a first- and second-place finish, he needs to focus on moving as fast as possible because he said the length of the stop usually depends on how fast he can fill up the car.
And that’s still only six to 15 seconds, give or take, depending on what’s needed.
Despite not qualifying for the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs in his rookie season, Jones consistently has a fast car each weekend, driving to four top-5 finishes and 11 top-10s so far. He and the 77 team finished sixth on Saturday.
Part of the team’s speed is due to the engineering of the Toyota itself, but fast pit stops are critical.
“You’re always nervous about getting the car full and making sure you get all the gas in there that you can,” he said. “Within two-tenths of a second from when the car stops, I’m plugged in, on average through the course of a year. …
“It doesn’t stop in the same place every time, so you have to be able to read the car that’s coming down pit road anywhere from 35 to 55 miles per hour and be able to judge where it’s going to stop within a tenth of a second.”
Hewtyrrell also has to be able to adjust with car as it gets new tires while keeping a close eye on when the tank is full. How does he know when that is? The car will simply overflow.
“It’ll spit fuel back up, so you know when it’s completely full,” he said. “It’s visible. There’s no fuel gauge. It’s just going off numbers and math.”
According to NASCAR, a gallon of fuel weighs about six pounds, but that can vary depending on its temperature. The gas can is measured before and after a pit stop, and based on the weight difference, Hewtyrrell knows how much fuel is in the car after the stop.
Between stops, he’s running related fuel calculations to figure out when the next pit stop needs to be, assuming everything else goes smoothly.
After 10 years of pitting, Hewtyrrell is definitely a pro, but his job is always “incredibly” challenging. He suggests anyone who thinks pit crew members aren’t athletes try to do their jobs once.
“(The gas can) drastically changes your center of gravity and you’re using muscles you had no idea you had,” Hewtyrrell said.