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No flag can slow us down

My experience on a pit crew.
Shelley Column Pic
It takes a team

Did you see Josef Newgarden capture the checkered flag? No? Me neither. But not for lack of trying.

It was the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 the last weekend of May, a race featuring 33 cars and drivers racing at speeds in excess of 220 mph to become champion of this storied race called 'The Greatest Spectacle in Auto Racing'.

I have yet to come across anyone (other than my sister) who shares any interest in the race. We got it from our dad. The memories are rich of sitting together and cheering on favorite drivers. Talking about it with others, however, I am met with blank stares. I get it. But there's just something about this race that has me set aside everything else so I can sit and watch from flag to flag. Except this year.

I had another event to get to on race day but knew that if things went smoothly there was a good chance I could watch the whole thing before having to leave. But this is a car race. Smooth rarely happens.

The race started out well; a stellar example of fast cars, great strategy and solid driving. I watched the clock closely and smiled knowing that if this pace continued, I would see the end.

No yellow caution flag slowing things down until lap 90. Not a second one until lap 150. Things were looking good. But then a massive crash in lap 186. Great concern for two drivers, as well as the landing spot of a tire that was sent spiralling over the fence. Thankfully, no injuries. But this is followed by crashes in pit lane, and all in all, three red flags in the final 20 laps. With 10 laps to go and the race on red, I had to leave. The clock was ticking and the checkered flag was now out of reach for me to see.

I am often asked what attracts me to this event every year. I love the cars and the back stories about the drivers. But what really makes it fun is the performance of the pit crew--a team of athletically strong technical wizards who rapidly change tires, fuel up, and make any necessary wing or engine adjustments at great speeds to keep the car running well. It’s amazing seeing them fly into action.

Watching the race as a child I would wait to see which teams could come in under 30 seconds. Today they can do it in 7. That frenetic pace brings issues of its own but when it all goes well it is poetry in motion. The pit crew is a critical element to the success of the team and a victory on race day.

So what kept me from seeing the end of the Indy 500 this year? I was part of the backstage team for Outlook Equinox Theatre's comedy 'Real Close to Broadway!'—on a pit crew of my own.

I have been part of many community theatre productions. It has been a great deal of fun, albeit a tremendous amount of work. It takes a team to make these productions happen; dozens of people on and off stage, some whom the audience sees, many they don't.

 I have found myself doing a wide assortment of tasks: learning lines, rehearsing music, setting up stage pieces, hanging curtains, painting sets, moving chairs, ushering, serving coffee, washing dishes, on and on it goes. But this past show I added a new one: helping cast with wardrobe changes.

The show required multiple costumes and some changes had to be done very quickly. A flurry of dresses, jackets, hats and jewellery were in motion as a team helped one another get out of one costume and into another in seconds. We were like an Indy pit crew, working rapidly and seamlessly to get each actor ready to return to the stage.

Only one driver gets their name added to the 5-foot tall Borg-Warner Trophy but it takes countless others to get them there; mechanics, tire changers, jack operator, wing adjuster, engineers, manager, race strategists, and on it goes. None of them get immortalized on the prize but they are crucial to the win, and secure in the knowledge they contributed.

It's what I love about working in community. It takes each one of us doing our best to make things happen. So go sign up for a pit crew today. It won't get your name on a trophy but there's nothing quite like helping the team get across the finish line. That's my outlook.



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