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Motor Sports is a Team Sport

Jim Harbaugh, former quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts and current head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, was in the Media Center a little while ago, talking about his chance to drive the Indianapolis 500 pace car this year.

He spent some time up in the media center answering questions, including one from me (Q: Do you ever see yourself coaching in Indianapolis? A: "We only support one organization, and that's the San Francisco 49ers.")

He was also asked about the similarity between motor racing and the NFL. His answer was a good one, and one that I think most people don't think about: motor sports is definitely a team race. While the drivers are the biggest part of whether a race is won or lost, the crew plays a big part in that, and not just on race day.

It's the crew who spends hour after long hour in the garage, disassembling and reassembling the cars. They're the ones who practice day after day putting on tires, adding fuel, and making sure the car gets out of the pits in the shortest amount of time possible.

From my vantage point, I can see Townsend Bell's pit and the #60 Sunoco car. At 10:00, two hours before the start, Bell's team was practicing their pit stops again. They were swapping tires, making sure they could shave every fraction of a second off their time. On Friday, there is even a pit stop competition where teams compete to see who can make the fastest stop. This year, Helo Castroneves' Shell team won the pit stop competition.

Castroneves said his team practices their stops every day, making sure they've got them down cold. It's important, when so many races are won by fractions of a second.

When you consider the margin of victory in Friday's Freedom 100 was .0026 seconds (2.6 thousandths of a second), .10 seconds gained or lost in the pit can mean the difference between first and second.

Update: Pippa Mann has a great column in Racer Magazine about her experience at this year's 500. There were a couple of times she talked about "we" for her team, and referred to herself in third person:
However, now it was back to the smaller issue that we were going into the race with a driver who had never raced the DW12, who had yet to really run in traffic, and who had yet to drive a complete lap in the much colder temperatures of race day weekend.

Notice the "we were going" and "with a driver". That shows a lot of "team first" spirit on her part, and very small, humble ego that was about to climb into the cockpit. To me, that line demonstrated how a real motor sports team operates. The driver may operate the car, but it's the entire team that got it out there in the first place.


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