I have changed tires in my career. A little bit on the Cup and Truck Tours, a lot more in the northeast modifieds, both dirt and asphalt. Two of the most common questions I get asked are “How do they change tires so fast? What happens to all the lug nuts?”
Often people follow their question with their own creative explanation. The lugs being sucked into the socket on tire removal and then going back onto the new wheel is frequently guessed by my friends outside the sport.
The true explanation will make you want to invest in a lug nut factory’s stock.
New lugs are used constantly during a race. Older ones are used in the race shop to change wheels from car to car. Lugs are reused during practice leading up to the race. But race day prep changes aspects on many racing details.
Brand new lugs are installed on the wheels that will start the race. All 20 stud-threads are chased to clean and ensure no burrs or foreign material will slow down a tire change.
The over-the-wall crew arrives on race day. One or two members, usually tire changers, will clean and scrub every wheel set to go on the car during the race. Then brand new lug nuts are glued onto all the stud holes. So brand new nuts are used for five stud holes on every single wheel for every single tire change. No chances are taken in eliminating potential pit stop problems.
The nuts are held onto each wheel using an epoxy compound. Roughly two hours before the green flag, gluing begins. Glue too early before a race and the epoxy could be brittle by the time a car is pitted. Start too late and the adhesive will be soft and not set up properly. Either way lugs can be lost when hanging a new tire on the hub.
The tire changers use air guns with sockets that contain a spring. When one nut is removed at their lightning-fast pace the spring pushes it out onto the ground. This happens five times to remove a wheel.
After the tire carrier sets up the new wheel, the changer tightens the lugs with the same high-powered gun. The spring does not cause a problem when installing.
The old lugs on the ground? They are extremely hot to the touch, so guys don’t. Once the car leaves the pit stall, the crew cleans up by coiling the air hoses, and sweeping the pit stall with a careful eye on incoming traffic. Those hot, used lugs are simply swept flush with the pit wall.
A pit crew member flips their broom over, bristles up, and uses the broom frame to push the lug nuts against the wall that everyone just hopped over. And there the nuts stay. That part is surprising to some people.
They are used and the race team has no further use for them. They are against the wall, well out of the way, and for all intent and purposes they don’t exist to the pit crew.
Brand new lug nuts come out of the box, get glued to a wheel, make a single tire run, and are discarded - one of the expenses a race team endures to ensure pit stops are flawless.
An old adage states that races are won and lost in the pits. Crews do everything to make sure a lug nut doesn’t cause one of those losses.
(Patrick Reynolds is a former NASCAR mechanic who co-hosts the One and Done auto racing radio talk show Tuesdays at 11am ET. Listen at www.wsicweb.com.)
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