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March 2004
Gunning for Victory

     It’s called going “over-the-wall” when those guys in the stalls on pit road armed with a jack, lug nut guns, 75 to 80 pound tires, and fuel, attack a racecar.  Or, you might call it off-the-wall, given that they jump in front of speeding racecars. “You’ve got to be a little crazy to want to play in traffic,” says Mike Dryman, one  of three principals in 5 Off 5 On, a pit crew training operation that works with some of the best teams in NASCAR racing.

     Jeff Hammond, a racing analyst and broadcaster for Fox Sports, as well as a former pit crew chief and a second principal in 5 Off 5 On, agrees saying, “It’s a special breed that enjoys dancing with danger.”  Working with former Mobil Corporation marketing VP and CFO Tom DeLoach, and Breon Klopp, founder of the company and now senior director of Motorsports Development, the four men have created a unique company – a team – that trains, grooms and produces the top pit crew team members for NASCAR racing.

 

An Elite Athletic Training Facility

     5 Off 5 On is currently and appropriately located on Gasoline Alley in Mooresville, a city which bills itself as Race City USA; 90 percent of all NASCAR teams are located in the area. Klopp, who has worked in sport medicine and fitness for more than 15 years, saw the need for top-notch training in professional stock car racing. He started his company in July 2000 and joined forces with Dryman, DeLoach and Hammond in 2003. In May, the company will open its new 24,000-square-foot facility, also located in Mooresville, on 5.5 acres next to Robert Yates Racing. Students attending Pit Crew U, the company’s teaching arm, as well as motorsports clients and athletes seeking elite training, will be able to use a state-of-the-art physical conditioning and rehabilitation room, a therapy room, steam room, and a motor sports training shop. Race fans can learn to pit crew in a “reality adventure” program. The facility will include a 98-seat auditorium, a merchandise shop, locker rooms, catering kitchen, classrooms and offices.

     Outside, race fans can gather on a second-story observation deck overlooking a quarter-mile track, and the important pit road with six stalls where outdoor pit training will take place. The campus will also include an eight-lane running track, a half-mile fitness trail, a regulation volleyball court, and a natural turf multi-sport training area. Fifteen garage stalls are being built to store and maintain racing vehicles and equipment.

 

Why the fuss over the pit crew?

     Today, the action in the pit is critical says Hammond, who has been in motorsports for four decades. He began his racing career in 1974 as a tire changer. By 1982, he was a crew chief for team owner “Junior” Johnson and driver Darrell Waltrip. This winning combination would go on to capture two Winston Cup Champion-ship titles. Hammond would see 43 wins as crew chief, a record-breaking number.

      In his tenure, he’s seen pit stop times drop from the 28 second range to today’s 13 to 14 seconds. Elite pit crews get their drivers in and out in 12.8 to 13.5 seconds. Hammond explains that new NASCAR rules regarding car manufacturing have leveled the playing field. The biggest differences between race teams are the driver and the pit crew. “Once the driver does his job and gets up there, it’s then up to the crew to keep him in position,” says Hammond. “There are so many races that you can review, and listen to the broadcasters say, ‘The race was won on pit road; they gave him track position and he held it on the track, but the race was won on pit road.’”

 

The Accidental Partnership

     Mike Dryman, founder and CEO of IMPACTSports, might never have entered motorsports if his spouse hadn’t decided to work for Roush Racing. Dryman had spent his career training high-level athletes. He served as a tennis director for two the most successful U.S. tennis teams; he is certified in sports – physiology, psychology, medicine, biomechanics, nutrition, and motor learning. He also founded his own company to provide high-level athletes with sports performance training services. When word got out at Roush of Dryman’s expertise, he began to work with pit crewmembers to improve their performance. “I’d help them get a little quicker and more explosive,” says Dryman. And that’s how Dryman met Hammond. The two talked, and soon realized they agreed on the need for true athletic training for pit crew team members.

     Meanwhile, Klopp, a former member of the North Carolina State University sports medicine department, had decided to use his experience in health and fitness start is own company, 5 Off 5 On, which would provide formal athletic training – physical, mental and technical – for pit crew teams and students trying to enter the field. And that’s how Klopp met Dryman and Hammond.

     Hammond knew just the person who might really like the idea of investing in a company offering a new service – Tom DeLoach, former marketing VP and CFO of the Mobil Corporation, and the man responsible for of the company’s diversified interests including Mobil 1 Racing. By this time, DeLoach was retired from Mobil, but as a consultant for Penske Racing South, he was still actively involved with motorsports. The trio knew of Klopp’s business, 5 Off 5 On, liked what Klopp was doing, and made him an offer. Less than a year ago, they acquired the company and asked him to stay on.

 

Top Athletes Head For Pit Road

     “The main reason I wanted to do this was because I knew there was a need in our business,” says Hammond. He knows first hand of the discipline, athleticism and commitment it takes to be part of a pit crew. In fact, Hammond is actively recruiting former top athletes who might be excellent on pit road. “Having mechanical knowledge is not that important; we can teach that, ” says Hammond. “They don’t have to worry about knowing how to take a rear end apart, or build a transmission. Instead, they need commitment, dedication, athletic ability and discipline, and the desire to compete.” Hammond adds that fearlessness is a welcome quality, too.

     Dryman wants the company to be a premiere national and international athletic performance facility – not just for pit crews, but also for all athletes desiring intense consultation. “A lot of people are working out, but they don’t know how to train,” says Dryman. “There are people who have natural skills, but once they are thrown into a true training process, they start to see they can be even better, and they’re already pretty good. This is performance-based training. Helping our clients achieve and maintain their
peak performance is our endeavor.”  But if it is an aspiring pit crewmember, Dryman knows just what he’s looking for. “They’ve got to be a cross between Mikhail Barishnokov and a middle linebacker, or maybe Rambo,” explains Dryman.

     “They have to have the agility and grace of a dancer, and the intensity and desire of an athlete. The work of a pit crew is a choreographed dance. It’s really beautiful to watch. And the danger makes what we do all the more important.”

     Klopp is well aware of the need to train pit crewmembers. Motorsports remains one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, and qualified pit crewmembers are in high demand. Klopp takes his students through Pit Crew U, an intense eight-week course in which they study and train for each position on a crew. Classroom time is interspersed with plenty of time on the simulated pit road running drills. The stopwatch is always running, as are video cameras, to capture each drill so that students can review. Existing teams also train at 5 Off 5 On to maintain and improve their skills and frequently call Klopp looking for qualified candidates to sign. 

 

A Business Plan for Corporate America and the Fans

     DeLoach’s partners call him “the visionary” of the group and he’s proved that by being able to see that the competitive spirit and teamwork achieved at 5 Off 5 On could come in handy if one felt the need for more speed when producing, say, a box of Wheaties or a bottle of Coke. CEOs and members of upper management – men and women – leave the boardroom behind for a couple of days and go over-the-wall in a team-building program tailored for each group, one that employs the same techniques for building successful teams that are applied each day on pit road. “We actually train old corporate guys like me to be pit crew,” says DeLoach. “It’s a unique experience and when they go home, they take those team-building skills back to their corporation.” And it’s fun, he adds, describing the experience as an innovative way for companies to achieve efficiency.

     Currently, Hammond, DeLoach and Dryman take their show on the road to corporate retreats. With the opening of its new facilities, DeLoach sees the training rooms, the pit stalls and the rest of the new 5 Off 5 On facility filled with business people who may not even be that familiar with NASCAR, but who are believers in the power of effective team-building and motor sports fans by the time they leave.

     The already die-hard NASCAR fans, who also make their way to Race City, regularly come by 5 Off 5 On to take a tour. They receive a warm welcome and leave feeling as though they had “touched” racing with their close view of the pit crews in training. “For everyone, it’s a fan experience,” says DeLoach. “They can learn more about the sport, and experience it from the inside.“ And with the opening of the new facility, even more fans will be able to go “over-the-wall.” “We consider ourselves a destination,” says DeLoach. “If dad is the race fan, he can go through pit crew training; mom can come and work out in the training facilities, and enjoy the sauna. Or maybe it’s the other way around. And the kids from ages 11 to 16 can attend pit crew camp and practice on Allison Legacy cars, which are 3/4 scale. They will learn the mechanics and the physical side, and we teach them about teamwork. They may be our future pit crewmembers.”

     All four principals say they are offering a special experience, at a one-of-a-kind destination. To sweeten the deal, 5 Off 5 On is working with area hotels and vendors to create packaged trips, so that no matter who wants to be pit crew for a day, all their entertainment needs are met, as if jumping out in front of a 3,400 pound race car wouldn’t be enough excitement for one day. 

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