In the United States, the three most important types of auto racing are drag, stock car and open-wheel. Stock car racing is most commonly associated with the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing, or NASCAR. Open-wheel racing is most commonly associated with the Indy Racing League, and drag racing is most commonly associated with the National Hot Rod Association. There are thousands of racing events in the U.S. each year, and all of them require auto mechanics. From the shop to the pit and back to the shop, they are a vital part of the auto racing industry.
In the Pit
Pit crews perform their duties before, during and after races. Prior to the race, they make sure the car is mechanically sound and that supplies such as fuel, parts and spare tires are on hand. During the race, mechanics make repairs as needed. After the race, they evaluate how well the car performed. The pit mechanic specializes in either front-end or under-car systems. Front-end mechanics specialize in tire alignment and the components connected, such as the steering. Under-car mechanics handle the drive train components, including the transmission and engine. Working conditions in the pit can be stressful. Every second that a driver spends in the pit decreases his lead or puts him farther behind. Therefore, pit crews are under constant pressure to handle any issues as quickly as possible. They may also be exposed to extremely hot conditions.
In the Shop
Most shops have specific areas for mechanical work, painting and fabrication, along with a storage area for spare parts and replacement engines. Mechanics usually work on more than one car for a race because they always need to have a backup ready to go. In the shop, mechanics diagnose performance problems, tune or overhaul engines and perform routine maintenance procedures. They might need to align the wheels, tweak engines to improve performance or adjust the car's chassis. They typically specialize in a particular area of the car, such as the transmission; or a particular task, such as tuning up the engine. Specialization and repetition help mechanics learn to complete their tasks efficiently and quickly. Shop conditions vary widely, depending in part on budget. Some shops are spacious, neat and well ventilated. Other shops are crowded, noisy places. Heating and air conditioning may or may not be available.
Besides an understanding of car engines and mechanical technology, a strong background in mathematics is vital for making calculations such as fuel consumption. Communication skills are important for the auto-racing mechanic, especially during an event when tensions are high, there's a lot at stake, and the team must perform efficiently and cohesively to succeed. Mechanics also need to be physically fit, especially in the pit where they must work quickly, often in extreme heat.
Many auto-racing mechanics get an early start, sometimes without consciously preparing for the occupation. High school math and auto shop courses provide a nice foundation for the career. These kinds of courses at a vocational-technical school can also be helpful. Aspiring mechanics might also consider technical preparatory schools that specialize in racing technology, such as the NASCAR Technical Institute. Auto racing mechanics advance by gaining experience on the job. Networking is an important part of advancing. Mechanics should build and use contacts in the industry by attending trade shows and other events. Once you land a job, you might have to locate to a region of the country where auto racing teams are the most concentrated.