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Looking for split seconds, it can mean a NASCAR race WIN!

by Ernie Richardson & Tracey Richardson
March 2, 2017

Looking for split seconds, it can mean a NASCAR race WIN!

by Ernie Richardson & Tracey Richardson
March 2, 2017 | Comments (14)

This past weekend Ernie and I had the unique opportunity to attain highly-sought pit passes for the Daytona 500.  We had a hint that our experience would be a lesson in visual management, from the way the pass itself shared information.

We enjoy all NASCAR races. Having this rare access to the pit areas was not just a privilege for us, but an opportunity to see, up close, the power of visual management among the incredible teams that support the drivers. We observed examples of lean thinking that provided some team a 1/2 and 1/4 second advantages—enough to mean the difference between a first place finish or coming in between fifth or even tenth. We appreciate the big power of finding these small savings: coming from Toyota we were also conditioned to look for miniscule amounts of waste, so it’s fascinating to me how kaizen is used during a race and how the pit teams look for easy ideas that add minimal cost to the overall.

One of our first discoveries was the way that some teams had developed clever markings on the wheels and hubs. Notice how one team has no visual controls, while the other has pink paint marks, highlighted with black on the outside, for improved visuality to show a perfect alignment to the lug-nut pattern where the wheel meets the hub. We talked to this Pit Team member who said they have found if they take the time to use a paint marker to visualize exactly where the tire changer goes it can save a half of second or so to avoid the rework of taking a split second to realign.

If you know anything about pit stops, what used to be a good pit stop a couple of years ago took around 14 seconds; through kaizen thinking and other technology that has dropped into the 12s for leading teams. We thought from a cost perspective (paint markers and a few minutes per wheel) that it was a great investment of time for what could be potentially big gains on pit row per pit stop, a half of second in the pits is huge for a team. With some races coming down to a difference of 1/100th of a second between first and second place, this could mean all the difference in the world.  

Take another look at the wheels: if you look very closely in the pic with the visual marking you see a white substance between the lug-nut and the wheel. That is a special glue that holds all the lug-nuts on just tight enough for placement, saving lots of time, which was a kaizen from several years ago. I wasn’t able to get a picture, but one of the wheel changers also tapped 2 extra lug-nuts on the back of his glove to have very quick access if one popped off during installation. This happens from time to time and to have quick access to one can mean many positions if the wheel changer has to take time to get another.

Another unique discovery we observed (we did our best to go see everything we could at the gemba pit stop) was this process of using a metal pick to apply a mild lubricant on the hole of each wheel. We asked the Pit team member why he was doing this and he said their data showed that the wheel went on smoother and quicker if the lubricant was there and would hit the threaded stud during installation. Again, another very small idea that could lead to 1/4th to 1/2 of a second—all of which adds up with 4 wheel changes. All this was pre-work setup on all the sets of tires in the pit area for changes through the race. Each of the teams seemed to have different strategies for time savings, some shared and perhaps some not, if it was a competitor.

Ernie and I discuss leading and lagging key performance indicators a lot in our sessions. Lagging being reactive and leading being predictive. Now, notice the small wear indicators on the tires, one going straight across the tire and one going diagonal (see yellow arrows).  This differentiates between right and left tires (rights are 1” wider).  Also, this gives wear depth in different areas of the tire to determine pressure, camber, and toe placement for the next pit.  In addition, other contributing factors like track temp, outside temps, sun in or out, wind speeds and humidity levels.  After each pit these are analyzed to make real time adjustments to improve how the car handles till the next pit stop.  The simplest of things can tell a team a vast amount of knowledge and manage problems—and not have the problems managing the pit team.

Lastly, we noticed that the teams have instant video in their pits, so after the pit stop, there is a review of what the current state was in the pits and what their standard is to reach for each type pit. They can quickly recognize gaps at the process real-time versus making assumptions and reacting the next. 

Nascar is a great example for us all in regard to very small kaizens that make a huge difference in human motion and visuality to the product. Also, using more leading indicators to predict the outcome at each pit stop intervals (4-10 pit stops depending upon the track size and cautions), so learning to find leading is part of their business model to compete.

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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Vlad March 02, 2017

And if you look at Formula-1, best pit stops there only take 2 seconds!

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Ralph March 02, 2017

Good article.  As noted, since they are always looking for ways to get a little faster/better, racing can be a good reference for applying a number of lean tools.

Vlad - Yes and it looks like the picture at the heading of the article is actually a Ferrari F1 car with "wet" tires.  Go Kimi!!

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Lory Moniz March 02, 2017

Thanks for letting us know the header pic was incorrect. We've adjusted to an actual Daytona pic.

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Jon March 02, 2017
2 People AGREE with this comment

I loved the article!  As a NASCAR fan and an IE heading lean endeavors in a large office organization, I found it both interesting and completely apropos.

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Ken May March 02, 2017

Awesome recap about ½ seconds & then some. Even asking about the glued lug nuts has to be managed within a timeframe. The lug nut needs to set but you still want it to be flexible and not brittle. The one pit said when the gun goes on the lug nut the adhesive expands out so it fully tightens on the stud that is why he said the typical glue process was about 3 hours before the call for use. Makes sense now when you SEE the process!

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Chad Ritchey March 03, 2017

I found this article to be very inspiring. It shows how minut changes can make a world of difference in time saving. I think this type of thought process can be used in production areas to also save time and steps to help inccrease output. I will be looking into areas that we can use these small minut inexpensive ways to increase output and also safety.

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Tracey Richardson March 03, 2017

Thanks everyone, this is the exact point we wanted to make in the article.  That the small things can make a big difference no matter what your processes are.  Some are very inexpensive that help tremendously.  It's the thinking we want folks to tap into.  What use to be a standard of 14 sec pit stops as the standard has been raised to 12 and a tad bit lower at times.   That's huge in a sport that said 14 was great! ;)  Thanks for the feedback!  Tracey

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Todd Linerode March 17, 2017

You may also have noticed the impact guns are often stored under an ice pack. Any one know why? 

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Tracey Richardson March 19, 2017

I'm not sure.  My "guess" is air flow/pressure may increase if colder.  Less expansion of hose.  Not sure :)

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Daryl Wirges March 20, 2017
1 Person AGREES with this reply

Teams also use a controlled pneumatic source for their impact wrenches - the cold packs and clean-air have to do with performance of the air motor (seals & vanes) driving the impact 'hammers' driving the socket. They want to prevent any possibility of the wrech 'lagging'.

Tracey: I also like to point out the aspects of skill & physical development of the members of the pit stop team:

   - teams practice relentlessly to drive improvements in their skill performance and problem-solve (together with engineering teams) to best utilize thier ideas to improve the process.

   - team members (usually recruited from collegiet sports) have fixed work-out schedules to develop themselves mentally & physically to optimize thier performance on the team.

I have found this is exceptually translatable to kaizen teams performing setup time reduction (SMED) efforts. 

Tracey Richardson March 20, 2017

I totally agree Daryl, we have watched them warm up and practice and talked to the pit teams and they do go through a lot.  Their standardized work, precision and atheletism are amazing.  Many do not give them enough credit.  They are just important as the drivers.  Great teamwork!   They are thinking in their own ways out there just as the driver is!  

Tom Warda March 22, 2017

Yes, Formula 1 pit stops take significnalty less time. But there are major differences. A big one is that NASCAR limits the number of people "over the wall." Formula 1 does not. Probably the biggest difference is cost though. Count the number of people "over the wall" in Formula 1 and the equipment they use. Now compare that to NASCAR. It's amazing what an unlimited budget will give you.


Getting back to Lean and Continuous Improvement, do you want your Kaizen teams to have an unlimited budget or have to use creativity and limited resources?

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Tom Warda March 22, 2017

BTW, NASCAR requires five lug nuts. Formula 1 allows their teams to use just one. (It makes pit stops more exciting.) But has anybody every looked closely at how the NASCAR guys hit five lug nuts (on and off) so quickly? You'd never be able to do it so quickly with a strandard 1/2" drive, 1.0" impact socket. The fit is just too precise.


I have an actual NASCAR 1/2" drive 1.0" impact socket and actual NASCAR lug nuts. It's very different than a standard socket. The open end is actually flared somewhat to allow the Tire Changer's aim to be just a bit off, but still get on the lug nuts - even with the socket spinning somewhat. The actual socket portion doesn't fit nearly as tight on the lug nuts either. It however does fit just tight enough to loosen and tighten the lug nuts in record time without rounding the corners off the lug nuts. The NASCAR socket would be utterly useless for any other use, but is perfectly adapted for one specific job.

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Jane Ambrose June 28, 2017

Wheel guns are a great resource to have while racing or changing the tires on your car. I like how you mentioned that it's the small adjustments to a wheel gun or tire that make a huge difference in the long run. I had no idea that sometimes races can come down to 1/100th of a second! Thank you for the information you provided on wheels and wheel guns. https://www.unitedraceparts.com/paoli-wheel-guns.html ;

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