Christmas Abbott, head trainer at CrossFit, was selected by NASCAR as the first female crew pit member on the circuit. Abbott joins the pit crew for Michael Waltrip Racing and she recently changed tires for the first female racecar driver Jennifer Jo Cobb with the Camping World Truck Series.
In the mid-1990’s, Hendrick Motorsports hired Andy Papathanassiou, a former Stanford football player, to revolutionize the assembly and training of pit crews for Jeff Gordon. Gordon’s Rainbow Warriors raised the level of performance for pit crews circuit wide. Pit row fast became a playground for former athletes unaware of NASCAR operations.
Penske Racing hired Shawn Powell, former strength coach for the Carolina Panthers; he instituted a plan for a new 3,500-square-foot state-of-the-art workout room on par with NFL facility standards for pit crew training. Crew members use VertiMax tools for speed and explosiveness, these same tools are used by professional athletes for training.
“It’s almost like Division I sports as far as recruiting,” said Aaron Walker former San Francisco 49er and jackman for Penske’s Nationwide Series team. “The better facility you have the better chance you have to get that top athlete to come in there and train like he was used to.”
It’s no surprise NASCAR selected a fitness trainer as its first female pit crew member. Abbott, good looks and petite frame, can change a pair of 60-pound tires in 12 seconds. She is a full-time pit crew member with an excellent resume. She is owner of a CrossFit workout center located in North Carolina and is its chief trainer.
Teams that invest in pit crew members over the course of a season are likely to win the Daytona 500 or All-Star Race because of fast pit times. Some have invested half a million dollars in organizing pit crew squads. Jimmie Johnson’s pit squad moved him from fourth to second place with an 11.8 second stop time, which helped him win the All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“The big thing for me was keeping that competitive fire going,” Walker said. “Being on the pit crew is a lot like the NFL atmosphere. There’s a lot of camaraderie, but when it’s time for business, it’s time for business.”
At 5’3”, Abbott is a Virginia native, she does not shy away from competition. She has the ability to squat tremendous amounts of weight for her size. At 115lbs, she can dead lift twice her body weight in training practices designed to build muscle mass.
It is highly important to have top notch pit crew members. “I thought it was important,” said reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski. He stated it was important because in today’s world they are just as important as the best crew chiefs and engineers. Keselowski had experience being in the Hendrick Motorsport atmosphere before winning his Cup. He saw directly the benefit of having such a highly skilled pit crew.
In NASCAR the atmosphere is competition which rules; and winning is everything. NASCAR’s response in selecting the first full-time female pit crew member, who happens to be a fitness trainer is a no brainer.
By Thomas Barr