Last week, some of the enterprise learning industry’s thought leaders gathered at Chief Learning Officer magazine’s Think Tank event at the Charlotte, N.C., corporate headquarters of Lowe’s Companies Inc. to discuss how to measure the impact of learning. While there, attendees got a look at an intensive development program for people who work in one of the most high-pressure performance environments around: the race-car pit crew.
Part of the event included a visit to PIT Instruction & Training, a 5.5 acre facility primarily devoted to developing the next generation of top pit-crew talent in various motor sports. The PIT campus, which houses the Pit Crew U and 5 Off 5 On training programs, includes a quarter-mile practice track, six pit stalls, a fitness center with physical therapy and medical services and a multiuse, large-screen theater that can seat 98 people.
A typical over-the-wall pit crew has seven members: a jackman who raises the car, front- and rear-tire changers who remove and apply lug nuts, front- and rear-tire carriers who put new wheels on and roll old ones off, a gas man who supplies a can of high-octane fuel for refilling the tank and a catch can man who captures any gasoline spillage in a can. In the second half of a race, an eighth member of the team is permitted in the pit to strip protective film off the windshield and give the driver food and water. Amazingly, a good crew can have a car in and out of the pit in less than 13 seconds.
To accomplish its mission of cultivating the best pit-crew performers, PIT Instruction & Training places special emphasis on experiential learning. The organization attempts to replicate racing environments, with program participants practicing changing out tires, filling up gasoline and pulling off windshield covers for operational stock cars.
The attention to detail is impressive: To prepare pit-crew personnel for louder race tracks, staff will pump crowd noise in over a PA system. Also, a few of the races will run in reverse of the usual direction, so cars will come in the opposite way to get trainees ready for the inverted positions.
Another key element of the training is repetition. For instance, members of the Red Bull pit-crew team, which operates out of the PIT Instruction & Training site, practice their responsibilities over and over again for several hours each week. (Think Tank attendees, including this reporter, got to attempt jacking up the car and removing lug nuts. It’s definitely harder than it looks.)
Moreover, their every action is recorded by an overhead camera, so the team’s management can clearly identify areas of performance that need improvement and give crew personnel feedback so they’ll know what they need to do for the team to succeed.
How critical is precision in execution? Well, a few major races have been won by margins measured in hundredths of a second. According to PIT Instruction & Training, just one misapplied lug nut that has to be refastened costs a driver about a third of a second. Thus, it can be said that some of these contests have been lost by less than a lug nut.
Hence, like modern corporations, teams in motor sports need to have cohesive performance, relentless speed and flawless execution to be competitive. And similarly, businesses should have plenty of opportunities for hands-on learning and continuous feedback in employee development to stay in the fast lane.