Pit Stop Racing
A NASCAR racing team known as the Wood Brothers, begun in 1950 and still existing today, made waves in the 1960s and 1970s by altering the ordinary pit stop into its own competitive event. Early NASCAR races were generally short, maybe 100 miles. About the only reason to come into the pit was to repair crash damage or change a flat tire. The latter was accomplished with a bumper jack and a star wrench, and could take a minute to do at full steam. A close race would be lost, but oh well. So pit stops were simply fate or bad luck – except for the Southern 500 in Darlington, which also debuted in 1950. There, enough pit stops were needed that they could skew the finishing results a heap. Smokey Yunick is credited with being the first to toss his bumper jack for a hydraulic floor jack in the mid-fifties, probably because he was already using them in his truck shop. By the time the new Daytona 500 track weighed in in 1959, Ingersol Rand had a rep on hand to hawk pneumatic lug wrenches the following year, and they went over like a keg of rum at a prison camp.
The occasional claim that the Wood Brothers “invented the pit stop” is about as valid as the sloppy journalism behind the claim that Henry Ford invented the assembly line. That a faster pit stop could alter a car’s finishing position was accepted doctrine. That faster pit stops were good was also obvious. What the Wood Brothers did was to evolve into pit stop fanatics, taking to heart the fact that average speed could potentially be just as effective in boosting finishing position as somehow making the car go faster, and trimming back on seconds lost in the pits seemed easier and less expensive to do. So, they began experimenting with equipment and procedures to cut time out of the process, the result being that they quickly began a string of dominating wins that didn’t stop for two or three decades. While other teams began to copy how they handled their pit stops, the Wood Brothers stayed relentless in finding new ways to chop off seconds. The process became a carefully rehearsed choreography by what amounts to professional athletes. Today, pit stops are considered to be as competitive as speed on the track, as far as finishing position goes. What used to take a minute for one tire now takes anywhere between 5-16 seconds to refuel and change four tires.
As one crew chief said, “A typical pit stop requires changing four tires and filling the car with 22 gallons of racing fuel. In order to do that, we use IR Thunderguns to remove 20 lugnuts, pull off four hot 75-pound Goodyear Eagles, slam four new Eagles onto the hubs and reinstall 20 lugnuts while a guy empties two 11-gallon cans of fuel weighing 100 pounds apiece into the fuel cell. Our challenge is to accomplish this task in 14 seconds or less. If you lose 1/10th of a second in a pit stop, you lose two places on the racetrack. If you lose 2/10ths, that’s 60 feet on the racetrack and you’re out of the lead draft. That can cost you a race and a championship.”
Crazy, huh? Well, in that spirit, I decided to address a problem with the C-Head quasi-composting toilet stowage in the Intrepid. That is, that although the unit is secured from side to side, it is free to slide front-to-back inside its storage cabinet. Considering the contents, that’s a potentially non-optimal situation. Its vertical fit is too tight to allow it to tip over, but the same HDPE sheet that allows it to slide in and out of the cabinet so effortlessly also encourages its slide up and down the slot. Putting the toilet back in is an uncertain thing, needing a good eye to make sure it’s straight and won’t interfere with the closing of the cabinet doors. From that point it relies on other stored stuff being kept around it to stay more or less in position.
With those hardy pioneers of early NASCAR in mind, I decided that I could potentially trim seconds off my own pit stops by providing some type of alignment slot inside the cabinet. This alignment device would render a careful insertion unnecessary, and lock the toilet in place regardless of the presence or absence of other items around it. So, I could use small wood sticks, strips of plastic, bumpers, you name it. I managed to locate some idler wheels that would do the job, and not immediately scuff the faux-wood finish on the sides of the unit. They needed a 1/2″ diameter bolt as an axle, but this overkill at least made finding compatible hardware very easy. I of course don’t own a 1/2″ drill bit, so my Dremel was pressed into service to enlarge the 3/8″ hole that I could drill.
The toilet body is a rectangle with a long tapered leading edge, so I wound up locating my wheels two along the sides, and two along the tapered nose to act as guides that aim it straight in and keep it that way when the cabinet door is closed. The happy end result is a rather heavy toilet that is still very easy to deploy and stow, without any real attention needing to be paid to it. No careful alignment, no straps, no lockdowns. Put it in, close the doors. Care to time me?