In the world of “Cars 3” Lightning McQueen and his fellow racers are assisted by their pit crew teams. These helpers can be the difference between winning and second place. The same can be said for real life racing. What happens when you take 6 crewmates, toss them into a loud, hot, hectic environment. Then throw in an 850hp racecar
hurtling towards them at 55mph? You get a NASCAR pit crew! These teams are trained to do in less than 15 seconds what us regular drivers take 15 minutes, on a good day! While on a Disney*PIXAR junket for “Cars 3” I had the amazing opportunity to experience a very lite version of what these teams do. Thanks to the folks at Performance Instruction and Training (PIT) we were able to suit up, grab the socket wrench, and go through just about the same motions as the real teams, without the gasoline and moving cars.
The visit to PIT starts of with a very informative presentation that covers the history of the NASCAR pit crews, the specific roles and responsibilities of each position, and what you can expect to experience later on. Everyone involved is either an active member of an active NASCAR pit crew, or was one. These guys really know what they’re talking about and they take it very seriously. We were part of a faily large group, so they broke us up into 6 different teams. Safety is of paramount importance, so we were setup with a suit, gloves, hearing, and eye protection. They led us out to pit row, where we were given live demonstrations of each position and the chance to practice a couple of times to get a feel for how the equipment feels. These are real NASCAR tires and wheels, real gas can (no gas), even the jack is authentic. I’ve always wanted to try my hand at the air-powered wrench and I was able to fill that spot for the team. Team 2, Lightnings Lugs, rear wheel changer… yeah that’s me.
Like I said, there were 6 different teams, so of course there had to be a little competition going. There are 3 cars set in position, so 3 teams at a time can run the drill. They lined us up in place and blew the whistle to start. Now on the first attempt all you want to do is be accurate and not make a big mistake. Slow and steady they said. Sure enough we all started moving into our positions and executing our assigned roles. It’s really a fast paced ballet with every move choreographed. Wrench on, lugs off, tire off to the right, new one handed in from the left, position on hub and power the lugs back on. Jump up, kneel down, lugs off, wait for jackman, tire off to the right, new tire in from the left, lugs on, back away. In about the time it took to read that, a professional pit crew can change 4 tires without gas. Our apprentice crew of first timers took a little under 2 minutes on our first attempt. All told not a bad time they said. We head back to the garage to review the video with our crew chief.
This really helps because we can see exactly where we can save steps and be more efficient. We were able to perform another 3 pit stops and in the process our time went down to just over a minute. We may not have been ready for Charlotte Motor Speedway but that was some serious improvement. Our team may not have won (congratulations Children of the Forest,) but we all had a fantastic time.
Lug nuts off
PIT is an active pit crew training school with graduates working for major teams, however they also use the pit experience as a way to teach team building, build improvement processes, and teach lean concepts to numerous businesses including the U.S. military. If you ever have the opportunity to participate in their program I would highly recommend it.
Now I had a better understanding of what happens on pit row, but what about on the track? Thanks to our Disney*PIXAR hosts and Charlotte Motor Speedway I was going to find out. Officially called the “NASCAR Racing Experience” you are able to ride as a passenger with a professional racing instructor in a real NASCAR race car. For 3 laps, at speeds of 175 mph or more, you get the chance to really feel what it’s like for the driver athletes who race for a living. I’m a driving enthusiast. My motorcycle is a performance model, my car is as well. I’ve been on closed tracks where you can “open it up” for a bit. Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to the feeling of that NASCAR dropping in to turn 1 at speed.
The engine is roaring and you hear the small pieces of track debris hitting the body, reminiscent of scenes in “Cars 3”. The driver gets into the groove and your body is just pushed to the right against the 5-point harness. Everything you’ve done before tells you that the car is going to spin out, but the driver, aerodynamics, and racing tires do their jobs and you simply run through until you exit onto the back straight. Charlotte is a tri-oval, so this dance happens 8 more times until before you know it you’re pulling in to pit row and the experience is over. A fistbump of thanks to my driver and then it was time to work my way back out of the car.
The Experience is offered in many different levels and price points, from 3 lap ride alongs, to full 40 lap solo racing sessions. It’s probably a good thang that I don’t live anywhere near the Charlotte area, because I would be spending lots of time at the track. If you’re at all interested in racing, or would like to give someone a gift that they will forever remember, the NASCAR Racing Experience is unforgettable.
PIT Instruction and Training
156 Byers Creek Road
Mooresville, NC 28117 [email protected]
Charlotte Motor Speedway
5555 Concord Pkwy. South
Concord, NC 28027
For Disney, the CARS franchise has been one of their most successful. You’re immersed into a world where there are no people, the vehicles are the characters. This works not only because of the technical marvel that is Pixar Animation, but because of the personalities that come to life via the voice acting. In this latest installment we’re introduced to a few new players, one of whom is a raucous, demolition derby driving school bus named Miss Fritter. Played by the award-winning actress LEA DELARIA (“Orange is the New Black,” “Californication,” “The Oblongs,” “First Wives Club,” “Dear Dumb Diary” and “Edge of Seventeen,”) Miss Fritter is instrumental in helping Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and his new race technician Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) figure out their places in the ever-changing CARS 3 world.
When CARS 3 is released digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD on October 24 and Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray on November 7th, it will include among other extras an exclusive new mini-movie: Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool. Viewers will enjoy blindsided testimonials from the Crazy 8’s, touting the transformative impact Miss Fritter’s Racing School has had in reshaping the direction of their lives.
Disney granted us the opportunity to speak with Lea about her role, thoughts about the project, the creative process, and much more. What follows are the highlights from that conversation:
Q: Thanks for meeting with us!
LD: I’m so excited. I love you guys. You’re always so much fun.
Q: We’re kind of a fan of you too.
LD: Aw, that’s so cool. That’s so cool. Thank you.
Q: We’ve seen the movie short.
LD: It’s so good. I shouldn’t say that, it’s my own short. But, oh my god. [laughing] It’s so good though.
Q: So when did you get the call that there was going to be a mini-movie?
LD: The racing school? Um, was that in June? I think it was like June. And I was so, like, the movie hadn’t been released yet, and when they called us they said “we got this idea we want to do this DVD extra”, and we’re like, really? I mean, that was exciting, right? So yeah, and then we went in and recorded it. I mean, making any Pixar movie, I imagine, is probably very akin to what my experience has been. My experience has been awesome and fun-loving. I mean, what a great place to work. Honestly, if this acting thing doesn’t work out for me I’m going to Pixar, [laughing]. It’s just so kind and there’s so much fun, and eveybody’s having a good time, so it took us- I don’t know, I think my work was done in about two hours. Yeah, I do work fast. I mean, people generally say that to me.
Q: How much of it is script and how much is improv?
LD: It’s kind of a combination of all of that, and the entire thing is filmed like that. They hand me a script, but they have, generally ten alternate lines that they want to do, and then the writers, directors, producers they’ll go, try this, try this, try this. Hey, Lea, do you have any ideas? And then I’ll do it, and it’s often that line ends up being a combination of all of it. You know?
Q: What goes through your head when you get told, Pixar called?
LD: Oh, what went through my head? I’m buying a house! [LAUGHTER] No- oh honey, I jumped up and down, just- I can’t even tell you. We were so excited when they called. I mean, I love Pixar. I love cartoons, I’m a big fan of animation, and I’m a huge fan of Pixar’s. Always have been. I’ve seen all of their movies. So, when we got the call it was like- that’s like bucket list stuff for any actor. There’s not an actor on the planet that doesn’t want to do that, you know what I mean? So, yeah, I was excited.
Q: What did you think of Miss Fritter when they came to you with that character?
LD: Oh, well, this is the actual drawing that they came to me with (pointing to shirt). Now, they made a little t-shirt for me of the actual original drawing of Miss Fritter. And, when I saw it, I was laughing, we were all laughing. I was like, well of course they came to me for this; look at her. You know? [laughing] So, when I saw the character, and I knew she was demolition derby, and I grew up where there’s demolition derby and went to demolition derby as a kid, I kinda knew exactly who she was. So I thought, actually, honestly, I’m gonna be honest, I’m not going to make a joke. I went; perfect casting. This is, yeah, this- if this is anybody, it’s definitely me.
Q: Did you have any influence in changing the character, or shaping the character a little bit?
LD: The influence I had, it’s not really my influences, they went out of their way, I think, to personalize her for me. In a very lovely way. I mean, I was very flattered. You know, they called up and said, you know, what year are you born? That’s the license plate. Where did you go to school? Bellville, and they have the name of my school on the side of my bus. They even have a rainbow bumper sticker. You know what I mean? Oh, they’re my eyes. Those are my eyes. They paid very very close attention to my eyes and made those eyes her eyes. So that’s kind of cool too.
Q: Were you able to tell the producers and directors about making a movie more openly LGBT oriented?
LD: No, I never said a word about it. Never thought anything about that, and, you know, I love that they, out of the blue, put a rainbow bumper sticker on her, you know, I had no clue until I was told that it was there. That to me was a win-win for everyone.
Q: How psyched were you to see the ending of the movie with Cruz Ramirez stepping up?
LD: That, to me is the best part of the movie. Like, when they explained the story to me, because that’s what happens. You don’t really see a script. You see some drawings, you go to Pixar, you get this tour of Pixar, which is crazy. It’s so much fun. But, you go into a room, you see the drawings of, this is what, you know, kind of what it’s going to be,and those are just the beginning drawings, like this, just the beginning drawings. And, in my case it was the director; it was Brian Fee who explained the story to me from beginning to end. He said: It’s gonna be this, and starting out, we’re trying to return to what it was like in Cars One, you know, there’s always that pitch, and then, the story. As he spoke more and more, I thought, this is a feminist movie! This is a girl power movie. This is a movie that’s teaching young girls that they can live their dreams and be whatever they want to be, and we don’t have that many movies that say that to little girls, in fact I can’t think of another one. If somebody else can, shout it out. I was jumping up and down about it. I thought it was amazing.
Q: Favorite line in the movie?
LD: I’m gonna fritterize ya!. [laughing] That’s a great line. I tweeted about that last night, actually.
Q: Do you have any pet projects that you would like to get done?
LD: Well, right now, the pet project that I’m working on is the off Broadway show that I mentioned, called Innocence. Then, I have about, I would say, ten ideas for different television shows that, you know, I will be taking around, and I’ve got a new record I’ve got to make, ‘cause it’s been two years since my last one was released. So, that’s gotta happen. So I got a lot of stuff, I got a lot on my plate. Buddy don’t remind me. I got too much to do.
CARS 3 in HD and 4K Ultra HD on October 24 Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD & Blu-ray on November 7th