Journal: Here’s Why Watching From The Pit Lane Is Like Nothing Else

Here’s Why Watching From The Pit Lane Is Like Nothing Else

By Nat Twiss
April 11, 2016
7 comments

Photography by Nat Twiss

Have you ever stood in a pit lane during a race before? Regardless of whether or not we’re talking classics, I’m not sure that there’s a better place to experience racing.

I’ve been privileged with access to the pits for nearly a half decade now, but it was only when I was recently at Silverstone that it occurred to me that it was something I take entirely for granted. Nowhere else at a circuit affords you such proximity to every element of racing: the intensity of the start, the speed and chaos, smells, sounds, and sights. The joy. Heartbreak.

The historic racers firing up outside with media centre window weren’t even what I was at the track for that day. It was a support event for the 24 hour race due to start later in the day, and so, I was simply relaxing, and taking in the thrum of vintage engines burbling outside. But, eventually I was drawn outside for the race start. Something of a non-standard one as it happens—way down the grid, someone had stalled. Regardless, the cars left the line at racing speed, which these days is quite a questionable decision, and the confusion in the pits was easy to see. The support crew for the marooned car rushed over, and other crews lined the pit wall peering out. The confused commentator’s voice echoed through the pit lane. It hit me, as I was watching the start unfold, that if I was in the crowd somewhere else on the circuit, I’d really only be getting half the picture.

It turns out, when you’re not constantly staring through your viewfinder and trying to take photos, this is a pretty thrilling place to be! The pits are alive. They ebb and flow; as cars arrive mid-race for driver changes and pit stops, they burst into action, and just as quickly as the chaos begins, it fades, and the pits fall quiet again, besides the cars tearing down the start and finish straight. Teams retreat to their boxes to monitor the race. Tension starts to rise as they slowly emerge from their garages, heading to the pit wall cheer for their driver, hoping to give them the last push needed to make the pass.

And then the flag falls. There’s hugs, cheers, and relief all the way down the tarmac. Even if you didn’t take the win today, at least your guy made it back in one piece to fight another day! Drivers come in, and joke with each other about moments in the race.

It seems like a crying shame that these days access is so limited, but thankfully we still have some circuits like Goodwood that don’t totally obscure the lane with mile-high catch fencing. Ultimately, all I’m saying is, next time you’re at the races, maybe bring some binoculars, try get yourself in a good place to view the pits, and observe. There’s more to racing than the cars, and it only took years of it staring me in the face for me to realise.

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Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
6 years ago

My father was a crew chief so I spent many, many a day in the paddock and near pit lane. I’m glad you have appreciated the action from this point of view.

GS has a point, though. Pro racing is indeed different. No one (at least those on the top step of the podium) cares about your fancy retro livery, what watch or gloves you are wearing, or if you are “period correct”. Just get out of my way, because I am coming through…
Obviously, I enjoy the vintage/classic circuit, as well, as I can appreciate the vehicles and the camaraderie. I also recognize an environment where man and machine are pushing the limits, however, and historic racing versus professional racing is a whole ‘nother animal. One is a wine and cheese party, while the other is business.

Christopher Gay
Christopher Gay
6 years ago

It is just amazing that no spectators were injured, especially when the vehicle ended up in the tunnel. I’d say there were either angels on duty, or it was incredulously fortuitous.

Gabriel Marin
Gabriel Marin
6 years ago

I recently had my first experience ever in a pit lane, paddock, and circuit. It was amazing. The sounds, the smell, the rush of drivers switching in mid race… Ok, It wasn’t Silverstone, it was Jarama (Madrid), but for a first time, watching with my own eyes e-types, cobras, and mustangs battle hand to hand was very surreal. Hell, I even saw a Ferrari 250 breadvan passing a Maserati T60 barchetta at 200 km/h. Love at first sight. I definitely will repeat 😉

Guitar Slinger
Guitar Slinger
6 years ago

Have I ever watched from the pit lane ? Why yes I have being a man of a ‘ certain ‘ age . From F1 to NHRA and most places in between as a matter of fact . And yes … it is truly tragic how restrictive all professional racing [except NHRA ] has become …. from the pits …. to drivers access .. trackside viewing … and almost everything else as well . Pity you youngins will never experience the joys of meeting your favorite drivers [ without paying for the privilege as one does today ] … being placed [ as a kid ] in their cars cockpits etc .. to seeing all the work behind the scenes that goes into REAL racing *

Seriously … I do feel sorry for anyone either young or new to racing today . Between the over corporate and homogenized ‘ scripted ‘ spectacle that racing has become … to the extreme restrictions being placed on the fans … you have my ultimate condolences … y’all maybe getting 1/100 of what racing was ….. and should still be .

* [ sorry Mr Twiss but Goodwood’s so called ‘ classic ‘ car racing and all other classic car racing events in truth ….does not count .. that aint racing son…. thats placing your over priced toy on display under the guise of racing in order to try and fill the stands with paying customers ]

Nate
Nate
6 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Most road courses I have been to have included a full access pit pass and most include an autograph session in the days leading to the race. Hell, Sebring allowed anyone who wanted to pay $20 to have breakfast with the drivers the morning after the race. Maybe you need to get off the computer and see what is really going on in the world?

Derelict
Derelict
6 years ago
Reply to  Guitar Slinger

Yet again, your ramblings have added nothing really except confirm that you know not what you are thinking about. Classic racing is, in fact, still racing. All you have to do is watch one to see it. Body damage is a norm. Heated overtaking happens often (more than say, a season of F1 races). To suggest otherwise is just plain ridiculous.

Great photos and love to see stuff other than the usual Porsche type photos on here. A Herald and an Austin? Nicely done.

Maxime Veilleux
Maxime Veilleux
6 years ago

Great read and even greater pictures.