Christmas Abbott makes her racing debut in pits
Female front tire changer helping to change landscape in motorsports
Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012
Christmas Abbott, 30, sprints around the front end of a moving race car to start removing the front end tires. (Corey Lowenstein - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Already big fans of Christmas Abbott, (from left) Haley Davidson, 11, with her younger sister Mackenzie Davidson, 9, Kara Eddlemon, 13, and her younger sister Kyndall, 11, congratulate Abott after the race and ask to have their photo taken with her. Haley expressed an interest in going into racing to Abbott, but she said that her dad thought it was too dangerous. Perhaps setting her up for an argument with her father, Abbott replied, "Whatever you do in life is going to be dangerous." (Corey Lowenstein - email@example.com)
Christmas Abbott gives one last inspection of each of her tires before the start of her first race. Hours before her first race, she had to clean, paint and glue her own lug nuts to each rim. (Corey Lowenstein - firstname.lastname@example.org)
Teammate Tim Morrison, her front tire carrier, congratulates Christmas Abbott at the end of her first outing as a front tire changer. He has worked with her in practice for the past 2 months and have developed a good rhythm together. "I think she did better today than at our practices," he said. "She was extra focused. She didn't seem nervous or scared. In this job, you don't have time to be scared." (Corey Lowenstein - email@example.com)
Christmas Abbott, left, stands ready with her tire carrier Tim Morrison, right, as she readies herself for her first pit crew experience in a race on Dec. 2, 2012. She has been training the past 4 months as a front tire changer. Her goal is to pit at the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series level. (Corey Lowenstein - firstname.lastname@example.org)
PENSACOLA, Fla. The story so far: Christmas Joye Abbott, 30, is an elite-level fitness athlete who co-owns a gym in downtown Raleigh. This summer, she moved to Charlotte, where she is training to be a front-tire changer on a NASCAR pit crew. At 5-foot-3 and 115 pounds, Abbott doesnt fit the mold of most NASCAR pit crew members.
Christmas Joye Abbott pulls open the blinds at 7 a.m. in her hotel room. Just hours away from her first race working on a pit crew, her mental checklist kicks in.
I visually see myself go through the entire pit stop, she says, so in the shower while putting on make-up on the way to the track, she repeatedly goes over what she is about to do:
Im timing when the car hits the line. Im going out in front of it. Pause when it stops. Hitting one, two, three, four, five. Gun down. Pull (the tire). Come back. Button change (for rotation of her gun). One, two, three, four, five. Run around. Button change. One, two, three, four, five. Gun down. Pull. Button change. One, two, three, four, five.
Those are the motions that Abbott, 30, has blistered and bloodied and bruised herself doing over the past four months in her pursuit of becoming a NASCAR front tire changer.
The 45th annual Snowball Derby in Pensacola, Fla., considered one of the premiere short track races in the country, is just a first step toward her NASCAR goal. She calls it Day 1.
Around 11 a.m. on Dec. 2, Abbott prepares her tires at pit stall 28 at the Five Flags Speedway. The rims are cleaned. She paints the lugnuts yellow, making them easier to see. Each one is precisely glued into place, five per tire.
Then, hours of waiting. She works to stay focused, to envision the perfect pit stop while she balances the excitement of working in her first professional race.
Im fighting the urge to do cartwheels and go around with my finger on the trigger (of her lugnut gun) and pull it: woop-woop-woop-woop, she laughs.
Just before 2 p.m., the announcer introduces each racer to the crowd. Abbott is on the crew of driver Chris Davidson.
Abbott connects her gun, which she uses to remove and tighten lugnuts, to the main airline. She checks the pressure and pulls the trigger. Nothing. She adjusts the hose connection and tries again. Nothing.
Rear tire carrier Matt Holzbaur comes over to help. Lets try this, he says turning a knob on the tank. Instantly, an explosion sends both backwards. The sound silences the announcer and the crowd.
Other crew and team members run to help. Holzbaur is able to control the flailing hose and turn off the air. No one is hurt, but the hose is destroyed. Team members scramble to find another and get it connected. The air regulator gauge had been left wide open and with the slightest touch of turning on the nitrogen, almost 2,000 pounds of pressure blew through the line.
Abbott attaches her gun to the new line. Then, a high-pitched whirl. It works.
She paces. Finally, the nod comes from the pit crew chief.
Abbott and men with experience ranging from four to 10 years at the top levels of racing, grab their helmets and gloves and rush to their positions along pit row. The No. 41 car takes another lap and then comes into the pits.
As a group they work so quickly that they move their driver up 10 positions and Abbott finishes changing her tires just ahead of the rear team.
Tim Morrison, a front tire carrier starting his fifth season in NASCAR who has been practicing with Abbott for two months, pats her on the back and hugs her. Other crew and team members congratulate her with fist bumps and handshakes.
Well. Its good to have that behind me, Abbott says. The nerves came at the last moment. I had to trust that all my practice had sunk in. It was a bit terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time.
Almost halfway through the race, the racing stops after an accident. Abbotts mother, Barbara Nichols, who had driven nine hours from Texas to see her daughters first race, takes a moment to pass her a pink lip gloss called Life on the A List. Abbott burst out laughing, Too perfect.
Although her next two stops arent as smooth as the first, as a team they help driver Chris Davidson move from 28th position to finish ninth. Erik Jones, 16, wins the race. NASCAR driver Kyle Busch is third.
On both of the last two pits, the spring, coiled inside the socket in Abbotts air gun, pops out while changing the first tire. The spring helps to shoot out the lugnuts, and without it a changer has to be even more exact and deliberate.
She muscles through.
After the race, four girls approach Abbott and ask for a photo with her. They have never seen a woman working in the pits. I thought that you were really, really good, says Haley Davidson, the drivers 11-year-old daughter.
When they saw that I could keep up with the boys they were kind of wowed, Abbott says grinning. It was pretty incredible to see that sparkle in their eye.
Whats next: A month ago, manager Ted Bullard wasnt sure Christmas Abbott would be ready for a pit crew at the Snowball Derby. Now, her goal is to work in the pits with a NASCAR Truck Series team at Daytona in February. Shes exceeded everyones expectations, Bullard says. Her viability far exceeds being a front tire changer. Major brands are taking an interest in Christmas. Abbott says she hopes to be on a team, but also will work as a tire changer in any race she can get to build her experience. Let me in, she says. Let me play.