“Running into a burning building is much easier than this.”
That was Rita Reith’s reaction after trying her hand at changing the right front tire of Matt Brabham’s No. 61 PIRTEK Team Murray Chevrolet for the first time at Fire Station No. 7 in downtown Indianapolis. Reith, an Indianapolis Fire Department battalion chief, was one of two IFD firefighters announced today to join the CK Crew of military veterans and first responders who will compete in the TAG Heuer Pit Stop Competition on Miller Lite Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 27.
Reith will be joined by fellow IFD firefighter Ross Meyer on the seven-person honorary crew that will go head-to-head with fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series pit crews in the competition.
Brabham arrived to the announcement in style, aboard one of the station’s fire engines, greeting Reith and Meyer in his firesuit in front of the No. 61 car revealing its updated livery. The two firefighters then received a crash course on changing tires and made their first attempts at swapping out the Firestone Firehawks in front of colleagues and media.
“For me, it was a little bit nerve-racking,” said Reith, a 21-year IFD veteran, “but it’s not nearly as mysterious as you would think. There’s a lot of precision involved and a lot of technique involved in making sure everything goes just as (crew members) want it to go. It was a little bit nerve-racking, but I think I’ll manage with a little bit of training.”
“Being from Indianapolis and being around Indy cars, I never knew what actually went into changing a tire, jacking the car up or fueling it,” said Meyer. “It’s pretty intense and there’s a lot of pressure on you to do it perfectly.”
The CK Crew is a product of PIRTEK Team Murray, which is fielding rookie and third-generation driver Brabham in the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis and the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in conjunction with KV Racing Technology. Named for storied Navy SEAL Chris Kyle – the subject of the “American Sniper” book and film who was killed by a fellow veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2013 – the CK Crew will be comprised of veterans and first responders from around the United States. Three members were previously named: former Navy SEAL David Rutherford, California firefighter Sonny Saghera and retired New York City police officer Walter Wasilewski.
The team has teamed with the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation, which provides interactive experiences to military and first responders and their families in helping them return to everyday life following deployment. Plans are under way to bring 500 military and first responders at Indianapolis this month. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment is also partnering in the project as it prepares to release a special Blu-ray edition of “American Sniper.”
“Just having the honor of serving with the foundation is really unimaginable,” said Meyer, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan as a Marine before joining IFD. “From what I’ve read, Chris Kyle was always a fan of pit crews because of the teamwork. Now that I’m actually here seeing what we do, everybody counts on everybody.”
The CK Crew members will spend the week leading up to Carb Day training with Jim Leo of PitFit Training in Indianapolis, learning the mechanics of a pit stop, then testing themselves and each other to compile the best team possible.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Brabham said. “It’s great to get some recognition and have people from all over the country as first responders: police officers, firefighters and military veterans, and bring them all together and throw them on a pit crew. I think they’re used to dealing with those high-pressure situations, so I’m sure they’ll do a great job and be one of the best crews out there.”
When asked if he had given any tips to his new crew, Brabham said he was doing the learning.
“They’re obviously very experienced and good at what they do and they have a method for doing it,” Brabham said. “Being around that, and being around that positivity and that work ethic has been a real eye-opener for me. I’m just trying to draw in as much as I can from those guys myself and kind of use them as references for how I should perform and prepare.”
More information about the CK Crew can be found at www.teammurray.com.au and on the Chris Kyle Frog Foundation at www.chriskylefrogfoundation.com.