Business finds fits for the pit

Runner-up

PIT INSTRUCTION AND
TRAINING LLC
Headquarters: Mooresville Managing Partner: Thomas C. Deloach Employees: 14 Founded: 2002 Proj. '07 Revenue: $2 million Business: Pit-crew training and
corporate team building

While growing up in Statesboro, Ga., Tom DeLoach Jr. never saw a NASCAR race. He didn’t go to his first until 1986 as vice president of marketing for oil giant Mobil. “I said, ‘Wow, this is neat!’ Boom! The light came on: ‘I like this!’” Eventually, he became the company’s go-to guy for motor sports. Nobody got a sponsorship without his signature. When Mobil merged with Exxon in December 1999, he decided to take a lucrative payout and retire. “I couldn’t stand it. It lasted about two weeks.”

He bought a piece of Roger Penske’s NASCAR team, but when driver Jeremy Mayfield bolted for Evernham Motorsports soon after, Penske bought back his interest. DeLoach wanted to stay in racing, so he began knocking around ideas with buddies he had made, including former pit-crew chief and TV commentator Jeff Hammond.

Racing, of course, is big business, and pit crews seemed to be gaining importance, so he and Hammond figured they could make money training crew members. But they also saw opportunity in a more lucrative market: corporate America. They formed Pit Instruction and Training LLC in 2002 and jump-started it the next year by acquiring RGB Preferred Services Group, a Charlotte company that trained pit-crew members. DeLoach, 60, is majority owner; Hammond helps with strategy and lends his celebrity.

In 2004, the company moved into a new $6 million, 32,000-square-foot complex that anchors a 51/2-acre campus boasting a practice track with six pit stalls, a fitness center, meeting rooms, a dining room and kitchen. Last year, it made its first profit.

Those who want to join a pit crew — often recently graduated high-school athletes — take an eight-week course. The best might be hired by a NASCAR team, usually one with a tight budget. “They need a cheap pit crew, and we’ve got guys who need practical experience.” But most of Pit Instruction’s revenue comes from corporate training — customers include United Airlines, Intel, Best Buy and Penske Truck Leasing — and it holds the most promise for the company’s growth.

A day-and-a-half seminar runs about $50,000 per company and helps teach participants, among other things, how to organize to achieve a goal. The first session is a meeting that relates NASCAR to the corporate world. In the afternoon, participants change tires and simulate refueling with an empty gasoline can. (A full one weighs about 85 pounds — too heavy for many executives.) “We don’t let them jack,” DeLoach says. “I’m not about to let a corporate exec accidentally drop a car on somebody. That would have a real chilling effect on a training exercise.”

The first pit stop usually takes about a minute and a half. After two or three more tries, the normal corporate group will whittle that to about 45 seconds. After dinner, they watch the pros — who often make a pit stop in less than 20 seconds — at work. “Then they get to see how bad they really were,” DeLoach quips. The next morning is a recap of the main lessons. “I think we’ve got something that every corporation in the country could use,” he says. “My biggest problem is: How do I get to the right person to get that light to come on?”