SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Pit-crew school offers students a chance at NASCAR career

Anyone who thinks NASCAR isn't a sport should take a look at athletic trainer Breon Klopp's latest pursuit.

Klopp has opened a Mooresville, N.C., school that trains NASCAR pit crews in the high-speed choreography of tire changing and split-second repairs during a race.

"We're not talking about a good ol' boy changing tires," Klopp said. "We're talking about elite athletes who train for this."

The school, 5 Off-5 On, began its first classes last month in 9,000 square feet at Lakeside Business Park. The school's name comes from this bit of racing trivia: There are five lug nuts on each wheel of a NASCAR racer.

With a budget of $800,000, Klopp has set up a four-employee operation in which students are given assigned roles, with the pit-stop routine scripted by instructors and strength trainers.

The idea for the business began in September, when Klopp met with some friends — including executives from Mooresville-area racing shops — to discuss opening an exercise training facility.

As the group talked about the concept, it evolved into something more ambitious. Rather than simply training pit-crew members into good physical condition, 5 Off could be involved in recruiting, screening and teaching the folks who gas up, change tires and sometimes repair cars during races.

"They were saying how difficult it was to find skilled people to man the pit crews," Klopp said.

The 48-classroom-hour course for pit-crew members costs almost $1,800 a student. That curriculum — called Green Flag! — involves a monthlong series of classroom work, speakers and physical conditioning.

The first class began May 1 with six students and concluded Thursday. A full class is 14 students.

Shorter, less expensive courses are also available. For $55, an armchair racing fan can learn the basics of what goes on during a 15-second pit stop. That class is called Practice Lap.

The training includes heavy doses of realism. During exercises, a compact disc of racetrack noises blares in the background. For refueling practice, water is substituted for gasoline.

Andy Ward, pit coach for Penske Racing's No. 12 car, driven by Jeremy Mayfield, plans to use the school to find recruits and pit-crew stand-ins.

"It will be a proving ground, in addition to a training center," Ward said.

Klopp previously worked with fitness centers, including an operation at First Union Corp.'s 2 million-square-foot Customer Information Center in Charlotte.

The financing for 5 Off comes primarily from an investor who has racing and automotive connections. The company wouldn't say who.

5 Off offers other services — including an event featuring a two-hour pit-crew demonstration for $1,720. Taking a page from marketing-savvy NASCAR, 5 Off has signed World of Weights Inc. of Akron, Ohio, as sponsor for the school's weight room, and Klopp is talking to a toolmaker about providing equipment and financial support.

"We've been pleased with the people who want to participate," he said.

Ken Elkins writes for The Business Journal in Charlotte.

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