Life in the Pits with Liz Prestella

Prestella is thriving with her newest opportunity with the No. 37 Cup team. (Photo Credit: JTG Daugherty Racing)

Prestella is thriving with her newest opportunity with the No. 37 Cup team. (Photo Credit: JTG Daugherty Racing)

Liz Prestella has worked diligently to make a name for herself in NASCAR. Recently coming off a near two year stint with Tommy Baldwin Racing, Prestella joined the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing team this season.

Competitive, dedicated, and meticulous, it’s safe to say that the Californian enjoys her newest NASCAR home. Working alongside her peers and crew chief Trent Owens, Prestella’s always on her feet, hustling to get those sets of tires prepared for her team.

While the accolades and acknowledgements typically go to the drivers on the track, it’s people like Prestella who work hard to make those efforts possible in the garage and pits.  Much like the drivers, working on those sets of Goodyear Eagles can be like trying to hit those marks on the asphalt arena.

Like many who fell in love with the sport, Prestella wanted to be more than a NASCAR fan. With her grandfather and father sharing their passion for cars with her, racing became her design for life. Paying her dues with various teams throughout the years, she’s forged her path with a respectable, hardy organization.

While there’s few moments to decompress during the season, Prestella takes on her duties with enthusiasm and a sense of total appreciation.  In other words, when it comes to her dedication, as Vince Lomardi once said, “The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand.”

During the June race weekend, following the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice round, I caught up with Prestella to talk about her latest opportunity.  Undoubtedly, her dedication to the job at hand was very prevalent, even on opening day of the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Rob Tiongson :  Liz, I understand this is your first season with the JTG Daugherty Racing team.  How has that experience been like for you to work with this bunch?

Liz Prestella :  This is my first year with the team.  We started a second car this year, so I came over to do the tires for the No. 37.  It’s been a really great year.  We’ve had a lot of success for being a start-up team.  We’ve still got to work out some bugs and kinks, but we’re working together really good.  The teams came together really great as an organization to get us to where we can run competitively every week.

RT :  For the fans, describe what you do for your job each week.  Obviously there’s a lot of work, and it’s not just as simple as picking tires.  What do you do?

LP :  I do everything when it comes to the tires as far as measuring, setting, rolling out.  I get them in all their sets.  I make sure the pressures are right, and what set needs to be on the car at the right time.  So I spend the whole weekend kind of micromanaging where the tires are at, who’s got them, where they need to be.  Make sure they’re in the right location on the car, cause if they get put in the wrong spot, it could be pretty bad.  So I spend most of the weekend just playing with the tires, I guess you could say; making sure that they go where they need.

RT :  And obviously this year it’s been a very contentious situation for teams, cause NASCAR’s limited the sets of tires during races.  Do you find that to be an interesting challenge for your team when they’re told, for example… for all intents and purposes, at Daytona, you get told you can only use eight sets of tires.  Do you find it to be a fun challenge, or something you’re like, “Aw, come on, really!?”

Prestella focuses on the task at hand during the Sonoma race weekend. (Photo Credit: Liz Prestella)

Prestella focuses on the task at hand during the Sonoma race weekend. (Photo Credit: Liz Prestella)

LP :  For me, it’s not as bad, because if you micromanage it the right way, you have enough.  It’s more the crew chiefs tend to forget that they’ve got a couple less sets, so they’ll start throwing tires on the car and then about halfway they’re like, “Oh, we don’t have that many tires left.”

So I’ll be sitting there holding back tires before we send them back.  If they’ve got low laps on them, the pit crew will be regluing them, and we’ll just have to make do.  Once they finally realize, “Hey, I messed up,” usually I’m sitting there handing them notes, “You’ve got this many left.  You’ve got this many left, and there’s this many laps.” Sometimes it’s more that the crew chiefs forget what they really have.

RT :  For sure, and like you said, it’s all about micromanaging, paying attention to details, because as anything else in life, if you miss one facet, it really can mess up a lot of other things.  Now tell me, what would be your “Welcome to NASCAR” moment, because you’ve been in the sport for several years now, but this is your first with this team.  What moment do you feel like has defined your career thus far?

LP :  Getting with this team, it’s a lot harder than the previous teams I’ve worked for.  We are a lot more competitive, we have more of a budget.  We don’t have to kind of micromanage how much we’re allowed to spend each weekend.

And we get plenty of crew shirts.  Every time we have a sponsor, we get crew shirts that match.  I’ve been on teams where we’ve had one generic shirt and usually don’t get the extra shirts. So it’s nice to not have to worry about, if I stain my shirt, am I going to be able to get another one?  Or if I rip it, am I going to be in trouble?

RT :   I would say for most folks, they don’t understand the day in the life of a pit crew; they only understand what the drivers do.  So for the fans, describe what it’s like for you from, say, Monday morning of the next race weekend, to of course when it’s teardown time, heading home?

LP :  Usually what we do is, at our shop, we take Mondays off just because we get back so late on Sunday.  That’s kind of our day off for the week.

We’ll come in Tuesday morning.  We’ll have all our stuff be unloaded Monday by the shop.  All of our shop guys will unload and get the cars out and get everything where it needs to be, so when we come in it’s all there ready.

So I’ll go through the toolbox, clean it, take all the trash out, put the tools back in order to make it a happy toolbox again, cause sometimes it looks like a tornado went off by the time we get home.

Usually I do that Tuesday and Wednesday, between the toolbox, making all the notes for the previous race, making sure we’ve got everything documented that we experienced that week so we can look back at it and know exactly what we had going on that weekend.

And Thursday we fly out.  So Wednesday we work till we load, which can range from noon, to 5, to 8, depending on what the shop’s looking like that week.

Thursday morning is our technical off-morning.  We usually fly out about 4:30, which, we’re due at the airport about 3.  We’ll fly out, go wherever we’re going.  Go to the hotel, have dinner, and then Friday morning when we get here, we usually get here about a half-hour early, sometimes 45 minutes early, just because of traffic and parking.  It’s a lot easier to make sure we’re here early than late.

So when the garage opens, I’ll go over to where my tires are at, get all my practice sets, bring them to wherever I’m going to set up camp for the weekend.  We all kind of set up camp when it comes to tires, where our cart stays.  We’re kind of at a central location, close to our car, close to our hauler.

And I’ll start getting all my tires measured, set, get all the information off of them.  And once I have that, I go to my crew chief and I say, “Alright, this is what we’ve got.  What are you thinking you want to run?”  So he’ll tell me, “We’ll start on this set.  I want to qualify on this,” and then you kind of figure out the rest of it.  And he’ll give me pressures, I get all those set, and I get the first set to the car, get everything else lined up.

And just throughout the weekend, I slowly go through my tires.  After qualifying, we get all our race sets, so then I’ve got 15 sets of tires sitting in my little corner, so I’ve got to make sure I keep those separated.  Saturday’s about the same routine.  I meet with the crew chief, “Alright, what are you thinking?  What do you want to do?”  And Sunday morning, I give my tires to the pit crew, and that’s the last time I see them until right before the race.

RT :  It’s obviously a grind, because you do this, what, 38 times a year, including those exhibition races.  So, it’s got to be very demanding to be away from home in all that, but it’s a sacrifice that you pay for your passion.

Along the way, of course, there has to be favorite points or destinations during the schedule.  What are some of your favorite tracks to go to, besides of course your hometown race in Sonoma?

Despite the frantic nature of NASCAR, Prestella always manages a smile. (Photo Credit: Liz Prestella)

Despite the frantic nature of NASCAR, Prestella always manages a smile. (Photo Credit: Liz Prestella)

LP :  I love going to Vegas cause my parents always come to that one, so it’s fun to be able to spend Vegas with them, and you can go to a different place to eat every night that’s in walking distance.  Sometimes the hotels we stay at, there’s not a whole lot of food options, so it’s nice to be able to have an option where we can go all over.  But, I don’t really have one favorite.

There are things I like about each one, and things that I dislike about each one, just throughout the years.  Like, when we were in Pocono, the girls’ bathroom in that garage, not the most satisfying for a girl.  It’s one stall, and it doesn’t really have a light, doesn’t have a mirror, just in the main Cup garage.  So we either go to the ARCA garage or the media center.  So, that can be a challenge for me if I need to go to the bathroom in between practices.

If I drink too much water, I’m like, “Alright, which way do I have to run?”  (laughter)  There’s a lot of tracks that are actually like that.  Like this track, the bathroom’s not even in this garage; it’s in the center building.

So, it depends on where the bathrooms are at for me, cause we drink so much water throughout the day, usually we have to go to the bathroom frequently, so that plays a factor.

Then, there’s the size of the garage stalls.  Like here, the garage stalls are kind of tiny, so you have to maneuver.  You don’t want to get hit by a jack from the other team.

RT :  Or a car.

LP :  Yeah.  Each track’s so different, it’s hard to have a favorite, just because everything changes.  Daytona, you can either have a really long walk to pit road, or you can be close, or you can be far from your garage, just because it’s got that Fan Zone set-up so it’s all central.  You have to either walk all the way around, or cut through the Fan Zone.  So, every track’s got its own personality.

RT :  I can respect that, and I can relate to that cause it’s my first time in Michigan.  I only have three tracks to compare by for now, but hopefully soon enough more.  You’re definitely climbing up the NASCAR ladder in your career, but for you, what would be your ultimate destination in terms of your role in this sport?

LP :  I don’t really have a specific role I want.  Ideally, if I’m doing tires or whatever I may do with the team, I’d love to get some wins and some championships.  So, that’s my ultimate goal is to get wins and championships, of course.

RT :  There’s always competition everywhere, even amongst pit crews.

LP :  Yes.

RT :  Now that your story’s becoming more widespread and more people are learning about you, hopefully, people are getting to know more about your efforts are and not making it like, “Oh, you’re a woman working in the garage.” They’re respecting you for your talents.

LP :  Yes.  That’s a big part of it is now.  The more that they see me, the more respect I earn because they see how hard I work, and they’ll see I’ve earned where I’m at.

RT :  Absolutely.  My last question for you is, who are some of the people that inspired you to get into racing?

Prestella doesn't have to look far for inspiration at the track. (Photo Credit: JTG Daugherty Racing)

Prestella doesn’t have to look far for inspiration at the track. (Photo Credit: JTG Daugherty Racing)

LP :  My dad was always really into racing growing up, and I’ve always been real close to him.  So me and him spent a lot of time watching racing, working on cars.  So he was a big help with that.  And my grandpa, when I was younger, was always into cars.  After he passed away, my dad kind of told me about all that too.

Once I got into racing, I met Lisa Smokstad. She runs the tire program at Hendrick, so I lean on her a lot whenever I need help with anything, or advice, or something’s really frustrating me.  I can always call her and she’ll talk me through it because she’s been in the sport for so long.

Author’s Notes:  Special thanks to Liz and Jennifer Chapple of JTG Daugherty Racing for this wonderful opportunity at Michigan!  Photos accompanying this piece are courtesy of Jennifer Chapple and Liz Prestella, whereas noted. If you’d like to learn more about Liz and her team, “Follow” them on Twitter!

Rob Tiongson

30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field, and hockey. Born and raised in the Boston, MA area, racing was the first sport that caught my eye. From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, you'll likely see an article on The Podium Finish by either myself or one of my talented columnists who absolutely have the motorsports passion.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. I enjoy editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography.

Graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication.

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