(NEW YORK) — NASCAR has seen a few women drivers at the elite level, but never before has a woman muscled her way into the extremely physically demanding positions getting down and dirty in the pit.
Christmas Abbott, 30, is the first female pit crew member in NASCAR, where in less than 12 seconds, she and her team refuel the car and change the tires.
Abbott is responsible for the front tire position, in which she must remove five lug nuts, sometimes as the car is still moving, muscle off the tire and put it aside, then get a new one on and replace the lug nuts, all within seconds. Then she must race around to the other side of the car and do it all over again.
In her recorded practices that are studied each night, Abbott’s times are within milliseconds of the big leagues.
Her job is crucial in a multi-billion-dollar business. If there’s just a few extra seconds at a pit stop, the driver loses.
Abbott was discovered in January at an audition and recruited just like the former football and professional hockey players she works beside. Her competitive nature drew her to the high stakes of racing.
With heels on, Abbott stretches to five-foot-three but don’t be fooled by her size. She is an incredible brand of athlete called a cross-fitter. Abbott has built her body through intense workouts and crazy competitions. In one competition, Abbott carried a 125-pound friend with one arm and a 70-pound weight in the other. Combined, Abbott was carrying twice her weight.
“Now I can see that my body is developing into this very precise machine where whatever I want to do, or whatever I believe I can do, ultimately I will be able to do,” she said.
At first, Abbott’s pit crew coach, Shaun Peet, wasn’t so sure about her.
“To be honest with you, I thought it was a publicity stunt, you know what I mean, and I wanted no part of it,” Peet said. “And I think, I was convinced, when I saw her. She ran a 6.8 [second] right side the other day, which for as long as she’s being doing it is exceptional.”
But Abbott does have her detractors in the garage. Men whisper that she won’t last and they appreciate her for all the wrong reasons. But she doesn’t care. All that’s on her mind is her first race in three weeks.
“I feel like I’m bringing something huge to the sport, but this ultimately is much bigger than me,” Abbott said. “I find that those things that scare you most are most rewarding once you’ve conquered them.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio