Dreaming of making it to the Indianapolis 500 some day, Elk Grove High School student Steve Krock began his racing career in 1998 on a little track in rural Indiana, driving a kart he built with his dad and money he made from several jobs. “I’m pretty sure I finished last,” Krock says.
This month, Krock, a 41-year-old mechanical engineer working for Ed Carpenter Racing, will be changing the inside front tire during pit stops by driver Rinus Veekay in car No. 21 at the Indy 500. Not exactly the way Krock’s teenage self envisioned making it to Indy, but Krock says he truly is living the dream.
“That’s probably my favorite part of the whole thing, doing pit stops. I love it,” says Krock. “I put on my helmet and grab a wheel-gun.”
Changing a tire in seconds before a roaring crowd of 300,000 spectators and an international television audience is a rush.
“The target time is 4½ seconds or less,” says Krock, whose race-day best is 3.6 seconds. “I’ve done it faster in the shop. After you’ve done it a thousand times, you’d be surprised how fast you can do it. The key is being able to do it consistently quick.”
Since December 2011, Steve Krock, right, has been a valued crew member for Indy car driver Ed Carpenter, left. During this year’s Indianapolis 500, Krock will be inside the pit wall, changing the front left tire during pit stops. – Courtesy of Ed Carpenter Racing
In a typical Indy race, his crew will change tires five times. A car moving at 230 mph can travel the length of 11 football fields in 10 seconds, so delays are costly. But they happen.
by signing up you agree to our terms of service
“In a world measured by tenths of a second, dropping a nut is a big problem,” he says, noting that a spinning wheel-gun can send the only nut rolling down the pavement and force a tire changer to grab a spare nut off his belt. “I don’t know anyone who’s done more than one pit crew who hasn’t made a mistake.”
Krock has been an “over the wall” pit crew member since 2014. Before that, he stood on the other side of the protective wall, “catching the tire” when it was thrown his way. Whether you are behind the wheel or in front of the wall, the job can be dangerous. He’s been hit just once in eight years by a car that struck the wall while pulling into the pit. “I didn’t even know I’d been hit until I watched the video two days later,” Krock says. “But it’s a risk of the job.”
After graduating in 2005 from the Milwaukee School of Engineering, Krock landed a nice, safe desk job with an engineering group in Elk Grove Village, where he engineered plumbing systems. “I had a great job, and a great boss, and great people around me, but it wasn’t my calling,” Krock says. “I always wanted to be in racing. It’s a pretty stark change.”
As a teen, he told his parents, Jim and Mary, that he wanted to buy a racing kart. “My dad said, ‘Great — Get a job,'” says Krock, who started working at age 14 at Pirate’s Cove, and then J.C. Penney and local warehouses to raise the $850 for the kart, and another $1,000 for the engine. His parents and older brother, Andrew, supported him in his early races.
For a decade, Steve Krock of Elk Grove Village drove in kart races such as this one in 2007. Now, he’s an engineer with Ed Carpenter Racing and will be changing tires in the pit at this year’s Indianapolis 500. – Courtesy of Steve Krock
Krock competed in more than a thousand kart races, winning dozens and a championship in 2001 before stepping away from karts in 2008. But they were a thrill for him. “I remember looking at my digital display and seeing 78 miles per hour as I went past a light post and thinking, ‘Man, that’s moving,'” says Krock, who now is used to seeing cars fly by at nearly three times that speed.
In 2009, he married his college sweetheart, Katie, an architectural engineering and construction management major at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. The couple, and daughters, April, 8, and Rachel, 5, live in Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis, where Ed Carpenter Racing has its shop. The cars race from the end of February until the latter half of September, but the crew works in the shop year-round.
As one of two “damper engineers,” Krock designs, builds, tests and maintains the shock absorbers, custom built for each tire. A computer shows how force and speed affect the shocks, and the team might have as many as nine different shock absorbers whose use depends on weather conditions, the pavement and other factors.
“The week before the 500, the entire team strips the car down bare,” Krock says of the days before the race, scheduled for May 29. They’ll check for cracks in the metal or other issues.
On race day morning, he’ll be in his firesuit, soaking up the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”
“At that point, if you are busy, you have a problem,” Krock says. “You should be standing there with nervous anticipation. There’s a lot of that stuff that still gives me goose bumps.”
Steve and Katie Krock met as students at the Milwaukee School of Engineering, married, live in Zionsville, a suburb of Indianapolis, and have daughters April, 8, and Rachel, 5. But he has a very unsuburban dad job as a pit crew member for an Indy racing team. – Courtesy of Krock family
High school bands, the singing of “Back Home Again in Indiana,” the “Gentlemen, start your engines,” the Pace Car giving way to the green flag and other traditions can’t prepare you for the power of the cars, Krock says.
“The first time they come by at speed, it’s truly just sensory overload,” he says, explaining how the sound, the visuals, the volume and the smells can be overwhelming. “The Indy 500 was always big in our family. That was the start of summer.”
Krock saw his first Indy 500 in person in 1997, when he and his dad had great tickets on the fourth turn. Unfortunately, the race was rained out, and the makeup date on Monday saw the cars do just 15 laps before another shower postponed the bulk of the race until Tuesday, when Krock was back in school.
He still races a few times a year (and has posted victories) in a BMW or Mazda Miata on the Sports Car Club of America circuit, but has no expectations of ever racing at Indy. “There are no 40-year-old rookies in Indy cars,” he says. He gets his competitive juices going by being part of a racing team for the showcase race.
“That’s the only reason I do this. It’s because of the Indy 500,” Krock says. “It’s still the driving force for me.”
Even if he’s not the one driving.