Johnny Benson's pit-crew co-ordinator claims that every weekend is a pit-stop challenge - but this Saturday at Rockingham he will be doing it for real as the 'boys' from the top 25 teams showcase their talents in the 35th annual World Pit Crew Competition.

Ricky Thomas changes the front tyres on Johnny Benson's Valvoline Pontiac and oversees all of the pit crew work on the team, running the pit-stop practices, reviewing film and giving critiques on the performance of the crew before reporting to crew chief James Ince.

And the heat of competition is no stranger to Thomas either, as was a part of John Andretti's crew that captured second place in the 2000 competition.

"There is a lot of prestige for all of us," he said, commenting on the importance of the pit crew challenge, "We are competing against all of our friends, and in front of all the fans as well. It's a good chance for all of us to show what we've got.

"As far as pressure, well it's about the same as the race. The way we look at it, we have a pit-stop competition every week on pit road. Usually we have the Valvoline Pontiac running up front too, so we have pressure on every pit-stop."

According to the experienced Thomas, pit work has taken on more and more importance over the years he has been involved with NASCAR, meaning that this weekend's competition will be filled with some of the best 'spannermen' in the world.

"Pit-stops are a lot more important than they were when I started in 1992, that's for sue," he claimed, "There wasn't a lot of emphasis on working out and the time spent on pit-stop practice like we have these days. Now we are doing everything. I bet we spend 20 hours a week working on pit-stops.

"Most teams have a pit co-ordinator now. That's what I do for our team. I look over all the pit-stop tapes and watch the race tapes to see what everyone else is doing on pit road. I also critique everybody out there so we can improve our performance. Then we practice then we work out."

Although good preparation is vital for the perfect pit-stop, however, Thomas still feels that there is one more important ingredient in getting a driver turned around in the best possible time.

"It's all about people," he stresses, "You have to get a tight group of people who will work together. I'm not sure you could have a pit crew of superstars. A lot of those people wouldn't have the right attitude. The team concept is underrated.

"It's all about people who will work together. Once you have a good group of people, then it is experience that makes the difference. All you do when you go over the wall is think about your job. There are certain drivers out there who are weapons on pit road, but you just block out everything. I've been doing this a while, so it isn't that hard to block stuff out."

Even though the pit-stop has evolved during his career, Thomas still believes there is room for further development.

"I think it will be like other professional sports - the people who go over the wall will be full-time and totally devoted to pit-stops," he said, "They will spend time maybe working some at the shop, but the rest of the time will be working out and making their pit-stops faster. There is already some of that now and I think you are going to see more and more of it."

Valvoline driver Johnny Benson already knows the value of good pit-stops, having received some of his best results courtesy of good work by the #10 crew, and he is delighted to see the spotlight thrown onto the unsung heroes of NASCAR.

"I like it," he said of this weekend's competition, "I don't think we can give too much attention to the pit crew. Those guys have tough jobs they do pretty well. I think any time our sport and spotlight or award them then that's a good thing. The driver's get a lot of attention, but those guys work just as hard."

With qualifying on Friday and the race on Sunday, the pit crews at Rockingham already have their hands full - but no-one will want to miss the chance to prove that they are the best of the best head-to-head this weekend.