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United turns to NASCAR for efficiency lessons

United Airlines ground crews find themselves in a strange place — Gasoline Alley in Mooresville, N.C. NBC's Kevin Tibbles reports on what they're learning from NASCAR pit crews about efficiency.

In the pits, it's a race against the clock. But these frenzied crew members aren't working the NASCAR circuit, they're in training for their real jobs as members of United Airlines' ground crews.

They're not docking Chevy Monte Carlos, but jetliners — unloading the luggage, servicing them, getting them ready for the next trip.

They've come to "Pit Crew U" in Mooresville, N.C., to sharpen their efficiency skills and make their airline more competitive.

"It just reinforces how important teamwork is," says Gary Cockrum, an employee at Reagan National Airport in Washington, D.C.

And in the classroom, who better than a real NASCAR crew member to teach the basics?

"We tell them, 'You need to go slow to be fast!'" says Patrick Bernall, an instructor from the Kyle Petty race team. "In other words, you need to slow down, be efficient. Spend less time on the ground, get it back up in the air producing for you."

United, which has just emerged from bankruptcy protection, is sending 1,200 employees to Gasoline Alley because lost time costs big money. While there are no checkered flags, these United workers are racing to shave a precious four to five minutes off the time each plane sits on the ground. If it works, the airline could add up to 100 flights a day without having to add any more planes. 

"It's the same concept," says Mike Sanseri with the Portland, Ore., airport. "The car comes in, the plane comes in, we work it, we get them out of town."

By the end of the day, complete strangers work with Swiss watch precision, shaving off precious seconds.

"We go back with a fresh perspective and realizing that we can do a better job at the job that we've been doing," says Carrie Gueda of Anchorage, Alaska. "After all we've been through, I think we need some fun back in the workplace."

United Airlines is counting on each second saved to keep its 455 jets in the skies, and itself out of the red.