SCC: Team spotlight on WTF Engineering

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 9, 2003) -- Ed Magner is a man who does it all. From prep work and engineering development on his ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (April 9, 2003) -- Ed Magner is a man who does it all. From prep work and engineering development on his #48 Chevy Cavalier Z-24 to building and tuning his racing engines to making hotel reservations and towing the race hauler to the track, Magner is the driving force behind WTF Engineering. And to top it all off, he is also the man behind the wheel when the green flag drops.

Magner's WTF Engineering enters this weekend's Grand-Am Cup Miami 250 with the Sport Touring II team owner points lead following the Chevy's ST II victory at the season opener in Daytona. He's looking to continue his winning streak in South Florida with hopes of making a run at the championship.

THE BASICS
Series - Grand Am Cup Series
Class - Sport Touring II
Car - #48 Chevrolet Cavalier Z-24 (Nicknamed Christine)
Team Name - WTF Engineering
Sponsors - Mantapart, XtremeLens, PhantomGrip, Mohrenkopf Dubler, RedLine Oil
Team Owner - Ed Magner
Garage Location - Grand Blanc, Mich.
Website - www.wtfengineering.com (currently down for reconstruction)
Drivers - Ed Magner, Caroline Wright, Peter Maehling, Robert Dubler

RACING HIGHLIGHTS
10 Professional Race Wins
2003 - 1st in ST II at Daytona 250
1998 - 2nd Motorola Cup Compact class driver championship

IN THE WORDS OF TEAM OWNER ED MAGNER...

When and how did you get started in racing?
I was a race fan as early as I can remember. I grew up listening to the Indy 500 on the radio in the early '60s and watching whatever racing was on ABC Wide World of Sports. I raced bicycles with my cousins around a quarter midget track in Lansing and had AF/X slot cars running all over the basement. My allowance and pop bottle money all went to Oscar Koveleski in Scranton, Pa., for hot rewound armatures and stickier tires.

When I was in college, I started autocrossing and went to quite a few road races as a spectator - Daytona, Sebring, Road America, Mid Ohio, etc. The series that first caught my attention as being very entertaining and potentially affordable to run was the Champion Spark Plug Challenge Series. My friends were all excited about the 935's and the GTP cars, and I'm against the fence watching Joe Varde in a Gremlin racing Amos Johnson in a Pacer. Go figure. I guess I have always been intrigued by production-based cars.

After college I worked as an engineer at Oldsmobile in Lansing and began crewing on Dennis Weglarz's IMSA Kelly American Challenge car. I decided that the driving part looked like a lot more fun and went to a Skip Barber three-day school at IRP in 1984. I bought an old Dodge Colt that Dennis and Jerry Thompson had raced in the IMSA RS series. A group of Oldsmobile engineers and technicians volunteering their time to work on fixing it up, and that car is how WTF Engineering got its start. We entered the car in the Road America round of the Champion Spark Plug Challenge in August of 1984, and I think I finished 16th. We moved into the Firehawk series in 1986 and have more or less been in that series and its successors ever since. I never really did the club racing thing. I've probably only run a half dozen club races in my career. I went from autocrossing to driving school to IMSA racing.

In 1986 I also started working for Oldsmobile Motorsports and working on pre-production versions of the Quad 4 Calais for the Firehawk and Escort Series. That job was a key to my racing career, because I made some good contacts in the sport and got a lot of seat time testing. Buddy Norton and Irv and Scott Hoerr did a lot of the driving for Olds at that time, and I learned a ton running with them regularly. My first podium came in 1989 with Irv and Buddy in an Oldsmobile at the Mid-Ohio 12-hour Escort race. Buddy and I hooked up to do a few seasons of the IMSA Firehawk series. Frank DelVecchio, Jeanette Whitehead and I did a few seasons of the Motorola Cup as the three musketeers.

Who or what has been the biggest influence in your life?
My parents, siblings and a large extended family of aunts and uncles are very important to me. My father Jack worked as a skilled trades model maker/machinist in the Oldsmobile Experimental Engineering machine shop for 38 years. He worked on everything from the first Rocket V8's to the 1966 Toronado to the Quad 4 Aerotech engines. Our dinner table conversations were about prototype engines and machining the parts for them and a lot about the day-to-day politics of working in engineering in the automotive industry.

I was interested in that and dad made me aware of the co-op program at General Motors Institute (now Kettering University), and I was accepted there. I worked as a co-op student at Oldsmobile while getting my mechanical engineering degree with a major in automotive engineering. That career choice made so early was a pretty big influence on me.

As far as a racing influence, Dan Gurney and Mark Donohue were my early racing heroes. Both of them were technical, hands-on racers. I run Dan's number 48 on my car whenever I can. Dale Earnhardt was my last driving hero. Its kind of hard to replace him so I don't think I'll try. Buddy Norton taught me a lot about racing smart and how to win. Frank DelVecchio taught me you can still do this when you're old, so I've got something to look forward to.

What is the most challenging part of racing?
For me it has been finding the resources to do it right -- both time and money. More precisely for me that means juggling the available resources to do it the best that I can. My "real" job as a systems engineer at Delphi is a pretty intense 50-60 hour a week job. I race on my vacation time, and I work on the cars on nights and weekends with some volunteer help. I do the majority of the car prep work and engineering development myself. I build and tune my own engines, fix the trailer and the tow vehicle, drive the rig to the track, make the hotel reservations and do most of the work on the car while I'm at the track. It is essentially the equivalent of another fulltime job to run in a professional series like Grand-Am Cup. And when I get all that work done, I put on my suit and helmet and go out and drive it as fast as I can. I can't think of many Grand-Am Cup drivers who go through all of that every time they run. But with the budget that I have to work with it is about the only option I have to race.

It has also been a big challenge to be racing the Cavalier. For one thing, the performance aftermarket for the GM cars is a fraction of the size of that for Honda/Acura. If I were racing an Integra, I could choose from 10 different shock packages -- all off the shelf ready to bolt on. The same goes for pretty much every other part on the car. For the Cavalier, all of that is custom -- nothing is easy. Mantapart has been a big help on many of these items, but everything takes more time and more money. Combine that with very limited contingency or direct support from GM compared to pretty much any other manufacturer in the series, and it makes running a GM car all that more an unlikely choice. But, I am pretty loyal to the company and the product.

On the positive side, I do have a top-to-bottom knowledge of the cars and have a pretty good feel for what needs to be done to them to race them. I've been kind of like the one-man version of H.A.R.T. but for the GM small cars. I think to be as competitive as we have been at this level with teams - and car companies - that are able to put a lot more resources into their program is a pretty big accomplishment. Sometime I would like to try just driving, but I can't even imagine what it would be like to show up on a race weekend and just be able to concentrate on driving.

What goals have you set for yourself in 2003?
I would like to win some more Grand-Am Cup races and make a run at the ST II driver championship for me and the manufacturer championship for Chevrolet. The biggest challenge in the championship hunt is going to be making it to all the races. With a small ST II field, the points spread top to bottom per race is going to be small. Missing a race will almost surely eliminate a driver from championship contention. The travel schedule for the next four races is going to be grueling. It is something like 13,000 towing miles for us to make it to all four. If we don't make it all the way through Fontana, we'll re-evaluate our plans for the year.

I would like to build a second ST II Cavalier and start running the new GM Ecotec engine in it, but we haven't got the resources in place to do that yet. I want to try to get some more crewmembers involved on the team and spread the load around a little bit.

I haven't finalized who will co-drive with me for the rest of the year. Caroline will definitely be back in the car with me for at least Phoenix, VIR and Daytona, depending on her announcing schedule. I am hoping to get Buddy Norton back in the car with me at some point. Peter Maehling will drive with me at Homestead. He did a great job in the Achieva at Daytona.

What is your most memorable racing moment?
All 10 pro wins have been very memorable, but my first win at Watkins Glen in 1995 was probably the sweetest. Buddy Norton and I were in my Achieva, racing against the two-car factory Olds team and a pair of Honda Accords from TC Kline and HART. The Olds factory team had Chuck Hemmingson, Ron Emmick, Tony Kester and Bob Thomas driving for them. Honda had Bob Endicott, Mike Galati and Kris Skavnes. Scott Harrington and Howie Liebengood were in a fast Neon. Basically, not a slouch among them. To be able to come out on top against that crowd was pretty special. To beat the factory guys with the same car they had but one tenth of the budget was kind of a defining moment for us. We went on to win two races that year against one for the factory team.

Losing the 1998 Motorola Cup championship at Homestead in the final race was also pretty memorable the other way. I had a seven-point lead going into the race. All I had to do was be classified as a finisher to clinch the title and the oil pump drive chain let go and blew the motor up seven laps into the race. Manny Matz won the title, and I finished second. It was the only motor we had at the time, and we had run it all year and won four races with it. If it had run another 10 laps I would have had the championship. It was pretty crushing, but we haven't broken that part since. The pieces of that broken chain are in a plastic bag taped to my second place trophy on the bookshelf in my office.

The most unique race we didn't win was at Sebring in the fall of 1999 when Bill Fenton, Bob Beede, Frank DelVecchio and I shared two Fenton Hondas and the Achieva and we finished 1-2-3. The pit stops were coordinated so we got out of one car and into the next one on the following lap. We had four of us on the podium and three trophies to pass around. I finished second and third. I remember passing myself for second place late in the race. That effort helped clinch the driver championship for Bob Beede and gave Honda the title over Hyundai for manufacturers.

How did it feel to win the ST II class at the Daytona 250?
It felt very good to be back in Victory Lane, especially at Daytona. The last win I had at Daytona was in 2000 in the Olds, and it seemed like an eternity has gone by since then. We had struggled to get the Cavalier built the past couple years and then had wrecked it at least three times. I had gotten hurt pretty bad when a cutoff wheel exploded into my neck while I was building the car. That put me out of commission for much of the 2000 season - almost permanently. We've had the usual struggles with driving partners and resources, and I've had a lot of things going on personally. So I guess it felt like a triumph over a lot of adversity.

I was pretty excited for Caroline, because it was her first pro win and I remember how good that felt myself. XtremeLens was happy because they got to show off the very cool Daytona trophy for the rest of SpeedWeeks in their hospitality suite and display area. Mantapart got an immediate return benefit on its stepped-up sponsorship commitment to us. A bunch of new crew guys came to their first race and won. All in all it felt great. I have a lot of gratitude to everyone who helped make it happen.

What is your favorite racetrack?
It is hard to just pick one favorite. Mosport, before the trees were pushed back, is near the top of my list. There was nothing quite like turning in blind into turn four without lifting and getting it right. It is still a neat track to drive and is plenty challenging, just not as intimidating. Mont-Tremblant has a lot of similar characteristics to Mosport and is just a gorgeous facility since it's been re-done. My favorite street circuit is Trois-Rivières. It is plenty wide in places and not as artificial as a lot of the temporary circuits, and the fans are fantastic. My "home" track is Mid-Ohio, and I really enjoy running there. I've won the most at Daytona. I still get goose bumps driving in through the tunnel. The history and the ghosts of legends there make it special, so I guess we'll make that my favorite.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Two pearls of wisdom from my mom come to mind, "Wear clean underwear in case you get in an accident" and the Serenity Prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference."

-garra-

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Bob Beede , Dan Gurney , Tony Kester , Chuck Hemmingson , Skip Barber , Scott Harrington , Robert Dubler , Caroline Wright , Howie Liebengood , Peter Maehling , Bill Fenton , Manny Matz , Bob Endicott , Joe Varde , Amos Johnson , Oscar Koveleski , Mark Donohue
Teams HART