Dodge Engineer Recalls Stock Car Racing's Early "Ride-Along" Program By Dave Elshoff FORT WORTH, Texas, March 28, 2001 - With a today's technology, an automotive engineer can safely monitor data being generated in the most hostile environments.
Dodge Engineer Recalls Stock Car Racing's Early "Ride-Along" Program
By Dave Elshoff
FORT WORTH, Texas, March 28, 2001 - With a today's technology, an automotive engineer can safely monitor data being generated in the most hostile environments. But not long ago, an engineer seeking on-track data from race car had little choice but to climb aboard and ride along.
George Wallace was one of those brave souls. Wallace worked at Chrysler Engineering in Highland Park, Michigan, from 1953 to 1971. From 1969 thru 1971, he was assigned to "Special Vehicle Engineering," which oversaw the design and development of NASCAR and drag race vehicles and parts.
"It scared the hell out of me," admits Wallace today, recalling his first on-track ride in 1966 at Riverside, Calif., with Dodge driver Paul Goldsmith at the wheel.
"I recall having watched the car go through the esses at Riverside for several years," continues Wallace. "I knew exactly what was going to happen. I knew what was coming up and I knew exactly what the car was doing through there, but actually feeling the forces acting on you, and seeing how much effort was required to drive the car, was a total revelation."
After four or five laps, Wallace says he was able to relax enough to do his job - recording brake test data.
"There were two things the observer needed to record," he explains. "We measured brake line pressure and the maximum or average deceleration. The pressure gauge was mounted on the dashboard, along with an accelerometer, which was essentially a column of liquid that would move up and down as the driver accelerated and stopped. You could read the pressure on the gauge."
The second "ride-along" for Wallace came in the fall of 1967, when Dodge was at Daytona testing the first of the 1968 Dodge Chargers. In early tests, the car seemed to have some front-end lift. Wind tunnel testing and had indicated some lift but the engineers discounted its significance at the time.
To test for lift in the field, the engineers added a metal rod to the front A-frame that poked through a hole in the fender. Colored rings on the rod would let them see whether there was down force or lift as the car was run at a constant 180 mph down the backstretch. A lucky engineer got to ride along and check for movement.
"The forces acting on you at Daytona are incredible," says Wallace. "At 180 mph in the corners, you have about 1.8 g's of force pulling you straight down, and about 1.6 g's pulling you parallel with the road surface.
"The forces acting on your head in a turn are huge," continues Wallace. "If you look down at your notes, you would have to push your chin back up with your hand to overcome the forces. Vibration was also a problem. "I had a clipboard so I could write things down, but I found that I could write maybe one or two numbers during a whole test session. It came down to remembering the numbers and then writing them down during the slowdown lap."
Wallace says he volunteered for the ride-along program because somebody had to do it. "In those days, I was younger and braver," says Wallace. "We didn't have adequate instrumentation until much later in the program," he continued. "We needed data and the drivers could get a very, very limited amount of data, because the things you want, like the RPM at the end in straightaway, just when they back off the throttle, is the time the driver is most busy. "We tried putting movie cameras in the car, but it took a long time to get the data back, and by then it had only marginal usefulness."
Not long after Wallace's wild ride at Daytona, Dodge started an instrumentation program working with Chrysler engineers from the aerospace program at Huntsville Ala. In one of the first attempts to develop in-car instrumentation, Wallace recalls building a wooden box to hold the equipment.
Wallace's early experiences stand in sharp contrast with the instrumentation used to develop the Dodge Intrepid R/T for NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing in 2001. When the Dodge test team went to the track for the first time in May 2000, the engineers set up a cart with a server and several laptop computers all connected through a mini network. When data from the car was dumped into the server after each test run, the engine development team accessed data on their laptop while the aerodynamic and chassis teams looked at their data on separate screens.
Despite the fact that people still talk about "that crazy Chrysler engineer" who rode along in the race cars, Wallace says he has no regrets. "It was wonderful getting paid for developing and designing race cars," he says. "I would have done most of that work whether I got paid or not."
This week in Dodge racing history:
* 3/29/70 - Bobby Allison nipped Cale Yarborough in a dramatic duel in the Atlanta 500 at Atlanta International Raceway. It was the 17th-career Grand National win for the Dodge Daytona driver, who was a full lap behind with 10 laps to go. Yarborough had taken the lead during the 244th lap and was pulling away from the field. Donnie Allison, running second, blew the engine on lap 318 at the precise moment Cale had entered the pits for a splash-and-go. As the caution came out and Bobby Allison whipped his car back into the lead lap. He later pitted under yellow and got two fresh tires. When the green flag came back out on lap 323, Allison darted to the inside of Yarborough and made the pass. Yarborough made a charge in the final laps but wound up 50 feet short at the finish line. Pete Hamilton came in third with LeeRoy Yarbrough fourth and Richard Petty fifth.
* 4/3/66 - David Pearson charged past Curtis Turner in the 199th lap and led the final 52 laps to win the Hickory 250 at Hickory Speedway in Hickory, North Carolina. It was the first win of the season for Pearson, who has led the points race from the second event of the season. Turner, driving a new intermediate Ford Fairlane -- NASCAR's first look at the smaller vehicle -- chased Pearson close for the final laps. He wound up 4.0 seconds behind Pearson's Dodge at the stripe. Third place went to Bobby Isaac with Ned Jarrett forth and Paul Goldsmith fifth.
* 4/3/69 - Bobby Isaac overcame a one-lap deficit to claim victory in the Columbia 200 at Columbia Speedway in South Carolina. It was Isaac's second victory of the season. David Pearson finished second, 12 seconds behind. Richard Petty came in third, James Hylton was fourth and John Sears fifth. The 100-miler on the half-mile dirt track was a hard-fought battle as the lead changed hands seven times. Isaac started on the pole and led the first 48 laps. During a pit stop, his car lost power and by the time crew chief Harry Hyde got it running, Isaac had fallen a lap behind. Sears surprised the 8,200 spectators by leading for 14 straight laps. Isaac put his red Dodge into a picture-perfect four-wheel drift and made up his lap by the 89th circuit. He moved back into the lead by lap 151. Petty enjoyed one of his strongest runs of the 1969 season by leading twice for 84 laps He lost the lead to Isaac on lap 168 and fell to third place. Isaac averaged 68.558 mph for his sixth career Grand National triumph.