IRL: Hemelgarn/Speedway Engines press conference, Part III

Indianapolis 500 Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002 Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis Part 3 of 3 King: Don. Q: Oldsmobile changed to Chevrolet. Had Oldsmobile continued on would that engine now look like what is now the...

Indianapolis 500
Hemelgarn Racing/Speedway Engines April 11, 2002
Hemelgarn Racing, Indianapolis

Part 3 of 3

King: Don.

Q: Oldsmobile changed to Chevrolet. Had Oldsmobile continued on would that engine now look like what is now the Chevrolet? Certainly Chevrolet didn't say let's start from scratch, build a whole new engine. Would it have evolved what it is today had it remained Oldsmobile?

King: The question is, GM made the change, as far as engine supplier, from Oldsmobile to Chevy. The question is had Oldsmobile stayed in the game, would the new generation Oldsmobile engine have looked like the Chevrolet engine?

Wood: I think earlier on Rick addressed the issues. This is a transition engine. The actual original Oldsmobile engine started out at 4 liter engine then modified to 3.5 liter engine. Then subsequently was upgraded to the Chevrolet engine. So what the marketing is would be if whose names appear on the outside would be kind of out of our purview to say. There is a continuity between the product we started out with and the product we have. These are just bridged products to the product that will be introduced next year.

Q: The last week or two there has been a lot of discussion about the league limiting the number of chassis builders. What about engines, will we ever -- do you have any concern as Toyota comes and possibly Ford and so on, that we take the field and we divide it into two views per team to make it feasible?

King: The question is about limiting the number of chassis builders and number of chassis provided per team.

Q: The question is similar to the discussion we're having about chassis right now about limiting because the pool is only so large they couldn't support six or seven manufacturers. As an engine builder, are you concerned about too many brands some day coming in?

Long: Sure, no doubt about it. Speedway Engines is set up basically to maintain engines for four or five race teams, and if all of a sudden the day does come where there's only two or three GM teams, then, that -- it's a little bit hard for us with the staffing and the way we're set up nowadays to survive on that. So without some factory support. That is, you know, that is a good question because that also -- that gets into a situation where like Toyota or whoever it may be, throws all of their resources at one or two teams and that's it, and that's -- I don't think that is very good for the sport, but that's my personal opinion. I don't know how you can stop it from happening. I have no idea how you can do that. It's kind of like limiting the number of chassis manufacturers. I don't know how you can do that 100%. I mean, it can be done, but I don't know what the legal ramifications of it are, really.

Q: A follow-up to that. So what if Toyota comes to you tomorrow and says, hey, we're going to pay you whatever it takes and we want you to build engines for two teams.

King: So you're asking if Toyota offers factory support to Speedway Engines, are you going to consider making the transition from Chevy to Toyota?

Long: Right now Speedway Engines has aligned themselves with General Motors or Chevrolet through 2003.

Q: So you have a contract?

Long: To a certain degree with them, yes. That is also Hemelgarn and Panther also do, too, with Chevrolet through 2003. It's kind of interesting you ask that because a couple of the manufacturers had talked to us. But we've been -- we've enjoyed, and I can't say enough about all of the people that work for us or whatever, but we've enjoyed all the relationships with GM, Hemelgarn and Panther and so on. We've had a great time. Hopefully we can continue on with our success.

King: Rick, to follow-up on that, given that, doesn't the league, though, have in place a situation that would prevent Toyota from being able to supply just two teams with engines? Won't Toyota or any other engine manufacturer who comes on board be required to service X percentage of teams that would come to them wanting their engine?

Long: Sure. That is the case for sure. I don't remember the exact number without getting the rule book out, but I think they have to supply up to 40% of the field, something like that.

King: I think it's 30.

Long: Which is a good thing. But it goes back to the same old thing. It's like two years ago with the Infinity program, you know, they basically had one team and that was Cheever's, and now, of course, they've gathered more, which is good for all of us. If we were in a position where we only had one team, then that would be tough. It would be tough for Speedway Engines to survive.

Q: I don't think you ought to underestimate two things with Toyota, that's money and political clout.

Long: You're exactly right. I mean, they definitely have a tremendous facility.

Q: They're going to change the IRL. They already have.

Long: To a certain degree for sure.

King: Now, Lee, you said well. Are you agreeing with him or disagreeing?

Kunzman: I definitely agree. There is no question about it. It's going to depend upon the rules committee to a large degree to keep it on a balanced level legal playing field or level playing field. Sure business is business and Toyota take is exactly what you said, they're going to throw everything they have at it and it's going to have to be regulated to some degree or the deepest pockets are going to survive and be the most competitive. The rules committee is going to play an important part there and GM is keeping them honest every day. So I guess that's what we're doing is keeping everybody honest and making sure we hold up our end and don't let anybody run away from us. But they're going to be tough. You're absolutely right on that. With the Penske program, they're going to pull all the tricks out of the hat bank, you can bet on that. They're already rolling. We don't want to sleep any.

Q: Question on the engines. Is there an optimum mileage that they perform better at any other mile?

King: The question is about the range of performance. Is there an optimum range of performance on a given engine in terms of the way it's prepared?

Long: Yeah, actually there is. It's kind of interesting because we've worked very hard to make this happen a little bit quicker and it doesn't work this way, but actually after about 150 miles, the Chevys or the Oldsmobiles between 150 and 400 miles, they perform their best. And we've tried everything possible to thinking in the future for like qualifying engines where you just want to put a maximum of 150 miles on it, and that's it. And we haven't been able to get there. Time and time again we have done a lot of tunnel testing and from a fresh rebuild until about 150 miles, then they're just so-so. After about 150 miles, they start to come to life and that's why a lot of times, like I was saying earlier, we will take and put the race motor in to practice and qualify with Hemelgarn and Panther like they run on Saturday and race on Sunday, because when it comes down to race day, it's usually running its best. We haven't figured out why yet.

King: Kind of a breaking in stage. We've got time for one more because it's coming up on 2:00 we will have time to one-on-ones.

Q: This is kind of a subjective question based on your experience with Herb Porter. But how does what you do now differ much from what Herb was doing back in the '70s, in terms of building in the off-season and the Chevy or the program, was there more latitude in choice of piston valves and rods and so on more than there is now?

King: The question is what does Rick and Speedway Engine Development do now that's either the same or different from what Herb Porter did when he was developing engines 30 years ago?

Long: Actually, there's probably a lot more latitude now than there was back then, because the thing that we have going right now, which is very beneficial to us, is like for example Ilmor, for example, they have their own machine shop. They can make a lot of internal pieces in their own house. We don't have that because there's so many good companies, small companies, machine shop companies or outside vendors that we can depend on to make that part, and it keeps our overhead down in that sense. And like back in the days of Herbie with Offee, when I first started working for him, you didn't have near the luxury of different piston manufacturers. You maybe had -- back then you maybe had three or four piston manufacturers in the United States, I mean racing components I'm not talking about passenger car top-quality components. Where now there's 100 of them. And we just have chose to align ourselves with two different particular companies in that area. Where years ago with Herbie, it would have been better off for them to have a machine shop or own a machine shop and keep everything in house because there just wasn't all the luxuries of small businesses around like you have nowadays. So in that sense, it's easier for us, and I think like I was saying about Ilmor, very, very good company but so many good outside vendors nowadays and manufacturers. Like we have the minimal amount of machinery in our facility because we have a shop just right down the street here, two doors down probably, one of the better machine shops in the United States. They do stuff for TRD, Ilmor, do stuff for us, do stuff for a lot of the good Sprint car world guys. We can walk in the door there say, hey, we want 500 of these parts, give them a drawing and blueprint and walk out the door a week later with the part. That's a tremendous luxury that they didn't have in the '70s, let's say, and everything was especially designed and purpose built and, I guess, good old American businesses competitiveness of the businesses has really a

King: That's going to be about it. Before we say good-bye, Rick, you've got four full-time IRL teams and Team Green you're doing the month of May. How many teams could you have if you serviced everyone who wanted a Speedway Engine? How many teams do you figure you could have running your engines?

Kunzman: Let's hear this.

Long: Honestly, probably -- honest numbers, probably 7 or 8. We just do not have the capacity to do that. I can't say enough -- and that's what I apologize for everybody not being able to be down in our facility. I have got a great group of people goes along kind of what somewhat of Hemelgarn. We've done nothing but expand in employees. I have lost one employee, one person in the five and a half years that we've been in business. We've just expanded with employees. And we got a good tight group and everybody gets along well. That's been one of our strengths in our success to be honest. Everybody gets along well and works together and is very competitive. And I kind of like, especially after some the stuff that's happened in the last four or five years in the IRL where teams -- or engine builders will say they have two customers and then they have some success and all of a sudden they get six customers and then they lose all the reliability and have a lot of problems. I like to keep it a little bit more under control where we can continue to offer a good product and reasonably inexpensive and consistent. That's one of our big deals. And if we wanted to go straight for the money, we probably would have taken on more work. My ultimate goal -- Speedway Engine's ultimate goal is to win Indianapolis 500. We want to win more championships. Want to do a lot of things. One of the interesting statistics, thanks to Hemelgarn and Panther, is last season we won 58% of the races. There was only one race all year long where one of our cars didn't finish in the top 3. That's a pretty good statistic. Something I'm am very proud of. I don't know how we can ever top it to be honest about it. But anyway.

King: Rick, Milt, Ron, Lee, thanks very much. Ron, particularly for the hospitality. Thank you all for attending. Thank you for your coverage of the world fastest series. We will see you at the track.

-ims/irl-

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