Bill Davis Racing Dodge development, part four

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- There is a point in the not-too-distant future when the clock will stop on thousands of research-and-development man-hours invested by Terry Elledge and his Bill Davis Racing motor department in the new Dodge engine. NASCAR ...

HIGH POINT, N.C. -- There is a point in the not-too-distant future when the clock will stop on thousands of research-and-development man-hours invested by Terry Elledge and his Bill Davis Racing motor department in the new Dodge engine. NASCAR Winston Cup-legal Intrepids for Ward Burton and Dave Blaney will roll out of the garage at Daytona for the start of Speedweeks 2001 and all the theoretical dyno-testing and trial-run simulations will be relegated to file-drawer status.

It's actually not a bad perspective for Elledge, who's been this way before through his role in development of General Motors' SB2 engine while Engine Department Manager at Richard Childress Racing prior to joining BDR in December, 1997. After a certain amount of testing of a brand new motor design, all the questions become theoretical. For instance, 'how many miles of testing on a new power plant before you know you're ready to race?

Despite several lost test dates in December due to winter weather, Elledge and Bill Davis Racing Crew Chiefs Tommy Baldwin, Jr. (#22 Caterpillar team) and Doug Randolph (AMOCO Ultimate Team 93) feel comfortable with their relative position of readiness as the BDR teams prepare for the first official superspeedway test of the new Dodge Intrepid at Daytona on January 16-17.

"They could start the season in April and we'd all still not be completely satisfied that we'd done all the testing we could or thought through all the possible areas where a Winston Cup motor might be vulnerable in certain situations," said Elledge, whose engines have failed only six times in BDR entries (in 200-plus starts) since becoming Head Engine Builder at Bill Davis Racing three years ago.

"You've got to have a position of comparison to know where you really are so we've done several back-to-back tests with the SB2 and the feedback we've gotten from Dave and Ward is that they really didn't know which was which in the car if we didn't tell them. That's a huge deficit we don't have to overcome so I think we're with OK what kind of power and response we're generating.

"Reliability was an issue in some isolated areas early on and we're still working -- as is everyone with a GM, Ford or Dodge motor -- on getting the best reliability we can have. You expect some small issues as you get into your more serious testing with a brand new engine. We had them with the SB2. We'll have them with the Dodge motor. With race season so close, we've really been working hard across the board on a number of areas to be ready for the first quarter of the season.

"For the past several months, we've really been operating between a month and six weeks behind where we'd like to be in a best-case scenario but I think that happens in any situation where you're bringing an entirely new program -- new car, new engine, new aerodynamics -- to the track in what has been really less than a year.

"The Ford and GM motors both have had a long evolution in NASCAR and have been refined in many performance areas over time. On the SB2, we worked for 2-3 years before it was finally approved so we've been working on a real tight clock for most of this year. But we know the date of the Daytona 500 and it's been on the calendar for some time. I'm still real optimistic that the Bill Davis Racing cars will be where we want them to be when they drop the green flag."

Collective testing since mid-fall by the BDR teams in conjunction with Evernham Motorsports, Petty Enterprises, Ganassi Racing and Melling Racing has put thousands of miles on the new Dodge engine but late decisions on a final block configuration have made the problems for Elledge and his fellow Dodge engine builders ones of production and quantity rather than unreliability.

"At this point, an issues we have are more in parts preparation rather than with the end-users on the teams and their assembly time prior to going to Daytona, " said Ted Flack, Head Engineer for development of the Dodge engine for NASCAR Winston Cup competition.

"We have multiple machine shops on our end running around the clock--producing blocks, cylinder heads and other pieces to be ready for Speedweeks. Ideally, we'd need at least 250 engines ready for our 10 teams before the first week of February (25 per team -- 15 open, 10 restrictor-plate).

"We approached this with a similar process as we would for development of a production car, just with a much shorter time-frame to get it accomplished. Obviously, we focused from the start on durability, making sure everything runs to at least twice the race-length reliability. We had a gasket problem that we sorted through. We had a casting problem with the first run of blocks, which we corrected in the next generation produced.

"To show the level of commitment we've given to this program, we have a machine shop, foundry and pattern shop devoted specifically to the NASCAR Winston Cup program. From the time that the problem was detected (with the block) in mid-October until we had a new block running was about 18 days. They modified the tooling necessary, cast a new piece, machined it and delivered it with six days of detecting a problem. "

For Elledge -- as for drivers Burton and Blaney, the adventure into virgin manufacturer territory came at a time when each had much ground to lose. After struggling to move into the upper echelon of drivers in his first three seasons at Bill Davis Racing, Burton has become a weekly contender for Winston Cup wins since the arrival of Baldwin in fall, 1998, finishing in the top-ten in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings in each of the past two seasons.

After 17 seasons of open-wheel excellence and virtually no stock car experience, Blaney was given the challenge of establishing himself as a Winston Cup regular in only three seasons. His first-year Winston Cup performance in 2000 concluded with a crescendo of top-ten finishes at Phoenix and Miami and a challenge for his first victory in the season-finale at Atlanta. Blaney's late-season progress with the young #93 Amoco/Siemens team mirrored his learning-curve during two NASCAR Busch Series seasons (1998-99) but also displayed a driver with an increasing comfort level in a brand of car he would soon depart.

Elledge's experience with the SB2 development challenge prepared him for what has been a long year of research-and-development on the Dodge power plant as well as expanded demands (adding Blaney's Amoco team as a second BDR program) and expansion, including on-going construction of an addition to the BDR Winston Cup Motor Room facility (to almost double the space) as well as the just-completed upfitting of the original 12,000 square-foot BDR shop into a Busch Series engine building.

"We have an awful lot going on in all directions throughout this year here at Bill Davis Racing but most of it is a reflection of the progress we've made, even since I've been here," said Elledge. "New shops for the Winston Cup teams and facilities for both engine programs, the addition of the Amoco team and Dave's development during the year and Ward's continued progress into the top-ten every week.

"Being a part of the history that's happening around the reintroduction of Dodge to NASCAR is just another part of all the good things that have been happening with this race team for some time. We'll work as hard as we can for the next 30 days to get ready for Daytona but it will be great to get the cars on the track for real and see where we are. You don't get to bring a new program to life but so often."

--Bill Armour

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