HIGH POINT, N.C. -- After the wind-tunnel tests, after the templates and engine specs were approved, after the chassis were ordered to help Bill Davis Racing build Dodge Intrepids for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup season, there was this question of parts......a whole stock-room full of parts that worked perfectly on the Pontiacs the BDR teams had raced for six seasons.
While the big issues with the BDR Dodge transition were being resolved, all the "little" things -- parts ranging in size from washers to windows -- needed to be considered for their adaptability to a new brand. The bulk of the burden to assess the massive inventory that Winston Cup race teams must have on hand to build and race each week fell on the shoulders of BDR Parts Manager Mike Gross and long-time BDR team member Gray Warren.
Overlooked in the rush to explore the redesigned Dodge sheet metal that will return the company to NASCAR prominence in 2001 is the issue that Bill Davis Racing and the other four Dodge-related teams face in supplying crews and crew chiefs with appropriate pieces to finish cars once they exit their respective fabrication shops and prepare to test and race. Certain vendor relationships will bridge the gap for BDR between the past and the now-immediate on-track future. Gross says that -- after some initial anxiety over the issue -- that the carry-over of existing inventory was more extensive than he might have thought.
"Several years ago, you could be planning a move such as ours and uniformity would not have been a word you would have used about the transition," said Gross. To make a move from Chevrolet to Ford would have required raising interior hoop bars, for instance, higher and making many other changes. With NASCAR's efforts to make all the makes of cars more uniform to help with owners' cost, we will have to switch very few vendors and most of the elements we used in 2000 -- suspensions, brakes, steering components -- will all be the same.
"What we've basically been able to do is cut the Pontiac bodies off, put the Dodge sheet-metal on and go from there. We have made internal decisions to change some of the elements on all of our cars to make them more uniform and easier to work on. Now if you ask our fabricators, nothing about the switch to Dodge is the same -- hoods, fenders, roofs, each piece of glass -- all different. They've had to familiarize themselves to a new process. The burden has been greater on them than on anyone else here at Bill Davis Racing"
Gross, 48, began almost three decades of NASCAR involvement in the NASCAR Modified ranks in 1972 in his native New York, where he owned a parts store. Before joining BDR in June, Gross worked in management nine years with BSR Products and two years with CV Products. He also is the race-day spotter for Burton, who finished tenth in the final 2000 NASCAR Winston Cup Series points standings.
Together, Gross and Warren -- who was in charge of overseeing the parts department at BDR for the 30 months previous to Gross' arrival -- have also instituted a sophisticated new inventory/tracking system in the new BDR Winston Cup shop while a season of massive transition within the organization was taking place all around them.
"When I came here this spring, the parts area didn't have a fixed system that was in place to do any kind of tracking," said Gross. "Probably because of the size of Bill's team up until recently, things were purchased on an as-needed basis, without much regard to vendor relationships or pricing. They might have needed one piece one day and bought it from Vendor X, and needed five of the same a week later and bought from Vendor Z.
"With the overall growth to three teams (Burton's #22 Caterpillar team, Dave Blaney's #93 Amoco/Siemens team, Scott Wimmer's #20 NASCAR Busch Series team) here at BDR, we had a great opportunity when we moved into the new shop to put a computer system in place that matched our growth and the demands of that volume.
"(Computer consultant) Russ Winters tailored a system to our needs when we made the move to the new Winston Cup building in July, one that can give us the current and projected costs involved with each car we have on the floor as well as any maintenance numbers we need on a given car. What is the dollar-value of Car X if we wreck it and have to delete it from our system? The new system can tell us those type things. We were changing everything else around here at the same time we were putting this in so we had some growing pains."
One thing Gross and Warren did not project, however, was the subjective affect of changing a process that had been in place for many long-time employees since the start of the BDR Winston Cup era prior to the 1993 season. It took time for many to get used to not being able to walk back into the parts racks, find a part needed under deadline, and simply take it for use on a car waiting to be loaded onto a transporter that was warming up to go to the track.
"For so long, the parts room here was just a place to store pieces," said Gross. "I never realized how hard trying please a 100-plus people and their schedules and needs was going to be. Bill (Davis) was really great about letting me have some input in how this areas was laid out in the new building, how it would flow once the doors opened to the new shop and people were trying to build cars.
"It wasn't easy being so unliked, just for trying to do your job the right way. I had to learn the personality of 100 different people and how they went about doing their jobs. It's all worked out, and now that we're settled in this new building and getting closer to getting on the track with the new Dodges, everyone's really getting excited about the 2001 season. Both ward and Dave finished up the 2000 season running like everyone here thought they could. We had a lot of transition across the board during the past 12 months. I think everyone's ready to just get to the racing part of it."