HIGH POINT, N.C. -- For a NASCAR Winston Cup operation with two front-line teams, one of the most intimidating sights for a shop foreman is a race-shop devoid of cars. It is a situation with which Marc Fryar -- shop foreman for Bill Davis Racing -- has grown accustomed as the #22 Caterpillar/Polaris and #93 Amoco/Siemens teams prepare to make the switch to Dodge for the 2001 season.
In a season marked by dramatic overall change for the BDR operation, Fryar has been one of the unseen linchpins -- coordinating the in-shop transition of the #93 Amoco team to it's side-by-side Winston Cup status with the existing #22 team, weathering a mid-season move to the new state-of-the-art BDR race-shops on an off July weekend, and most recently overseeing the deletion process this fall of race-ready Pontiacs from the BDR stable in favor of largely untested Dodge Intrepids.
In the most complicated of his five years as BDR shop foreman, Fryar's challenges have ranged from feast-to-famine -- the former in the form of an overcrowded shop last winter when Dave Blaney's team moved in from the BDR Busch Series shops to join Ward Burton's improving program, fresh of it's first top-ten effort in the 1999 NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings. Too many tool boxes and cars clashed with too little floor-space as Blaney's struggling first-year team tried to get settled while Burton's fortunes soared.
The move into the new shop space for the BDR Winston Cup teams between the Pocono race in late July and the Brickyard 400 alleviated Fryar's space problem, just in time for the start of evacuation strategy involving the lame-duck Pontiacs.
At several points this month, Fryar has come to work and found his front-room in the shop virtually empty, except for a Dodge show-car for each team and a half-dozen naked chassis. It's in the fabrication shop where Fryar finds all his race-cars, well over a dozen Dodges in various stages on completion.
In concert with Crew Chiefs Tommy Baldwin and Doug Randolph and Head BDR Engineer Todd Holbert, Fryar must now monitor the production flow closely while his teams move to within six weeks of their departure date for SpeedWeeks 2001 in Daytona and the historic Dodge reentry into NASCAR. Regardless of the level of success in repopulating the BDR shops with Intrepids, Fryar's efforts will remain largely unnoticed in his behind-the-scenes role, one diametrically opposed to that of his short-track legend father Freddie.
"I was involved with another changeover when I was with (Billy) Hagan Racing and we left Oldsmobile and started running Chevrolets," said Fryar. "That was tough enough. But this process we've gone through this year -- from start-to-finish -- has been as complicated as any I've ever been around. It's going to be really good when we can just get back to the process of preparing the cars to go race and sending them off to the racetrack.
"We started the year by moving the #93 team into what is basically shop-space for a one-car team. With Dave being a rookie, we had testing almost every week for much of the spring so we're trying to get six cars ready every week, not just the four you'd need to go to a race. We fell behind a little and it showed in the performance of both cars, I believe.
"When we finally got to the point where we were going to move into the new shop, Bill did it right and decided not to move the large equipment from across the street (in the old WC shop) -- just order new equipment. We moved on an off-weekend but the road guys were all off testing. I think Tommy (Baldwin) planned it that way, but we got it done. It still took until probably Labor Day to get reacquainted with where everything was, how the new system worked in the new building.
"By then, most of Dave's testing was over. He had a little more on-track experience so we had less body-work to do on the #93 cars coming back from the track. We were able to pay the kind of attention to details on the cars going to the track that we really needed to and it showed. Todd (Holbert) and (Lead Fabricator) Dave Nelson had been handling all the design and template work for the Dodge project, but, after Atlanta,it was time to push aside the Pontiacs and start the transition."
In all, only eight of the 23 total Winston Cup race-ready cars from the #22 Caterpillar and #93 Amoco stables were chosen to keep and "reskin" with the new Dodge sheet metal. Other cars were sold as-is to ARCA, NASCAR Winston West and teams from other disciplines. To carry the BDR teams into the new Dodge era of Winston Cup competition, fourteen new chassis were ordered for the team's fabrication and body shop to mold into Bill Davis Racing's car of the future. The future, however, is now.
"I actually work on a calendar backwards almost all the time, looking to see what our available time is for meeting the various test deadline we'll have over the next eight weeks," said Fryar. "The fab shop had been backed up for a while waiting on some final approvals but lately we've been having a car come out to the prep(aration) area every 2½ days so things are picking up.We've got cars going to three tests in the next month -- including Daytona in mid-January -- and to the wind tunnel but we're on track to meet our deadlines, even with the week off the guys are getting after Christmas.
"The truth of it is that the changeovers we've had to make with the cars we kept from last season are almost harder to do than the cars we're building from scratch. We made a lot of changes to those cars besides the Dodge-specific things that had to happen that have taken a little more time -- things that will make them easier to work on and more uniform between the two teams -- and that's worth doing if you have to strip down a car.
"On the schedule we're on now, it's taking about 14 working days to get a car from the bare-chassis stage back out in our front room, where all the final preparation goes on. We try to do two-at-a-time so the focus is going to shift pretty soon to a whole lot of work going on in the finishing areas of our program. You've got to keep track of all stages so you don't end up three days before a test with no car and no chance of getting one ready."
Even now, with only a half-dozen or so race cars in some stage of readiness for the race track, Fryar shows a sense of relief that both the #22 and #93 teams have a full compliment of Dodge Intrepids in some stage of completion somewhere in the production line that he must monitor daily to beat the Daytona deadline. He also sees the light at the end of a year-long tunnel that has included almost every hurdle a race team can confront -- expansion to multi-team status, breaking in a first-year WC driver, a shop-move and a large role in the creation of a brand new race car, not just a brand switch to an existing model.
"It might not be a bad thing that we've squeezed all this upheaval into one year because once we get past all this, we'll be set for a while and we can just get back to getting the cars ready to race and going racing," said Fryar, also a former national champion with radio-controlled (RC) cars who has little time for his hobby over the past 12 months.
"The way we finished off last year -- with Dave and Ward both running at the front over the last 4-6 races -- we've got nothing but positive things to look forward to. The Dodge is supposed to be a better race car and -- from what we've seen so far -- it is a better race car. The engines are going to be really good. We've gotten all our changes here at Bill Davis Racing out of the way. By mid-spring, I hope it will be 'back-to-normal racing', if there is such a thing. We've got all we need now to really step up the future the way Bill Davis envisioned. It's a great time to be here."