MIKE FORD (Crew chief No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid) "We're finishing races. Earlier in the year at Daytona we had issues on pit road and tore our car up a little bit. We were trying to fix it and the race ended. We just got off on the...
MIKE FORD (Crew chief No. 9 Dodge Dealers/UAW Dodge Intrepid)
"We're finishing races. Earlier in the year at Daytona we had issues on pit road and tore our car up a little bit. We were trying to fix it and the race ended. We just got off on the wrong foot. We went to Atlanta and had some engine problems. We were running good that day. Texas, same story. We got behind points wise and got to a point where we said we need to finish races. We started finishes races and we've had a lot of good things come together performance wise and we're understanding our aero balance a lot better now, getting more cars built where we can do more testing now and address some of the issues we've had in years past. We're starting to do that right now, and we're on the verge of answering a lot of those questions and it's starting to show in races finishes and performance on the track. We've led some laps the last few weeks, and we feel good about that. We're getting some bonus points and that helps you move up the ladder.
"I think we've grown together well the last few years. I came on when he still had his own team. It probably helped me more then than it does now, but coming in he knows what he wants in a race car and he knows what he wants to feel at certain race tracks. It makes the job of trying to give him what he wants in that race car a lot easier when you can communicate and understand each other. I think we hit that off pretty well from day one. As a rookie crew chief I was extremely comfortable with that. It made your job a lot easier. You didn't have to read between the lines and try and figure out exactly what he wanted. He could tell you what he wanted. He understands the sport. He knows how to carry himself on a weekend. You don't have to wonder if he's going to be there for practice on time, if he's going to be at the drivers' meeting. He's a veteran. He knows all that. You don't have to track all that. The more time you can spend thinking about the race car and race strategy the better off you are and with a veteran driver you get to spend more time thinking about the things that make you go fast and that definitely helps on my side.
"Saturday night, I knew where we were at setup wise when the race started, and I thought we would be good for a short run. We set it up starting in the back because we had an engine change. We had to be a little more aggressive air pressure wise and things like that. I kinda had an idea of where we needed to go as the race went on and you're short tracking and can't save the car in the corners. You can read the car before he comments on it, but with a veteran driver like Bill, he's so smart he moves his line around to change the way the car drives. Sometimes he'll change his line and you won't always understand what he's doing so you do have to communicate. We've worked really hard on that the last few weeks. At Richmond he ended up moving his line around a little bit and the balance of the car changed. To read it was a little more difficult at times.
"The driver, communication. The radio you wear on your side is definitely the key tool to doing your job down to all the guys. Just like anything in life, communication is the key, and that radio by far is the most important tool we have.
"I get a kick out of working on cars and making things go fast. That's pretty much at your fingertips 24-7. Sometimes it's a little more than you want, but you get filled up on things that excite you in life, and that's what I enjoy about this.
"The cockpit right now is pretty full. As NASCAR has been doing research and development on the cockpit, in years past the thought was to make everything energy absorbent to the driver. As we've learned the last couple of years, confining the driver to where the driver cannot move seems to be the better route to go. As far as energy absorption, I think that needs to be built into the car. I don't know that's a cockpit issue. If a driver can move around, the chance of him doing more damage is there as far as doing bodily injury as far as hitting a rollbar or something like that. Energy absorption into the cockpit as far as what we've learned is not a good way to go.
"Obviously right now the cockpit has been the issue the last couple of years, and we have come leaps and bounds from where we were. That's not to say there's not more work to be done there. Several issues have come about. Seat belts have improved. The seats have improved. Leg support has improved. Nothing's really been done to the chassis. I know NASCAR is working on different crash simulations. The cockpit is still the key No. 1 thing we're trying to improve, but small areas such as an energy absorption device on the cars built into the chassis, things like that. One thing we haven't addressed is fire issues, which is a concern at times. There hasn't been a strong improvement in that area other than NASCAR provided to us what the best materials are, what the best suits are and so on and so forth. That seems to be tapped out, but the cockpit I think is the No. 1 place for improvement.
"Some of the guys don't tend to wear all their protective gear as far as gloves and things like that. I know NASCAR is trying to monitor that. It isn't a rule to wear a certain fire suit, but some materials are better than others. I'd like to see that mandated in time if we could prove that one material is a much better quality than what some of the guys are running. I think it's been left in the hands of the teams and drivers to make those decisions. NASCAR has provided us the best information they can to make those decisions.
"It does help on some of the general mechanics on the car, structure wise as far as pieces if you're going to do some engine work and things like that. As far as on the chassis side, springs, bars and shocks, weight distribution and those things, that's really driver specific. There's several ways to set these cars up depending on what you're trying to accomplish. You have to dedicate yourself to one avenue and dedicate yourself to that in one direction. It doesn't always suit all drivers. We work to give Bill what he likes to feel in a race car. We kinda cater than to speed, how can we get him comfortable and still run fast. What's comfortable for Bill might not be comfortable for Casey or Jeremy. To say we're taking a car to go test Casey with or run at Pocono, mechanical wise you may get some feedback. You may have an engine package or a gearing package that you'd learn from that, but I'd say it's about a 25-75 split. Twenty-five percent of the car you could learn about, 75 percent you couldn't.
"The sport has changed a lot since then (Daytona 2001 when Dodge re-entered Winston Cup). This year going to the common templates, just speaking about EMS Dodges, I think we paid a penalty because some of the things that NASCAR was trying to reel back in and make common, we were on the good side of body wise and we had to give up some this year and it helped some of the other manufacturers. I think that put us behind a little bit. We weren't to where we were last year and some of the other guys had improved. They got their packages outside of the body. They'd worked on and played major contributors in being able to run fast. We're just having to search out different avenues to look for that speed, and we're on a few of them right now."