BLANEY, CO-OWNER HARRAH EXCITED ABOUT CHALLENGES AHEAD IN 2003 FOR ...
BLANEY, CO-OWNER HARRAH EXCITED ABOUT CHALLENGES AHEAD IN 2003 FOR #77 JASPER TEAM AS SEARCH NARROWS FOR NEW CREW CHIEF PRIOR TO HOMESTEAD RACE
HOMESTEAD, FL. -- With the obvious progress of the #77 Jasper Motorsports Team this season being inexorably linked between his arrival and an increased technical presence within the organization, Dave Blaney is already looking ahead to the 2003 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season with a justifiable share of optimism about affecting another substantial increase in on-track performance for the improving program.
With the high probability of producing the team's best-ever finish in the WC point standings hinging on a steady effort in this weekend's Ford 400 at Homestead/Miami Speedway, Blaney has already begun working with Team Manager and Co-Owner Mark Harrah and the growing roster of engineers at Jasper Motorsports on post-season plans for testing and in-shop production as well as the search for a new crew chief following the departure of Ryan Pemberton following this weekend's race.
"We set some fairly high goals for the 2002 season, and we're close to reaching many of them," said Blaney, now 19th in the Winston Cup standings--19 points behind Jeff Green and 67 points behind Sterling Marlin--and second in overall miles- and laps-completed among all WC drivers.
"We've put in motion a pretty aggressive move toward an even more technical approach to our program, which already had a fair amount of engineering input from our staff. We've seen success with other programs this season--including the #12 (Penske South) team next door, the Ganassi Racing teams and the #32 team that brought many of its group from Cal Wells' CART program--that have increased their hands-on interaction between their engineering staff and their crew members.
"Mark (Harrah) has had the program pointed in that direction for a while, but our short-list of possibilities for a new crew chief reflects how serious they are about moving ahead even further with our in-house engineering program and also keeping up the steady progress we've made on the track. We've all made a pretty big commitment to each other on how we want to move forward next season. I'm comfortable with where this team is going and what we can accomplish next season."
Heading the effort to keep up with the sprawling multi-car teams, Harrah and co-owners Doug Bawel and Mark Wallace have completed a majority of their pre-planning for the 2003 season, including a reconfigured relationship with the Penske-Jasper Engine program that will now produce both Dodge and Ford power plants in the immediate future. Harrah admits that his expanded engineering staff is at the heart of the effort.
"I'm in it for the technology and the competition, because that's what really drives me," said Harrah. "Ford officials will tell you we are one of the more technically-oriented teams in here, and that's because I've driven that into the guys quite a bit. I believe that most of the racing is done in preparation back at the shop. That's where most of the races are won. And it's apparent that everyone's programs are becoming more focused on achieving gains through applied input from their engineers.
"I've used several Clemson post-graduates in engineering in our internship program. We're one of the few teams who really takes advantage of the kids going to college. I try to get post-graduate engineers who are going after their masters or doctors degree.
"I usually hire two, three or four interns every summer to help me on various projects. I'd say there are at least half a dozen kids out in the Winston Cup garage who have worked in the Jasper Motorsports shop. I get to pick their brains. It's worked out good. The two young guys I had this summer were in their second season with us. And the young guy I hired last month is an engineer from UNC-Charlotte. I try to handpick some of the best, and you can when you're at this level."
Harrah also feels that his team is well-positioned for the sport's future monetary trends, despite a perception that the program might not be as competitive financially with other mega-operations in the Winston Cup Series.
"We struggled for several years, when we were getting started and the sport was really starting to take off. From a monetary standpoint, we were relatively small. But we kept the team at a professional level. We ran it as a business. We've always prided ourselves on that. The cost (of Winston Cup Racing) is not intimidating for us at all with our unique arrangement being both co-owners and company-affiliated with the sponsor on the side of the race car. We're very efficient in our shop. We're probably half the size (in personnel) of some of these Winston Cup teams. We're not on a small budget. We put all our profits back into the team.
"If I thought we couldn't afford to compete up front, I'd get out. We're not in it just to be in it. And we don't want for a whole lot. We want some extra R&D and maybe some extra testing at the track. But as far as what we do to our race cars, and how many cars we have and what we have on our cars, I'll put them up against any multi-car teams. In fact we're ahead of some multi-car teams in the points. We feel like we can win any given day now. I wouldn't be surprised to see us win. We put a competitive car on the track every weekend. There are probably only four or five races this year that I felt we didn't have a car that could run in the top-15."
The other major questions for Blaney, Harrah and his co-owners originated from the mid-summer decision-making process by business partner Roger Penske and whether a proposed switch from Ford to Dodge would be beneficial for his drivers Rusty Wallace and Ryan Newman and his A-list organization. The subsequent decision for Penske South to switch to Daimler-Chrysler products in 2003 complicated the relationship between the Penske and Jasper programs, who co-owns Penske-Jasper Engines.
"With Penske's switch to Dodge, we've determined that we'll be able to coexist and also thrive within Penske-Jasper Engines program and that several areas can be common ground for both sides of the program," said Harrah. "It will certainly be interesting to see, with the Penske teams switching to Dodge, how the different trials and tribulations will play out. But a lot of the technical things we do will still be the same, just under different shell bodies. Even with our aero programs, we'll still be able to learn some things from them and use them with our program, despite the manufacturer change.
"Our engines are pretty unique, and a lot of that is because of the drive train. Basically because of our relationship with Ilmor Engineering--whose very involved with Mercedes development--a lot of that technology is carried over into our engines. I believe we'll still shy away from doing programs outside the Penske South-Jasper Motorsports organizations. We turn down customers all the time. The research and development in a customer engine program is pretty capital-intensive, and so is the personnel needed to keep up that business. And if you have two or three teams pull out, that can hurt you.
"The horsepower we've had this year has been phenomenal, but the reliability has been, too. Two of our PJE programs are 1-2 in laps completed (Wallace and Blaney--separated by only 38 laps) and we're second miles-completed, about 25 miles behind the #48 Hendrick Motorsports car, and the third car (Newman) leads the series in pole positions (6) so we've had powerful engines this season, but also engines that last.
"We just completed a project (at PJE) installing a state-of-the-art chassis dyno, and there's probably not another one like it anywhere. This chassis dyno is completely automated, and once it's started, you can get out of the car and get into the control and let it run 500 miles by itself (by computer). It throttles, it brakes, it does all that. So we can do longevity runs and look at loads on the whole drive train, something just the engine dyno can't quite simulate. Installing this dyno has been a trying experience because it's a one-off dyno, and we've had several setbacks. But we think we've got everything sorted out now. It's still in development, but we've had several good runs already.
"We're moving forward on a number of technical and performance-based fronts, and we hope that the new crew chief that we put in place will reflect a definitive move in that direction as well. We had set a goal at the start of the season to finish in the top-15. That was pretty ambitious and we won't quite get there with one race to go, but we have made substantial gains in many areas we had targeted, and Dave is working pretty closely with us on a future blueprint for growth and progress. And with the Miami race left for this season, we might still reach our goal of winning in 2002. If we don't, I still believe that we're not far off and that we're on the right track with Dave and the organizational plan we have in place for 2003."