Robbie Loomis, Executive Director of Race Operations of Petty Enterprises, was a feature guest on the NASCAR Teleconference. HERB BRANHAM: We're now joined by the vice president of racing operations for Petty Enterprises, Robbie ...
Robbie Loomis, Executive Director of Race Operations of Petty Enterprises, was a feature guest on the NASCAR Teleconference.
HERB BRANHAM: We're now joined by the vice president of racing operations for Petty Enterprises, Robbie Loomis.
Robbie, maybe we could start off, talk to us from your perspective about how the Car of Tomorrow project is going to benefit some of the slightly smaller organizations competing in NASCAR Nextel Cup, like Petty Enterprises.
ROBBIE LOOMIS: It's going to be exciting. I'm really looking forward to Bristol. I think probably the biggest thing is all the unknowns going into Bristol. When I look at the Car of Tomorrow, if we take the number one thing that it was created and designed for, and Petty Enterprises got involved in it, especially Kyle driving it about two years ago, was really the safety factor.
When I look at our race teams, what Petty Enterprises has, our biggest assets is our drivers in all the race teams, especially with Bobby Labonte and Kyle Petty. Anything we can do to help protect them and keep them safe is what we're looking for. I think the Car of Tomorrow has done a great job with that.
With that being said, it's created a different set of circumstances. The aerodynamics has changed a lot on the car so the chassis and handling part of the car is really going to come into play a lot more, especially as we go down the line and get into Martinsville and then Darlington, a lot of the other racetracks we're running at.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll now take questions from the media for Robbie Loomis.
Q: With Jeff Gordon talking about during the Bristol test that those guys were on the bump stops all the time going through the corner, Clint Bowyer talking about things flying off through the corners, Bristol has the record for cautions in a NASCAR race, 20 or 21 on a couple of occasions. Do you think it's going to be a necessary evil until people get these things figured out, could there be a record number of cautions, these guys trying to get a handle on driving the cars this first race?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: It's definitely going to be a lot different as far as getting the car set up, handling. It's funny, watching the cars the first day compared to even after the dinner break, we got to run till 9 that first day, and if you went and watched in the corners, the cars were bouncing a lot. It's funny, the cars that were running the best, they weren't bouncing a lot. After dinner, everybody's car started to settle down, get in a groove, run in the bottom of racetrack.
I think the potential's definitely there. The great ones are going to figure it out and it will be a great race coming down to that last lap. Everybody will be talking about the last lap at Bristol instead of the Car of Tomorrow.
Q: How long is it going to take for teams to see cost savings out of this?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: That's a great question. I think, you know, in the beginning there's no doubt, especially this year with having the phase-in, we've been fortunate here at Petty Enterprises, Jeff Troxler has been full-time on the Car of Tomorrow, and really put a lot of effort into just that project. But when you run two parallel programs, trying to run the current existing body on the mile-and-a-half tracks, then going to the Car of Tomorrow, there's going to be quite the expense.
I think as we change stuff over, I think that's why there's been a lot of conversation in voting for the team talking towards going next year to the Car of Tomorrow across the board. So there's going to be a lot of expense in the beginning. I think down the road it's going to be a great thing.
I think the biggest thing I keep drawing back to is it's complicated, it's going to bring a lot of challenges, but the main reason we're doing it is for the safety of the drivers. I think about it, like even when they mandated the HANS device, there are some drivers jumped up and down, hated it, thought it was the worst thing in the world. If you look back now, they've probably been through some accidents and they're very glad they had that HANS device, and it was a big part of the safety.
It's going to be costly in the beginning, but I think in the end we're going to take and move that money in other areas and still use a lot of money to make it happen.
Q: Is that when it helps you become more competitive with bigger teams?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: I think as far as that part of it, there's probably a little benefit that's going to come from that. When it comes to being competitive and winning, it really comes down to the people. We have a lot of great people here at Petty Enterprises, we keep strengthening that up more and more. It's not rules or NASCAR things that determines whether we win or lose, it's the job we're doing here at Petty Enterprises, or the Hendrick organization and other organizations out there.
I think if there's one place it will probably help is right now when you're a smaller organization, a lot of time you're chasing what the bigger teams are doing and they're able to react and respond to things quicker and make changes quicker to the body and offset the roofs and do different things, where in a smaller team, seems like you're always one step behind whatever the latest, greatest thing is. As John alluded to earlier in the conference, now they've drawn a little bit tighter box around a lot of areas. We're going to keep the same amount of people; we're just going to go to work in different areas of the car and pay a lot of attention to details going forward.
Q: Safety is the major factor in this car. What are some of the new safety features that drivers and fans are going to notice right away?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: That's a great question. I think the biggest thing that stands out probably when you're watching a race on Sunday is when you see the driver's window net up, a lot of the times the driver's helmet is right against the window net, sometimes pressing outside the window net a little bit. In the Car of Tomorrow, he's moved over approximately two or three inches towards the center of the vehicle. So whenever there's a left-side impact, it will definitely put his head a lot further away from harm's way.
There's things like padding in the sides for the impact. Outside of the door bars, if the car was to T-bone in the door bars. Probably the biggest area that I notice that people don't look at is the drive shaft area. They've really strengthened that up. If a drive shaft flies out of a car, that's one thing I always worry about most with these race cars. With the tunnel, they way they have constructed that, it's going to be very safe for the drier. Even if the drive shaft comes out, the driver should be completely safe.
Q: With your experience in testing and stuff, is it comfortable to drive, comparable to the cars they're driving now?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: I question Kyle and Bobby a lot about that when they drove up at Bristol. It's funny, when they're in the car, it's basically the same race car they've been in. It's not really changed. They do have more room in the cockpit. That's the one thing I think they both noticed, is there's a lot more room, which makes it safer inside the cockpit.
But besides really knowing the difference, I don't think they really know much difference.
Q: As a former crew chief, do what extent does the Car of Tomorrow take away your latitude to creative and sort of inventive in building a fast car? Has it taken away some of your fun or reward?
ROBBIE LOOMIS: I don't think so. It's a good question. I think it changed. It changes the focus. I think in the past it used to be we focused so much on the chassis, the handling, springs, trailing arms, sway bar, shocks, that's really where we found all of our advantages beating a guy through the corner. In the last few years, you've seen a lot of cars now they run with the nose down, spoiler up. They really -- we focus so hard, our fab shop guys at the Petty Enterprises work so hard on the aerodynamics on the bodies of the car to keep making the body better and better. Now it changes your focus a lot. Now you're focusing a lot more back on the chassis, the handling of the racecar, the mechanical part of the car versus the aero side of it.
Continued in part 2