GM Racing/Don Taylor interview

Don Taylor discusses GM Racing's Drag Racing program DETROIT, Sept. 30, 2003 - In his role as Group Manager of Drag Racing, Don Taylor oversees GM Racing's NHRA POWERade and Sport Compact motorsports programs with responsibility for ...

Don Taylor discusses GM Racing's Drag Racing program

DETROIT, Sept. 30, 2003 - In his role as Group Manager of Drag Racing, Don Taylor oversees GM Racing's NHRA POWERade and Sport Compact motorsports programs with responsibility for administering engine, aero and chassis resources. He also manages GM Racing's far-reaching Safety Program.

Taylor's 17-year tenure at General Motors includes serving as GM Racing's business planning manager and group manager for NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch, and Craftsman Truck Series programs. In addition he has developed and implemented innovations such as the use of the production Vortec V8 engine in the ASA stock car racing series.

Describe the progress of the GM DRCE III. "The current engine has been out there for many years. It was time to give it a second look and make it more in line with the needs of what the race teams are looking for today. The new design will have built-in features that in the old design, teams were trying to cobble in by hand. The other thing we want to do is improve the design so that we can minimize casting problems, and reduce the prep work that teams are doing. The goal is to help them lower their costs and the time it takes to get these engine parts ready for competition It should be on the track later this year."

What are some of the technological elements GM Racing provides to its drag-racing teams? "GM Racing can help the teams to understand the engineering behind their vehicles in a number of ways. With some basic knowledge of aerodynamics at 200 m.p.h., the stress in the vehicle's structure coming off the line, and how a shock absorber behaves, a team can be better equipped with the tools to tune their car. We try to help them to help themselves. But the biggest emphasis for us, and the teams, is on the engine. The engine design is really a joint effort between GM Racing and the teams. The engine block and cylinder-head design, once developed with input from the teams, must be submitted by the manufacturer for approval by NHRA. We must be confident that we are creating a piece that is of high quality, that is cost effective, and that will have some life to it so that it can be competitive for several years. The body is something else that only the manufacturer can submit. It has to be good from the start. Once it's out there on the racetrack, NHRA is not going to let you make changes on it from race to race, and sometimes, from year to year. It has to be well balanced and manufactured with the strength to survive a season of competition. We do a lot of aerodynamic refinement in the GM wind tunnel to make the body competitive. This means low drag and balanced downforce, front to rear. At the same time, we must of course stick closely to the production design of the Grand Am and Cavalier, and to the NHRA templates and measurements for those brands."

How closely does GM Racing work with its race teams to promote success on the track? "The interesting aspect of this sport to me is that in Pro Stock, and really, up and down the classes in NHRA, the driver, typically, is also the team owner. It's a sport of individuals who want to compete and put together the package themselves to do that. In working with our race teams, we're directly in touch with the driver, who is also the person that worries about the budget, getting the engine tuned, and getting the whole package down the road. They let us know what they're thinking and what they're looking for. We work closely with a number of the GM teams. Of course, they're competing against each other, so we're careful not to do more for one team than another. When you look at the results, you see how closely these cars race from week to week. You are just as likely to see a Cavalier as a Grand Am take the win. And the winning driver's advantage will come from something he has done, not us."

What are some of the ways GM Racing brings its safety message to drag racing? "First of all, let me say, with innovations like the Safety Safari, NHRA has a great safety record. They have been thinking about safety since their founding over 50 years ago. The sanctioning body has a great set of rules governing how they run the sport and for the cars themselves. We started a safety program over 10 years ago at GM Racing when we first put crash-recorder boxes into Indy cars. Since then, we've gone on to learn a lot about driver compartment safety, centering around seatbelts, seats, HANS, padding, rollcages and whatever surrounds the driver. Working with NHRA over the last couple of years, we've found them to be very open minded to some of the things we've learned from our own laboratory testing. They've been open to looking at refinements to belts and seats, and fine tuning things they already have in place. We're very pleased to be able to work with NHRA and discuss safety issues. We want to keep evolving the safety for these drivers to be better and better."

Is there a fluid transfer of information between the different racing series where GM is a participant? "GM Racing is a fairly small group and we all work under the same roof. This is really an advantage from the standpoint that the people working on the IRL program or our NASCAR program are nearby. We can borrow their talents, look over their shoulders to see what kind of things they're doing, and vice versa. In my case, I came to drag racing after working in NASCAR for seven years. I've seen how that business works, how teams approach problems and I'm able to bring some of that thinking over to our drag racing program."

Are there technological transfers that take place between production and racecar? "We often find that there are things like the SC/T Ram Air Grand Am front end that you'll see in production and on our racecars. While the rules don't allow it to direct air into the race engine, it still plays a role in smoothing airflow over the front of the car. I think the real transfer you find is in the approach to solving problems by our engineers. Racing is such a fast-paced demanding environment that it requires you to resolve problems immediately. When our engineers go back into the production side of the business, they are prepared to create better cars and trucks for the street."

What are some of the new technologies being utilized at GM Racing? "In racing, we're seeing more and more use of computer analysis in terms of recording what a car does on the track, simulating vehicle dynamics, and simulating engine kinetics. These are the latest tools being developed for production car design and they are finding many applications in racing. For aerodynamic analysis, Computational Fluid Dynamics is a way to show on a computer screen how air flows over the vehicle or through the engine. These tools are being used more and more at GM Racing."

Who are some of the contributors to GM Racing's success on the quarter-mile? "At GM Racing we have a well-balanced team. Fred Simmonds does a great job of taking care of the marketing and promotional side of our involvement. My group is responsible for providing tech support and information to the race teams. We have experts in engine design like Ron Sperry and Russ O'Blenes who contribute to our program. Josh Peterson, program manager for our NHRA Summit Sport Compact team also contributes to our aerodynamic research on our Pro Stock teams. We were also fortunate to have the services of Shane Smith for two years and now he's gone back into powertrain production. Dan Engle will continue our efforts to get the GM DRCE III into production. Dan comes over from the fast-paced world of the IRL and will be a tremendous addition to our drag racing team. Toby Graham assists teams at the track with electronics and data acquisition issues. And Tom Gideon is our racing safety manager, working across all of GM's programs. We bring all of these skills together, and that enables us to provide a comprehensive coverage when it comes to helping our GM Pro-Stock racing teams."

Looking ahead. "When I look at NHRA I see great potential for the future. The thing about drag racing is that it's pure sport - pure racing to the finish line, there are no pit stops, no yellow flags and no restarts. Our goal at GM Racing is to make it easier for people to race. This means making parts available through GM Performance Parts that are fully competitive, reasonably priced, and have the quality and durability to withstand the rigors of racing. They must perform to the racer's expectations. Looking at the overwhelming number of GM products winning in NHRA through the years, we see our job as continuing this heritage. With our newest venture in the rapidly growing Summit Sport-Compact series, we have a younger demographic who have smaller budgets. Our Cavalier Pro FWD and Sunfire Hot Rod program intends to show them that GM has the cars and the engines that are easily modified, readily available, and that we can help them compete. Even though we're racing 850 - 1000 horsepower Ecotec-powered cars, the lessons learned there will trickle down with parts and technology for the other Sport-Compact classes."

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