Carmen Smith Talks About GM Racing's Sport-Compact Program Discusses Evolution And Long-Term Tuner Objectives DETROIT, July 5, 2005 - As program manager for sport-compact drag racing at GM, Carmen Smith directs the day-to-day marketing, ...
Carmen Smith Talks About GM Racing's Sport-Compact Program
Discusses Evolution And Long-Term Tuner Objectives
DETROIT, July 5, 2005 - As program manager for sport-compact drag racing at GM, Carmen Smith directs the day-to-day marketing, engineering and administrative activities of one of the most successful operations in the sport. Since taking over the reins of the GM Racing Sport Compact program in March 2004, Smith has been instrumental in the development of the Chevy Cobalt Phase5 and its accompanying GM Sport Compact Performance Build Book (Part Number 88958646), defended championships in NHRA Pro FWD and HOT ROD, brought in sport-compact stalwart Gary Gardella into the Chevy Racing camp, and carefully guided the GM Racing Sport Compact program toward its next stage of development.
"GM wants to make our products the hardware of choice among Sport Compact racers and enthusiasts," explains Smith. "We know what an important and dynamic market this is, and we know that we came in at a disadvantage to companies that were already competing. But now GM is out there, proving that our parts win races, and we will do whatever we can to help racers be successful with their ECOtec engine, Hydra-Matic transmission and Chevy Cobalt race cars."
Under Smith's watch, GM and GM-affiliated programs continue to demonstrate the excellence and durability of GM Racing hardware by winning races and setting new records at nearly every venue in both the NHRA Sony Xplod and NDRA XBOX racing series. In the following question-and-answer session, Smith discusses the evolution and long-term objectives of the GM Racing Sport Compact program.
How did you become involved in the GM Racing program? Have you always been a fan of the sport?
"GM Racing was looking for someone with both marketing and engineering experience to fill this job, and my background matched that. Of course, as with any job, there was also a bit of being at the right place at the right time. I've always been a race fan, but primarily of road racing. I watched a lot of CART, back in their day, as well as ALMS and F-1. Drag Racing was new to me, but I love the cutting-edge technology, energy and youthfulness of the sport-compact scene."
Talk about your role as sport-compact drag racing manager and what that encompasses.
"It's probably the least glamorous role on the team. I manage the budget, pay bills, negotiate contracts and navigate the GM system. I serve as a liaison to marketing teams at GM as well as outside customers, suppliers, supported teams and sponsors. I worry about logistics, fulfilling commitments and meeting deadlines. I do get to set the overall strategy and goals for the race program, as well as plan for how the program will be run in 2006. And, I work with a great team of really smart guys. Our engineers are the best anywhere. I also get to work with great racers like Gary Gardella and his team. Working with smart people who maintain a positive attitude and a desire to win is what makes my job fun."
How important is on-track performance in delivering the GM Racing message?
"On-track performance will always be important. No one wants to race an engine whose performance capabilities are questionable. GM Racing's job was, and still is, to demonstrate that enthusiasts can meet their performance goals using GM parts. Racing, winning and setting records is how we prove that. What has become secondary is a championship title. We won two championships in both NHRA Pro FWD and HOT ROD in 2003, and repeated in 2004. This year, we want to go to the best-attended and regionally diverse events in an effort to get our products in front of as many people as possible."
Can you talk about some of the success GM Racing has experienced in terms of stressing and improving parts and making it more affordable for racers to compete. How about in terms of making parts more easily available? "Our race team is continually pushing the ECOtec engine to the next level of performance. That is why you sometimes see our factory team struggle. Development is a tough job, but it allows us to give other racers information and parts that we know work. We've developed what we believe to be an excellent racing package for Gary Gardella's Hot Rod/Pro 4 Cylinder Chevy Cobalt. We proved-out that package last year in our Sunfire. Now Gary is running it with only minor changes and he is having great success. We're especially proud of our Hydra-Matic transmission. It is a production-based transmission that racers can get from GM Racing for much less than most race-ready transmissions, and Gary proves the Hydra-Matic's performance every time he goes to the track. GM Racing offers other race-proven parts for sale as well."
How do you help independent racers using GM parts?
"First is development and testing. We leveraged our factory team as a development platform for our race parts, which allows us to offer parts that have already been tested at the track. Second is trackside support. We've done everything from providing spare parts to welding and fabricating to loaning out our engine hoist. Third, and most importantly, is information. We have an 'open pit' where racers are welcome to ask questions and look at what we've done. We've published our GM Sport Compact Performance Build Book with lots of details on our race components and we answer questions through our e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, in October, we will be conducting a class for racers who want to learn even more about ECOtec, Hydra-Matic and Cobalt. It's difficult for us as racers to give away our hard-earned secrets, but we remove ourselves from that mindset by remembering that we are here to sell cars and parts."
The development of the Chevy Cobalt Phase5 and how the car plays into GM Racing's long-term tuner strategy.
"We developed the Cobalt Phase5 in order to demonstrate that what we've learned at the Pro level can be applied to making a great race car at the sportsman level. The Cobalt Phase5 is a very attainable race car. Someone with a good shop and knowledge of engine and chassis build-up can create their own version of the Cobalt Phase5. We currently have two Cobalt Phase5 cars on the track; one with Brittany Kindle on the east coast and one with Erica Nocita on the west coast. In 2006, we hope to see more Cobalt Phase5 cars racing. We'll be helping racers build their own cars by providing them with the parts and knowledge that they need. The whole point of the Phase5 is that someone other than GM could build and be successful with this car, and that's what we want to foster in 2006."
How has bringing Gary Gardella into the GM Racing camp been received and how pleased are you with his performance?
"We couldn't be happier with our relationship with Gardella Racing, and I think Gary's switch from Honda to GM has been very well received. Gary is a racer and racers understand that this is about striving to win. I think Gary wanted to work with GM because GM offers the best opportunity to succeed. And he has been doing great. Not only is he an excellent racer who relates well with the fan base, but he is a pleasure to work with. He is always excited about racing, and he goes above and beyond in terms of fulfilling his obligations to GM and his other sponsors."
GM Racing's continued focus on safety.
"GM Racing has a strong focus on safety. The HANS device is a big part of what we are supporting in terms of racing safety. All of our sport compact drivers wear a HANS device, and we are more than happy to help any racers get their HANS questions answered. We are also fortunate to have access to wind-tunnel testing. In the wind tunnel we work to improve vehicle stability for this FWD application. We try to be open about these developments so that other racers can easily copy them. We are very strict about adhering to our safety standards, everything from the HANS device and proper driver apparel to the safety associated with our high standards of vehicle construction."
The purpose of the GM Sport Compact Performance Build Book, why it's unique in motorsports and how do aspiring racers get one?
"As far as I know, no other manufacturer is doing anything like the GM Sport Compact Performance Build Book. This book gives information on how to take the ECOtec engine from stock to 1400hp and every level in between. We also provide details on our race-prepared Hydra-Matic 4T65 transmission, which we use in applications up to 1200hp. We've included a pictorial description of the build-up of our Cobalt Phase5 car. And, most importantly, there are lots of parts lists so that racers can know where to get parts for their own ECOtec-powered cars. The book is available for free from our race team, the GM Tuner Tour, and on-line at www.gmtunersource.com. Customers can also order books from GM Performance Parts dealers (part number 88958646)."
How will things be different in 2006?
"For 2006, GM will move into a support-only role. We will move our Pro FWD car from a factory-run team to an independent factory-supported team, much like we did with our HOT ROD program for this year. And we will continue to expand our sportsman-level program. We hope to find a couple of race shops that want to build their own Cobalt Phase5 car, with GM Racing's help. We still plan on being at the track to support racers with things such as replacement parts, data analysis, welding and fabrication capabilities and engine swaps. GM will continue to take a very active role in Sport Compact Drag racing, we'll just be approaching it from a different angle."