Dodge Then & Now week of 2001-06-18

Dodge Develops Speed-to-Market Skills On Race Tracks Around the World SONOMA, Calif., June 20, 2001 - Dodge and Mopar are doing battle this month in some of the most challenging events in the world, from the road course at Sonoma to the short ...

Dodge Develops Speed-to-Market Skills On Race Tracks Around the World

SONOMA, Calif., June 20, 2001 - Dodge and Mopar are doing battle this month in some of the most challenging events in the world, from the road course at Sonoma to the short track at Memphis, and from less than five seconds on a quarter-mile drag strip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans. In all that competition, Dodge and Mopar have two objectives in mind - winning races and learning how to build better vehicles.

"Probably the biggest thing I've learned in racing is managing time," says Tim Culbertson, Program Manager for the Dodge NASCAR Winston Cup Program in Dodge Engineering. "Everything we do in a production car seems to be taken to another quantum level in racing. All the elements are there, it just seems like it's all compressed and taken to the extreme.

"I've never had a job where communication is so critical, so powerful and needed in such large quantities," continued Culbertson. "And everything is always fast; everybody races. I don't care if you are the manager or an engineer, crew chief or truck driver; everybody is doing everything as fast as it can possibly be done. And obviously, that's something we're looking at doing in production, also. When you deal with a race car going 190 miles per hour, quality is very important. And, obviously, in our production cars, quality is extremely important."

According to engineers who worked on Dodge race cars in the late 1960s and early 1970s, learning through racing is not a new concept for the brand. They say, for example, that techniques first used to develop the Dodge Charger Daytona in 1969 are still being used today.

"The Dodge Charger Daytona program was probably the speediest development that Chrysler has ever done," says Gary Romberg, now senior manager for the Aerodynamic Acoustic Wind Tunnel under construction at the DaimlerChrysler Technology Center.

According to Romberg and Dick Lajoie, who is now technical advisory manager for the full-scale tunnel being built in Auburn Hills, Dodge made the decision to develop the new Charger after losing the Daytona 500 in February of 1969. Dodge was determined to build a new car that would win the inaugural race in Talladega, Ala. that same year. To reach that goal, Dodge had to be different. The brand had to abandon traditional ways of doing things and try new concepts that could speed development. One example was something now called parallel development, where several steps were worked on at the same time, rather than being done sequentially.

"We were on the phone from the wind tunnel talking with the guys at the test track," said Romberg. "That's the only way it would work.

"Bob McCurry was the vice president, and he said 'Go do this thing.' Styling had nothing to do with it directly," continued Romberg. "The rest of engineering management had nothing to do with it. All of the people who were part of the little platform group - if I can call it that - were kind of on the outside of the system. And they worked well outside the system. I wouldn't call them outcasts, but they were not part of the mainstream of the production car stuff, and it was a way that Chrysler had never worked before."

Romberg and Lajoie say the project was a forerunner of the platform concept that is used today to bring cars and trucks to market quickly and efficiently. Like the platform teams of today, it borrowed people with various skills from their home departments and had them work together as a unit until the project was completed.

"That culture, I think, was the first culture that really showed the company you could do those kinds of things and be successful at it," said Romberg. "Now there were always comments about, 'Well, you guys only built 500 of those things, so you could do that.' But it was still looked on as a breakthrough and we moved away from 'throwing the stuff over the wall.' So we were kind of at the edge, I think, from a management standpoint. Did we all argue amongst ourselves? Of course we did. But everybody had the same goal in mind.

"When we developed the Daytona, we learned a lot from that experience," said Lajoie. "And, by the way, succeeded."

"Yes, in fact it was way too successful," added Romberg. "It was so successful that we were booted off the track in 1971."

When Dodge withdrew from NASCAR racing in the 1970s, Romberg and Lajoie got a chance to apply their aerodynamics experience to production cars.

"We reinvented ourselves as production car aerodynamicists," said Romberg. "The development work on fuel economy, engine and brake cooling, and wind noise, all came out of the technology of race cars."

The use of motorsports competition as a training tool extends beyond the teams competing before large groups of race fans. For example, young engineers now compete regularly in a sanctioned slalom course competition.

In this contest, the engineers are divided into small groups and each group is assigned a vehicle to work on. All the groups work on the same model. Their challenge is to improve the handling. The teams met three times this year at the DaimlerChrysler Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich., to test their handling improvements against the work of the other teams.

"The competitive environment of motorsports is a pretty good engineering development tool," said George McCord, durability test engineer at the Proving Grounds. McCord experienced the training possibilities first hand when he was loaned to the Dodge NASCAR truck program during its first three development years.

McCord says one lesson racing teaches young engineers is the inflexibility of deadlines. "We say, 'See that schedule? It's not going to change,'" said McCord.

"In the early days of the truck program, we pretty much defined 'just-in-time delivery,'" said McCord. "I can remember going to the airport to pick up an engine to replace one that expired during practice. We were on a steep learning curve in the development stages. We didn't win many races in the early years but Burlington Air Express made some money. We kept working hard and ultimately got to the level of success that is evident in the truck program today."

Culbertson sees several benefits from exposing young engineers to the racing program.

"First of all, they can get a total car experience with racing," said Culbertson. "You might be a chassis guy but you're going to get some engine experience, you're going to get some aero experience, and you're going to get some structure experience. So that's very, very good.

"Also, being trained at this high degree of work ethic that's required to be in a racing program will pay dividends as they go into the production world," continued Culbertson. "I like to think that a lot of the young engineers who come out of the racing program will go into production and help that process get faster.

"We have also developed some tools that we have been showing to production, as things they might want to look at. The data-acquisition systems we use are certainly worthy of being considered by production. They are very small, they are very light; they have a high degree of development. I know production has looked at that.

"We're taking some of the simulation programs to the limits, and that's something we can take back to production and say, 'We might have something here.' Ride handling, some of our kinematics programs, some of our suspension load programs; they're pretty sophisticated and they are helping us in the racing program, but I think they could be considered in production, also."

Culbertson, Romberg, Lajoie and McCord would agree on one thing - Dodge and its customers win even before its racing cars and trucks get to victory lane.

This week in Dodge history:

* 6/23/64 - Buck Baker got his first win of the year at Valdosta "75" Speedway in Georgia. Baker and his Ray Fox-prepared Dodge started second and were never out of contention during the 100-mile race on a half-mile dirt track. Baker led 44 laps during the early going, and then took the lead again for the final time with less than three miles to go to the finish.

* 6/25/66 - David Pearson won a 100-mile Grand National race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway, Greenville, S.C., after officials delayed the start so he could make repairs. The rest of the field howled in protest. Pearson won the pole but an axle broke on his second lap of qualifying. Cotton Owens and the crew hustled to fix Pearson's Dodge but they were not finished by the scheduled time for the start of the race. Speedway officials waited to start the race until Pearson was ready. He led every lap, averaging 66.286 mph for his 22nd career victory.

* 6/21/69 - Bobby Isaac won the Greenville 200 at Greenville-Pickens Speedway for his ninth victory of the season. Isaac and his K&K Insurance Dodge passed Pearson during the 109th lap and led the rest of the way. Isaac also had to survive a protest that day as Ralph Moody and Dick Hutcherson filed a protest in writing before the start of the race. NASCAR officials supervised the engine teardown and declared the Harry Hyde-built machine to be in compliance with the rules.

* 6/20/71 - Bobby Allison pushed his Dodge around the Dodge of Ray Elder and drove to victory in the Winston Golden State 400 at Riverside, Calif. It was the fourth win in a row for Allison, who reportedly used the latest "technology" in his independently owned Dodge. "I was wired for sound," said Allison. "I had a radio hook-up with my brother Eddie in the pits and it helped a lot. There was one wreck which had the track almost blocked. The caution never came out. My crew hollered at me about the wreck, so I was on my toes. I got by without any trouble. If I hadn't known about it, I might have plowed right into it."

* 6/23/71 - Bobby Allison won his fifth straight race by taking the checkered flag in the Space City 300 at Meyer Speedway in Houston, Texas. Only 14 cars entered the race; 11 were running at the end. (Allison's bid for a sixth straight win was foiled three days later at the Pickens 200 in Greenville.

-Dodge Motorsports-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series History , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dick Hutcherson , Bobby Allison , David Pearson