TONY RAINES The Car of Tomorrow, Today! CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- Throughout the last 10-20 years, the world around us has changed. A little more than 10 years ago, everyone kept hearing about how the Internet and World Wide Web...
The Car of Tomorrow, Today!
CORNELIUS, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- Throughout the last 10-20 years, the world around us has changed.
A little more than 10 years ago, everyone kept hearing about how the Internet and World Wide Web would eventually be accessible right in our own homes. We heard about it, discovered it, and now we wonder how we ever lived without it.
A few years ago, the general population began hearing about HDTV or high-definition television. The picture was supposed to be so good, so clear and so amazing that we would just have to own one.
Now, everyone seems to have or is getting a "high-def" TV. (Which, by the way, if you're interested in HDTV and don't own one, make sure the one you buy is powered by DLP. Remember -- it's amazing, it's the mirrors.)
Like the Internet or HDTV, in the past few years everyone in NASCAR has been hearing about the Car of Tomorrow (COT). The car looks different, as it features a front splitter and a rear wing and is a few inches higher than the standard stock car it is replacing. There has been plenty of research and development, plenty of complaints and compliments, and overall, just a lot of talk about the COT.
Well, the time is finally here. At this weekend's Food City 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series event at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Tony Raines and the DLP HDTV team will join 42 other teams and drivers for the very first race of the COT era.
Brandon Thomas, crew chief for Hall of Fame Racing and the No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet, has plenty of experience with the COT. Before coming to Hall of Fame Racing to be Raines' crew chief, Thomas played a major role in the development of the COT. He has countless hours of research and development with the car and was involved from the very beginning.
Raines and Thomas are hoping that all those hours of experience will pay off with success at Bristol.
TONY RAINES (Driver, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
What are your overall thoughts heading into Bristol?
"It's a really exciting event, and with the Car of Tomorrow, it's going to be interesting. It's kind of the great unknown right now. We had a good test there, so we'll see if that pays off. It will still be the same old Bristol, though, even with the COT. I've never left Bristol and not seen anybody, myself included, not mad at something. Everybody kind of goes into Bristol knowing that things can get hairy at some point. I'm going to go there and try to keep my nose clean and get a solid finish. That sounds like the right thing to do."
You took part in the NASCAR COT test at Bristol earlier this month. How did that go?
"It went OK. I'd like to be a little better. I think we were in the top-15 out of 50 or 60 cars, so that was encouraging. At Bristol the times are really, really tight, but I think we gained a little bit throughout the test and hopefully gathered enough information to make that even better. It's a different animal, for sure, especially at Bristol with the track being so banked and rough. With the amount of travel you get, it really makes a big difference in the car."
What is the key to running well at Bristol? Is it handling, power or luck?
"You need to handle well, but you need luck -- lots of luck. The fastest car doesn't always win there. You're racing 500 laps in tight quarters with a ton of traffic. I think I'd give up 25 horsepower just to have a bucket of luck there."
What does 500 laps at Bristol do to you physically?
"It is a demanding track, physically, because of the banking. It kind of slams you down in the car and slams you into the right side of the seat. It seems like it's never going to end. Then at about lap 300, you get your second wind and then it starts to ease its way out. You just get into a really good rhythm. The race pace is considerably slower than what you run in practice on Friday. The track will build up a lot of rubber. To me, as the race goes on, the track gets wider and bigger -- likes it's got more room. It's gets to be fun to drive, especially if your car is still in one piece. Bristol's always a lot of fun. It's fun for some people. You're not always on that fun list. When it's over, there will be a handful of people who had fun and one lucky guy will be the winner."
BRANDON THOMAS (Crew Chief, No. 96 DLP HDTV Chevrolet):
You had quite a bit of involvement with the COT project while you were working at Joe Gibbs Racing. Describe your involvement.
"Basically, we built a prototype car and did a lot of testing with it. My role was really to head up the testing with the various drivers -- Denny (Hamlin), J.J. (Yeley), Aric (Almirola) -- and go do some research on what we wanted to build on our final COT. Things like suspension geometry and aerodynamics -- just basic things like what the setup is going to involve on a COT versus a standard car."
Have you ever been a part of something like this, having to basically design and research a whole new car?
"To me, that's kind of the nuts and bolts, fun stuff of the business. It's very similar to my time in the Champ Car Series (with Dan Gurney's All American Racers) where we built our own chassis and suspension. You went out and did very basic benchmarking tests and then research programs on everything. It's really no different than just development on another crush clip or chassis design on the current car."
When did you start work on the COT?
"At Gibbs, we participated with NASCAR on one of their early prototypes. I remember Jimmy (Makar, vice president of racing operations, Joe Gibbs Racing) went to a test at Atlanta with Brett Bodine driving, when they were in the spoiler stage before they had gone to the rear wing. It was about February 2006 when we really started."
Are your surprised that Bristol, the first race, is finally here?
"Not really. Basically, the progression is you start a project and at some point in time you have to finish it. This is definitely not set in stone, the configuration we'll run at Bristol. It's pretty close to the configuration we've worked on in the last six or seven months. The first big NASCAR test was at Charlotte last year after the '600.' Really, from that point until now, the car has not changed a whole lot. There've been some body tweaks to make it look a little bit better and fix a couple of template issues here and there, but in all honesty, we've kind of evolved that package into the race car."
What can we expect at Bristol, and is Bristol the best place to start out with the COT?
"They're smart in the fact that the first two races we're going to run (Bristol and Martinsville) are very, very low on the aerodynamic supremacy scale. Obviously you wouldn't want to roll it out for the first time at a place like Indianapolis or Michigan. We have tested at Michigan and Charlotte and we can make the car go around those places, but in a pack of 43, it's going to be a lot tougher. I think by rolling it out at the places they've decided to, you're going to see a minimal amount of impact when a crash happens and a splitter gets ripped off. Obviously, nobody is going to want to run it without the rear wing on -- you're not even allowed to. Even at a place like Bristol that'd be a hairy proposition. Basically, at Bristol and Martinsville, you're looking at doing a significant amount of damage to your car, but not really affecting the way it's going to drive."
How is this changing the dynamics of NASCAR? If you get in an accident, is it different than fixing a current car and if you have damage, are you out for good?
"No. The wing is mandatory, just like the spoiler is in the current rules. Obviously, it's mandatory because no one in their right mind would want to drive without it. So, it causes you to build wreck-repair carts the same way we build wreck-repair carts now. The splitter really changes things because it's so sensitive. It's not like running through the grass now and bending the valance in and coming in and hammering it back out. If you run through the grass and tear up the mounts for the splitter, now you've got to have a whole lower nose to put on the car to get a splitter back on there. The next six months is going to be a real rapid pace of development of pieces and parts to try and get a car repaired during a race."
What do you see as the positives and negatives of the COT?
"I think on the positive side, there are a couple of safety things I do like in the car. There are a couple of things in terms of the attention paid to softening the impact. I didn't agree with the foam direction, but it was a direction and it was a right step. I also didn't do 100 percent of that testing. Things like that where they really try and bring in some of the safety innovations they've done with the driver restraints and the tracks, they're now bringing into the actual frame rail of the car as well, and that's a step in the right direction. The negatives, you know, a lot of people are going to complain about the look of the car. I made the quote last year during the test at Milwaukee that I'd seen the thing for 5,000 miles and it looked like a car to me. The wing doesn't bother me because I came from open wheel cars. The splitter doesn't bother me because I worked on Trans-Am cars. All that stuff doesn't really bother me in terms of the race car. A stock car fan -- it's going to be a bit of a transition for them. Do I think the current car is sexier? Yes. But, when they're all painted up and have decals, they look like a car."
How hard is it to go back and forth between the new car and the old car?
"Going back and forth is very tough. A typical team carries about 13-14 chassis. Go back a year and we carried 13-14 chassis to get through the season. Now, we have built five brand new cars this year. Two of them are current cars. We built three COTs and are building our fourth COT now and will build our fifth next week. You're just working very, very hard to get your inventory up and we haven't even gotten to the road course issue yet. We're working on it. Joe Gibbs Racing is working on it. Plans are in place, but we've haven't got there and done it yet. So, that pace of just physical labor is very taxing. We're trying to outthink the competition a little bit and make some nice things, and make some things that are going to work and give us an advantage here and there. You're not just thinking about one style of car, your thinking about two completely different styles of car right now. I'm very much looking forward to the day that this transition is over -- whatever that path ends up being. I really honestly think there will be several tweaks to this car before it is the car, set in stone, and run it all year long."
How did the COT test at Bristol go for the DLP team?
"The test went well. We were pretty happy. We were quick on the speed charts -- right around top-10 in every session but the first one when we were just shaking down the car. You can't read a whole lot into that, because if we had picked up six-hundredths of a second, we would have been second on the chart -- not necessarily a true indication of performance. We feel we have several things to work on when we go back. We know some areas that we really need to get better at in three or four weeks time. It was a good test. We were far better than most people, but we weren't the best and there were people way better than us, so we still have work to do."