Fernandez, Wehrly, Flack interview, part II

Dodge Trio bring passion for racing to motorsports program. Part 2 of 2. JOHN WEHRLY (Engineering Manager - Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance Parts) Wehrly is responsible for the technical management of all Chrysler Group race programs...

Dodge Trio bring passion for racing to motorsports program. Part 2 of 2.

JOHN WEHRLY (Engineering Manager - Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance Parts)

Wehrly is responsible for the technical management of all Chrysler Group race programs including oval-track, drag and sports compact racing. Formerly the Technical Manager of Dodge's NASCAR Craftsman Truck program from 1998-2002, Wehrly increases his role to supervise all levels of Chrysler Group racing in 2003. Wehrly will also oversee the technical operations of Mopar Performance Parts, including the engineering of parts and the coordination of engineering for new products, including the Viper Competition coupe. Wehrly joined Chrysler in 1962 as an engine specialist in the engine cooling lab. In 1968 he was the mechanical development engineer for the Race Group and worked with Petty Enterprises and Harry Hyde, then crew chief of the No. 71 K & K Insurance Dodge (with drivers Buddy Baker, Dave Marcis, and Bobby Isaac ) Wehrly received his B.S. in Mechanical Engineering at Tri-State College in Indiana, and his Master's in Professional Management at the University of Michigan. He has been an avid runner for more than 20 years, and has competed in 13 consecutive Boston Marathons.

Q: How did your passion for racing begin?

A: I grew up on a farm in Portland, Ind., just a few miles from Winchester, Ind. The farm kids would always compete with homemade go-karts. We'd run around in the fields racing, but at that time I didn't know other people raced. My dad was a Dodge dealer. He started after WWII, and I was always involved in mechanical stuff. I went to a race with my brother and began to understand the competitive side of racing. It wouldn't matter if you were running or riding a bicycle or go-kart, I always wanted to be faster than the other guy.

Q: What was it like working with the Pettys in 60s and 70s?

A: I helped with engine development in the late 60s, and I worked with Maurice Petty a lot on engine stuff. We went from the wedge to the hemi to the small blocks with the wing cars. We'd get rule changes and then figure out whatever we could to be just as competitive after the rule changes. It was a lot of fun then trying to compensate for the changes just like it is now.

Q: What's different for the Dodge Winston Cup program in 2003?

A: The focus this season is going to be on winning the championship. The focus is not on next year or development or winning races. We've got enough experience now, and our teams are comfortable with the car and the engine. The vehicle has a new body like all the other competitors, and I think our teams have the confidence they need. They understand the car well. We've got more depth. We've got excellent teams and drivers and I think we're in solid shape to go racing.

Q: You're 64 years old, but you still have quite a reputation as a runner. How did that develop?

A: The company got in a little financial trouble in 1980 and stopped racing. I went back to a production job, but I wanted to keep racing, so I started running. I guess I've been in 800-900 foot races. Foot racing is just like car racing. You've got to be prepared and train if you're going to be successful. I competed in 13 straight Boston Marathons. My best time was about 3:05, but my last race in 1999 was about 3:55. I trained about 80 miles a week and ran every day when I was doing the marathons. I still run about five days a week, six or seven miles a day.

Q: How much longer do you plan to work before retirement?

A: I suppose in the next year or two I'll have to consider it. I know I don't have a lot of time left to work, but I'd like to see Dodge win a Winston Cup and Craftsman Truck Series championship before I hang it up. If we could win the manufacturers' titles in both divisions, too, that would tickle me pink. I think we're ready to win in both divisions, and it sure would be fun if we could win 'em both this year.

TED FLACK (Manager, NASCAR Engine Programs, Dodge Engineering)

Flack is responsible for Program Management of Engineering Resources for NASCAR Programs at Dodge Motorsports. This involves research and development, parts design and distribution, and engineering support for the Dodge Teams. Formerly the manager of Dodge engine development for the NASCAR programs, Flack has worked with engine prototyping since 1980. Previously he was involved in the race programs from 1976-1980. He worked in that group until Dodge withdrew from auto racing in 1980. In the 1970s, Flack owned and drove cars competing in NHRA Super Stock and Modified classes. Before leaving drag racing in 1980, Flack had won several regional and national class championships.

Q: Like Fernandez and Wehrly, you know what it's like to compete in motorsports competition. Does being a former driver help you in your present position?

A: All successful drivers have a passion for racing, and I think you've got to have passion to be successful in any job. I grew up in Michigan, and everybody was into cars more then. Everybody had a hot rod and worked on their cars. I got into drag racing, and I was not good enough to turn professional, but I was good enough to pay the bills with it and that was saying something. Then I got with the race group and started doing NASCAR stuff for a living.

Q: How important is chemistry in racing?

A: I'd say it's a pretty exact science. You've got to work hard to win, but you've got to have the right chemistry to be really successful. I've worked with John Wehrly for 30 years, and we've got a lot in common. What we have most in common is we're both bad losers. We've got our stuff in place now. We've got the right people. We bit off a big chunk when we came back to NASCAR in 2001, but it's starting to gel and I think we're about to reap the benefits. We've got good teams and good people. It's really a little bit scary the way things are lined up right now. We added depth. The Penske organization should really strengthen our lineup.

Q: So what's the secret formula for successful racing chemistry?

A: Everybody in the group has to be working together. Nobody can be working for anybody else. That's very important when you're trying to get things done. It's not easy to get people working together, but when you do things can really roll along real smooth.

Q: What's the biggest challenge in 2003?

A: I'd say the new body rules would have to be the biggest challenge. We need to find some consistency, and if we do that I think the Dodge camp will do just fine. The Winston Cup champion had an average finish of 12.6 last year. That's real low, but he still won. We need to work on consistent top 10 runs and quit worrying about winning so much. You need top 10s to win a championship, and that's the goal this season. I think consistency will be our biggest challenge. Our engines are good, and we've been real happy about that.

Q: Since you're no longer a driver, what fuels your passion for racing?

A: Competition. Having a positive attitude and having everybody pulling in the same direction is very pleasant. Once a racer, always a racer. You know you're not going to win 'em all, but you're going to win your share if you work hard. What's that saying? The next best thing to playing and winning is playing and losing. This is our third season back. We've had some success, and we've taken some hard knocks along the way. I think everything is in place for a successful season. If we can't win, we want to be close enough to the front to see who does.


Dodge, part I

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dave Marcis , Buddy Baker , Maurice Petty