Jimmy Makar interview

THOUGHTS FROM JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18 INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX (ON PRACTICING DURING THE DAY AND RACING AT NIGHT) "Typically in the daytime with the sun being out the track temperature elevates 30 to 40 degrees more...

THOUGHTS FROM JIMMY MAKAR, CREW CHIEF, NO. 18
INTERSTATE BATTERIES PONTIAC GRAND PRIX

(ON PRACTICING DURING THE DAY AND RACING AT NIGHT) "Typically in the daytime with the sun being out the track temperature elevates 30 to 40 degrees more than it does at night, so the grip in the racetrack is a lot less. Once the sun goes down, the track cools down and the tires get more grip in them. We can run faster and the cars will turn better. Typically the balance of the race car changes also, not just the total grip. The cars are generally looser during the day in the sunshine. As the track cools down they tighten up, so you'll need to be able to adjust that from the beginning of the race to the end of the race. Your car will tighten up. You need to have the foresight to be able to get your car looser at the end of the race."

(ON THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN RUNNING EARLY AFTERNOON VERSUS LATE AFTERNOON) "Typically Charlotte really gets at its worst about one or two o'clock in the afternoon. From that point until about four o'clock it's pretty bad. Around five-ish it starts trending the other way. The track starts cooling as the sun starts setting. In speeds we are three-quarters of a second slower during the day in the middle of the afternoon compared to what we'll be in the evenings. It's hard to quantify that other than it's a lot slower. The cars drive a lot worse during that time period."

(HOW WOULD AERO-MATCHING CHANGE THE CREW CHIEF'S ROLE?) "Probably very little, truthfully. All that would do would be to give you peace of mind that you've got the same type of aerodynamic package that everybody else has got. We'd still be looking for little things that make our particular car better inside the templates. There are always going to be those areas that we don't have a measurement or a rule or a template to fit that we're going to be working on trying to come up with a shape that is more aerodynamically efficient than the guy next to us. It's not so much different than what we've had in the past if you look at the aerodynamic results from last year's wind tunnel testing that NASCAR did. The cars were really pretty close, within a couple percent of down force. So we've been there before. I think what happens is you get good racing and the crew chiefs, car owners and drivers can stop worrying about whether they are at some kind of a deficit here that is insurmountable that I can't overcome. It's not so dissimilar to where we're at right now. We know we are at an aerodynamic disadvantage. How much that affects us every week, week in and week out? It's hard to quantify. But if you don't have that problem, if you know you're relatively close to the guys that you are racing against, then you can concentrate on other things. Then when you do get yourself off base, you can at least eliminate that from being something that contributes to the problem.

"I'm very in favor of keeping the cars aerodynamically close. Now, there are a hundred different ways to do it. Common templates, I don't know that that's the answer because there is a lot of baggage that goes along with that. Like I said, last year I thought from the results I saw from everybody's cars at the wind tunnel, we were pretty close last year in all the manufacturers. We had two new models of cars come out this year and they were quite a bit different in all three. Right now I think we've got the Chevrolet back with some concessions that NASCAR gave them. I think we're still at a disadvantage and are trying to overcome it."

(ON THE USE OF SPRING RUBBERS DURING A RACE) "Typically we like to have spring rubbers installed in the car when the race starts simply for the fact that it's much easier and quicker on a pit stop to remove a spring rubber than it is to install one. So for the sake of quicker pit stops we try to get the car set up in practice with the spring rubbers in each corner with the anticipation of being able to remove them.

"Obviously, all a spring rubber does is increase the rate of the spring. Actually it makes the spring think it's smaller. The rubber inserted inside the coil creates an area that the spring can't compress in, which elevates the rate of the spring. So with those spring rubbers in each corner of the car, we can take one out of the right front if the car needs to be freed up, or we can take one out of the left rear of the car. That would free the car up. If we need to tighten up, we could take the one out of the right rear. That would tighten the car up.

"It's a little hard to explain. As your spring compresses you have five, six, seven, eight coils that are compressing as the total spring compresses. If you insert or rubber or anything at all in between two of those coils, you sort of kill those coils off. They are not going to move. So with out those coils moving, the rate of the spring is going to increase much quicker as it tries to compress. The right front spring, for instance, the softer you make it, the 'turnier' the car gets. The more that right front travels, the more that corner bites into the racetrack. If your right front is turning really, really good, the rear of the car wants to come around on you and get loose. Also another way to get loose would be if the rear springs are way too stiff for the car. There is no grip there. It is like writing on to solid posts. I guess a good way to explain it to would be if you drove a go-kart or some little old car with no suspension and how rough it is. It's really easy to spin the tires because there is no control there. Well, the coil spring dampens all those road bumps and gives the tire and the car the ability to be able to get grip on the racetrack.

"If you see a rubber going in the right rear they are trying to loosen the car up to make it turn better. If you see one going in that the right front, it is going to be to make the car tighter."

(DO ENGINES HAVE TO BE CONSTRUCTED DIFFERENTLY TO RUN A 600 MILE RACE) "No. Actually everything we build, we build to run between six and 700 miles, basically because we put the motors in on Saturday and run practice. You might put a hundred miles on a motor in practice on Saturday and then run a 500-mile race. So that's the way most of the motors are built anyway. Probably the only difference will be that we might try to put less laps on it in practice that we would typically do."

      (HAS HE COMPLETED BUILDING A CAR TO THE COMMON TEMPLATE
SPECIFICATION?) " No.  It's not complete."

(WHAT DOES HE HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH BY BUILDING ONE?) "Basically NASCAR has asked several teams to build an aero matching template type of car that looks like a Chevrolet or looks like a Pontiac. Obviously the manufacturers are involved in this also. The main thing about this aero matching is that we still have to have brand identity for each of these manufacturers. The whole reason we have manufacturers in racing today is because they are obviously trying to sell their products to the general public, so we have to keep that identification for the fans and for the general public up there to be able to say that is a Pontiac or that is a Ford or that is a Chevrolet."

(WOULD HE LIKE TO SEE SOME CHANGES FOR THE PONTIAC GRAND PRIX?) "I would love to see some changes. It's not for the lack of asking. We've got some proposals in front of NASCAR right now. We're just really waiting for an answer of whether they are going to allow us to do some things to aero match the Pontiac back to the level that the Ford and Chevrolet currently are at.

"The wind tunnel numbers, as they stand right now, are very comparable for the Ford and the Chevrolet. Pontiac is at a deficit right now in the wind tunnel. We do lack downforce compared to those two cars. Was that part of why we didn't run good at Charlotte? Again, it goes back to what I said before. I can't quantify it and say that was our whole problem. I don't know if that was a part of our problem. I do know it's a fact that we did have much less of a downforce package than those other two manufacturers had. So in the back of my mind, yeah, I'm wondering is that what I'm fighting right now?"

(ON LEADING THE POINTS CHAMPIONSHIP) "At this point of the season, to me, it's very nice to be leading the points instead of having to be at some sort of a deficit. It's early in the season. There is not a lot of concern about it. But it is a neat thing. It's some bragging rights that you've got now. It's good for the morale and for the guys to have.

"To me right now, probably the most important thing is to be in contention, to be there in the top three or four with in a few points of the leader or whoever it might be. I feel very comfortable where we're at right now leading it. If this was October with three or four races to go with a three-point lead, obviously I'd be much more nervous about that. But with a lot of races left to go and a lot of opportunities to gain or lose points, it's not really something that we need to be worked up over right now."

(ON THE KEY TO LEADING THE POINTS RIIGHT NOW) "Obviously we've been very fortunate to have had some good finishes and to not have had quite as many problems as some of the other competitors. There are plenty of guys out there that are every bit as good as we are right now except they have had some problems. We really shouldn't be leading the points right now based on what happened at Richmond. We were just very fortunate that Mark (Martin) had a problem and some different people had problems along the way. We just need to stay consistent with running up front. That is one of the reasons I don't want to give up anything. If I knew I was aerodynamically matched with all the other cars I could put that out of my mind as a concern or worry and just concentrate solely on the things that we should be week in and week out, which is tuning the race car to the conditions that we have for that weekend to be competitive."

(ON IMPROVING PIT ROAD SAFETY) "Probably the one thing I see at some of the racetracks to go to, and this is all racetrack specific, we have quite a variance in the size of pit roads from racetrack to racetrack as far as the width, the length and the size of our pit boxes. Obviously the bigger racetracks have a very nice, wide pit road with great big pit boxes that gives us plenty of room for the drivers to be able to maneuver in and out of their boxes without impeding the car in front or behind them in the corresponding pit boxes. But a lot of these places we go to with 43 race cars on a small racetrack with small pit roads, that really becomes a big problem. If there was some way we could get a standardized sized pit box or pit road type of situation, I think it would make it much safer. That's the biggest thing we've got a problem with right now is not necessarily your driver coming into the pit box and performing our pit stop. It's the guy that's in front or behind you trying to get into his or leave his while you are performing your pit stop or trying to get around your race car."

(WHAT MODIFICATIONS COULD BE MADE TO MAKE THAT HAPPEN?) "I think each particular racetrack and the configuration of the racetrack makes this a little bit different. Obviously it's not any small task whatsoever to do a pit road. But certainly as new racetracks are built, NASCAR could mandate or have the racetracks conform to a certain type of pit road that is going to be safer for everybody."

(SHOULD NASCAR IMPLEMENT A RULE PENALIZING A DRIVER FOR A CAR MAKING CONTACT WITH A CREW MEMBER ON PIT ROAD, SIMILAR TO CART?) "That's a tough one. I've got mixed emotions about that because sometimes it's an accident that just happens. Sometimes it's a situation where a driver is not being very courteous. It's almost a judgment type thing. I'd hate to see an accident happen for some reason, not be the drivers fault and then for the driver to be disqualified for that. So I don't know if it can be quite that black and white for us."

(ON THE STATUS OF JOE GIBBS RACING CREW MEMBER MIKE LINGERFELDT, WHO WAS INJURED IN A PIT ROAD INCIDENT DURING THE DAYTONA 500) "He's back to work. He came back to work about two weeks ago. He finally got back to work. He has been working out in rehab. He had a couple of surgeries to insert some pins in his leg and some things. But he is back your work and working out real hard trying to get back in shape to be able to get back and change tires later on this year."

(SHOULD A DRIVER BE PENALIZED FOR MOVES THAT ARE DEEMED TO BE DANGEROUS ON PIT ROAD?) "Blocking each other and rubbing on each other in a race car is quite a bit different than a race car versus a human being. We don't have a lot of protection around us when we go over that wall. It's easy to play offensively with a 3,500-pound race car and the metal around you. These guys are out there on their knees a lot of times, trying to run around race cars with nothing at all to protect them. I think it's something that's certainly needs to stay on top of the list and be aware of it and talk about it to try to come up with ideas to protect these guys. Hopefully you would think nobody in the right mind sitting in the driver's seat would intentionally try to hurt or impede a guy from doing his job on pit road knowing that the outcome is not going to be good for that person."

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Series NASCAR Cup