Steve Hmiel interview

STEVE HMIEL (Technical Director Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) NOTE: Hmiel discusses the DEI test at Milwaukee Speedway with the one-inch restrictor plates on Tuesday and Wednesday with the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo and driver Steve ...

STEVE HMIEL (Technical Director Dale Earnhardt, Inc.) NOTE: Hmiel discusses the DEI test at Milwaukee Speedway with the one-inch restrictor plates on Tuesday and Wednesday with the No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet Monte Carlo and driver Steve Park. "When we first ran, the first two or three laps around the track, Steve shifted and we thought that was the deal. Then we worked out some rear end ratios and got the car driving better. He said, 'man, I don't need to shift. I'm faster without shifting.' What we ended up with was basically a Busch setup from a spring, shock and swaybar standpoint with a pretty standard gear ratio. We worked pretty hard to keep the engine in the power band, and as it turned out, the engine was more flexible than we thought it would be. When you look at it on the wheel dyno, you say it's not making torque here so we can't get that high, it's not making horsepower here, so we won't turn it a whole lot.' The truth is the engine ran well below its power range and it ran well above its power range, so it's more flexible than the numbers showed it to be. It didn't end up being such a gearing issue. We thought we'd have to operate within a narrow power band, but the engine runs fine anywhere. "Richie Gilmore went home Friday night from Richmond, and they worked around the clock until Tuesday morning when the truck left going to Milwaukee. They've worked virtually around the clock since then to get race engines for New Hampshire. Within a week, they've gained a lot of horsepower, just from throwing a plate on and seeing what it does. They worked on headers, tailpipes, camshafts, springs, rocker arm ratios, intake manifolds and stuff like that. They've gained about 10 percent of the total horsepower. They've done a really nice job. They worked their tails off and we spent a lot of money doing it, but we think we're in good shape. "If they do it for just one race, it'll probably amount to about $30,000 or $40,000. Our concern is that they're going to come and say, 'we're going to keep doing it.' Now you're talking about a whole system. Those camshafts are hard to get, and those rocker arms ratios are hard to get. There's just a lot of things about plate motors that are expensive and time consuming. It's going to change the way you build your engines. "We had three engines at Milwaukee, a total of nine engines built since last Friday at noon. We've got a qualifier and two race engines for each car up here, plus the three we tested at Milwaukee. They're running restrictor plate headers, and they're not common to these cars. You've got to go buy another $4,000 set of headers, different tailpipes, the gear ratios aren't what we're used to running, but in most cases you already had that ring and pinion anyway. "There was a huge question about transmissions. I think we took 18 transmissions to Milwaukee to try out. It's not that you didn't have the parts, but it's just the labor and stuff. Our engine and transmission and gear guys would have normally been working on Dover this week. Instead they've been jumping through flame and hoops to get ready to come up here. Now they're behind on Dover, which will put them behind on Martinsville. It was a fairly big tearup from a personnel standpoint and if it continues, if they say they want to run a one-inch plate everywhere, it's going to be a huge expense. That thing came out of the blue, so they could do it anywhere. We're just kind of waiting for the other shoe to fall. That may not happen, but it may. If it does, it's going to be real expensive. If they like what they see, it could happen anywhere." "It's basically going to be run like a Busch race. Some people say, 'why don't you just build it like a Busch car?' If we had our way, we'd build our Busch cars like our Cup cars and try to make all the downforce we can and try to carry corner speed. We were like 15 or 20 mph slower down the straightaway at Milwaukee and still ran reasonable time, so we're making it up somewhere. You'd better have a bunch of downforce, you'd better have good tire management. Horsepower is pretty low, but everybody's is pretty low. It's going to be like a really competitive race. "I don't think they'll be wide open in the corners. I think they'll be on the gas more for sure than they were the last time we were here. We lost a lot of straightaway speed at Milwaukee versus what a Busch car would run up there. You'll drive in the corners harder, but you're still not within 15 or 20 mph of what you were running. From that standpoint, I guess it is successful. "Some of the best racing you see all year is IROC racing and that's no horsepower with even cars with a lot of downforce. This is going to be no horsepower with fairly even cars with a lot of downforce. I don't think it'll be a bad race. From an owner's standpoint, they might be nervous about what it's going to cost or what it already has cost. From a chief mechanic deal, I think it'll be good racing. "Dale (Earnhardt) is the owner and has had to spend an awful lot of money just to get here. But if somebody came up to me and asked if I thought this would be a terrible race, no, I don't. Is it going to be an expensive race? Yes, it's going to be a real expensive race. If they keep doing it, it's going to become a more expensive series. "This was such an industry wide thing. When NASCAR said they were going to run a one-inch plate, everybody almost started working together. When we went to Milwaukee and Dale and them went to Greenville-Pickens, everybody had the information pretty quickly. I think everybody knows the gear ratios and the transmissions if they want to shift. I think they know about the final drive if they're not going to shift. I think everybody knows about the headers. It's kind of like the information got disseminated quickly. I think everybody is pretty much in the same boat. There may be a little bit of concern about what the setup is going to be, but most of these guys know what the Busch guys do because they're down on horsepower. I don't think the rain will make a big difference. I think we could line 'em up and start the race and it would be the same old race. I wish we could run. It would be cool. I want to see it. Probably the best race we see all year is the modified race here and they don't have any horsepower. They've had plates on those cars ever since they started coming here. "I feel bad for the owners. The engine guys have really had to do some things, but our goal is to be able to continue to race safely until we decide we don't want to race anymore. This is one step toward being able to do that, then that's what we'll do. It was a wild test at Milwaukee. We had three race cars, all kind of transmissions and gears, try this and try that, all sorts of instrumentation on everything. The engine part, tuning at the race track, was pretty simple. They did a really good job at home on the engine dyno and chassis dyno. We knew what to do when we got there. Most of the reason why the test went so well was because the ground work was set so well last weekend by all the guys at home working their tails off. "We felt like we (No. 1 Pennzoil Chevrolet) had the best Chevrolet at Michigan. We broke something in the engine. It's the type of thing where success is kind of feeding on itself. We ran pretty good in the spring. In the middle of the summer we were a little off and then we went to Watkins Glen and held off Mark Martin. That was a huge feather in all of our caps. We ran to Bristol and Michigan and ran good, and it was like, 'man, we know what we're doing. Maybe I can drive these cars. Maybe we do know how to work on these cars.' "Our pit stops have made a huge turnaround. We're really good on pit road right now. I think that was one of the huge factors winning Watkins Glen. We beat the 99 and 6 out of the pits. It's really a matter of taking a real hard look last spring and saying what do we need to do to get this better? Do we need faster pit stops? Are we practicing on the right things? We've always had great horsepower from Richie Gilmore and all his guys. It's just a matter of right now of feeding ourselves. Steve Park is the type of guy when he gets on a roll, he's on a roll. He feels like he's on top of the world, and he should, because he's doing a real nice job. "I think it's great (adding a third Winston Cup team at DEI). We've always had three teams. In the past, it's just either been a truck or a Busch car. A lot of things with the chassis setup and aerodynamics don't relate with the Busch Series and Cup Series. We'd figure something out with the Busch car, and it wouldn't work over here. Our goal is not necessarily to be bigger but to be better. We think three Winston Cup teams will be better than two Winston Cup teams and a Busch team for the development of the company."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Steve Park , Steve Park. , Mark Martin