HEAD ENGINEER TODD HOLBERT STRETCHES HIS SCHEDULE TO ACCOMMODATE DODGE DEVELOPMENT AND DUTIES TO BILL DAVIS DRIVERS BURTON AND BLANEY WATKINS GLEN, NY -- Some of Todd Holbert's fondest and final memories of his famous father were formed not ...
HEAD ENGINEER TODD HOLBERT STRETCHES HIS SCHEDULE TO ACCOMMODATE DODGE DEVELOPMENT AND DUTIES TO BILL DAVIS DRIVERS BURTON AND BLANEY
WATKINS GLEN, NY -- Some of Todd Holbert's fondest and final memories of his famous father were formed not on-track but in his dad's Pennsylvania workshops where he was developing a prototype sports car at the time of his tragic death.
Holbert, in his fourth year as Head Engineer for Bill Davis Racing, was in his early teens when his father Al -- one of America's greatest road racers -- was killed in a private plane crash (in 1988) enroute from the Mid-Ohio road course to pick his son up for a Lehigh University football game. Now, the younger Holbert finds himself ironically in a similar development role, working with the consortium of teams (Petty, Evernham, BDR) to mold the Dodge Intrepid from scratch for the 2001 NASCAR Winston Cup Series season.
Holbert's choice to pursue the science of stock cars as his engineering focus instead following his sports-car pedigree pointed him in a direction where such a ground-up project was unlikely in the highly-structured NASCAR technical environment.
The splitting of duties for Holbert between the Dodge start-up demands and his usual duties as BDR added Dave Blaney's #93 Amoco/Siemens team to Ward Burton's #22 Caterpillar/Polaris Winston Cup entry for the 2000 season have left the 25-year old Holbert scrambling to juggle a schedule with too many needs and not enough hours.
"I try to look at all that we're trying to accomplish this year as a one-time situation," said Holbert as the BDR teams prepared for this weekend's Global Crossing at The Glen. "Once we get the specs on the Intrepid approved and on its way, the fall will be all about getting cars built and testing them. Splitting time between what we would usually be doing with the week-to-week needs of our two Winston Cup teams and Tom Hubert's Busch Series team has been a little tough but we hired Jon Babek, who went to engineering school with me at Lehigh, to help us and we are sharing the load of Dodge development between three teams. There are times -- like when we're putting in long hours at the wind tunnel with the Dodge on race-week -- that sacrifices have been made, I'm sure.
"It is strange that I'm working now on a project to bring a new race car into our sport. This hasn't happened for a long time with stock cars. Of course, we're working under much stricter guidelines of what we can do but it's been a great challenge, one I certainly didn't think I'd be a part of after deciding to get into NASCAR instead of sports cars.
"At the time of dad's death, he was involved with Porsche on several levels -- as a driver and as a team owner as well as manager for the manufacturer's domestic parts program and the family's three dealerships in Doylestown (PA). Their developmental program with the prototype could have been much bigger than anything he had ever worked on in motorsports had he been able to see it through. I regret we never were able to see what the final product would have looked like and done on the race track.
"It's different with the Dodge. My father had a much broader field of options available to him when he sat down to draw up a new racing machine. Front- or rear-engine? Shape? Powerplant? His project was truly conceptual in a way ours has not been, with the competitive guidelines we all know that NASCAR presents to engineers and car builders. Still, I know when I look back on this Dodge project -- to be able to do this so early in my career -- it will be an extraordinary opportunity that doesn't come often in our sport."
For the Holbert family, Watkins Glen will always hold poignant memories. The elder Holbert won a record five IMSA Camel GT titles and 49 series wins, 10 Can-Am Series wins as well as victories at LeMans in 1983, 1986 and 1987 and a fourth-place finish in his only starts in the Indianapolis 500. When The Glen reopened in July, 1984 after a dormant period, Holbert won the inaugural event with teammates Derek Bell and John Adams.
"At the time of my dad's death, I was just old enough to understand his impact in racing," said Holbert. Now that I'm older, I've met so many people who worked with him and respected him so much. There are many days I wish he were here to see what's happened with my career but I'm reminded of his what he accomplished almost everyday."