From vision to victory lane: the Dodge Ram in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing. Auburn Hill, Mich. (February 8, 2004) -- When Dodge first decided to go racing in the fledgling NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, it had little more than a vision...
From vision to victory lane: the Dodge Ram in NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing.
Auburn Hill, Mich. (February 8, 2004) -- When Dodge first decided to go racing in the fledgling NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, it had little more than a vision for success, a new production truck called the Ram, and the experience from past decades of racing.
John Wehrly, Engineering Manager -- Dodge Motorsports and Mopar Performance Parts, and former engineer on the Chrysler Race Group in the 1960s, recalls the early days of Dodge's participation in the Craftsman Truck Series and offers thoughts on the challenges Toyota will face as a new manufacturer.
"When we first got involved in the series, we had no engine components, no aero program or no body for truck racing, and we didn't know how to adapt what we had for production vehicles or other series. We really had to tap some great resources -- like former crew members or junior people who had progressed in the sport -- to get our program started.
"Initially, Dodge got involved to launch the new Ram pickup truck. It was a new series, and a perfect place to promote the new truck. And, the company wanted to become involved in a successful racing venue. We used our Viper program as a launch, but that was very, very different than truck racing. So, we had to rethink our techniques.
"That's one of the big challenges Toyota will face. It's the toughest competition they've been involved in. It will probably be more difficult than they imagine. Their experience in the Dash Series may be somewhat helpful, but the IRL and CART are so different that there is little transfer of technology or knowledge to the truck series.
"One of the biggest surprises we had was how difficult it was. We underestimated the competition, we underfunded our program and we were disappointed with our initial results. We had to go back to an engineering based approach. We put together a program to develop all the engine components and ensure we could supply the teams. That made the difference.
"We won two races in 1997, two races in 1998, and by 1999, we were competitive. We won six in 2000, 15 in 2001, seven in 2002 and 13 in 2003, and we brought home the manufacturers' title in 2001 and 2003.
"I think Toyota's chances in its initial season are moderate. I expect them to be competitive by the end of the season. Their involvement is good for the series, and it's good for the competition. It will escalate all the manufacturers' activity.
"I would offer them some advice on their entry into NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing. One, listen to everyone. Two, consider all the input before making a decision. And three, don't assume you know what the answer is until you really evaluate the situation."
Dodge Countdown to Victory
1993 -- Four off-road racing enthusiasts - Dick Landfield, Jimmy Smith, Tim Venable and Frank "Scoop" Vessels built prototype racing pickup trucks. The group sought NASCAR sanction in Feb. 1994.
1994 -- NASCAR President Bill France, Jr. announced the NASCAR Supertruck Series which in late 1994, which became the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
1995 -- To promote the new Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck and regain a presence in NASCAR, Dodge announced it will join the NCTS for the 1996 season.
1996 -- In Dodge's first year in the NCTS, the engineering organization had several part-time people and volunteers, but only one full-time engineer and part-time program manager. The challenge was to create the cylinder blocks, cylinder heads and intake manifolds, and a complete engine package, to meet NASCAR standards. Many of the teams modified or fabricated parts used during the 1995 season, while the engineering organization worked on getting NASCAR approval for the appropriate parts for the 1996 season.
1997 -- On May 24, Dodge captured its first victory in the NCTS at the Western Auto Parts America 200 at I-70 Speedway in Kansas City, Mo. Tony Raines was the driver. This was the first NASCAR series win for Dodge since Neil Bonnet won at Ontario, Calif., in 1977. The second and final victory of the year came at Richmond, Va., with Bob Keselowski taking the checkered flag.
1998 -- The Dodge Motorsports engineering group and the race teams worked on refining the race vehicle with modest improvements in performance over 1997. More of the engine development, vehicle testing and aero body fabrication was being done near the race teams' shops. For the first time, the Dodge NCTS teams had an engine that was somewhat competitive. The W-8 cylinder head and R-3 cylinder blocks were available in quantity and with improved durability and power. The engine group continued developing more reliable designs and processes. A nose or front fascia was developed during the 1998 season and was approved by NASCAR for the 1999 season.
1999 -- The engineering group became fully-staffed in 1999. Most of the group was "loaned" from other engineering departments. A revised cab was approved by NASCAR for the 1999 season. Most of the 1999 season was spent learning the details how to tune the 1999 race truck, which proved very competitive.
Dodge began investigating involvement in Winston Cup based on the success of the Dodge Ram for NCTS. In early 2000, the engineering effort was split into three groups: NCTS group, Winston Cup group and an engine group to serve both series.
2000 -- The NCTS engineering group continued to work as a separate organization, but served as a resource to the Winston Cup group. Work on a common engine for both series began. Design, development and the first parts for the teams were completed by the end of the year.
2001 -- Work started on the all new 2002 Dodge Ram 1500 truck body - new for 2002, and the approval process was completed in Fall 2001. This was the first season with the new engine and both durability and power were improved over the previous engine. The NCTS engines continue to be built for the factory teams by Arrington Manufacturing with engineering direction from Dodge. The efforts were rewarded with the 2001 NCTS Manufacturers' Championship.
2002 -- All of the Chrysler Group racing programs were moved under the new Performance Vehicle Operations (PVO) umbrella. Arrington Manufacturing continued to be the source of Dodge's NCTS engine research and development. Efforts focused on refining the Dodge Ram race truck.
2003 -- Dodge Ram drivers combined to win 13 races and 12 poles. Ed Musgrave and Brendan Gaughan led the way as Dodge won its second Manufacturers' Championship in three seasons. Gaughan and Musgrave went into the final race of the season ranked one-two in the series standings, but an accident and controversial call on the final restart resulted in final rankings of fourth and third, respectively.