Interview with Dave Liddle copyright (c) 1994 John Dillon Dave Liddle is the SCCA Enterprises Engine Department Manager and Compliance Director...
Interview with Dave Liddle copyright (c) 1994 John Dillon Dave Liddle is the SCCA Enterprises Engine Department Manager and Compliance Director for Spec Racer and Spec Racer Ford. This correspondent met with him at the Valvoline Runoffs to determine his response to competitors' concerns regarding Spec Racers. He reports that "This is my 21st race of the year where I've been actively involved in the compliance program. I do a little P.R. and get out to see the guys in the field and find out what they are feeling."
Q. Will John Collier, the Spec Racer (Renault) winner this year, be receiving a Ford conversion kit?
A. Yes, absolutely. However, he wants to get into a new car since his old car was crashed heavily several times. Martyn [Thake, president of Enterprises] will work something out so he can get a conversion kit worth of credit towards a new car.
Q. Drivers are concerned about the level of development of the Spec Racer Ford. How do you respond?
A. I think we'll see a lot less aversion to the Ford program this year than last. In hindsight maybe we should have waited to introduce the car, but we had to start somewhere. It was just a matter of timing.
Q. Drivers feel the development of the car is moving too slowly.
A. The program is moving slower than we'd like because so many people are involved. If we have to address a problem, there are three or four levels it has to go through as well as the liability issues with Ford. Everything in Enterprises used to be under one roof, but now it's under several roofs spread across half the country. It would be different if Enterprises was in Detroit, but I'm not advocating that either. Yes, I'll agree it's gotten harder to communicate quickly and move quickly.
Q. Given that it's harder, what can be done to improve it?
A. I don't know if there's a way to radically improve it. The people at Ford and Roush have a lot of other business to do as well as Spec Racers. Everyone wants to feel like their project is top dog but we're pretty small compared to their other commitments. Let's face it, Ford is a huge multinational corporation.
As far as the competitors, they're just starting to become more comfortable with us and getting to know us personally. It's working better and better all the time. They are aware of how many problems we've gotten out of the way. The shifter is fantastic and the motor mounts are stronger, though we still have an issue with the axles. We're replacing axles at no charge while we work the problem, and you can always get replacements in the field.
The drivers are understanding the cars better, and they're learning the cars handle differently now. Driving styles have had to adapt. The Ford is faster and more fun to drive because of the extra power. The throttle response is much better now, so more skill is involved. If you got into trouble with a Renault you had no power to help you catch the tail.
Q. I've heard a lot of complaints about the brake bias adjuster being much more expensive than the same non-SCCA-stickered Tilton part.
A. Most emphatically, not true, not true. We retail ours at exactly the same price that Tilton charges.
Q. What about adjuster placement? You're telling them exactly where they have to install it.
A. We've always maintained the Spec concept and prefer to keep the cars as spec as possible. We may have overreacted on the placement. We may open that up to the driver's preference. I wanted it mounted in a good solid _safe_ location, so it wouldn't fall off in his lap. In the field we see some radical levels of preparation, some good, some not so good. This adjuster is so recent that we're just now getting feedback on it. We wanted to help, not hinder the drivers.
Brake bias adjusters are a safety item. It makes the car work better in a variety of conditions and in changing conditions, such as when a race starts dry but gets rain halfway through. These cars have a number of adjustable components; we felt we should give them this adjustment too. This is the only driver-adjustable piece in the cockpit.
Q. One Customer Service Representative (CSR, the dealer representative for Enterprises) has gone out of business and another is up for sale. How do you respond to charges that Enterprises is driving the CSRs out of business?
A. First off, Enterprises no longer encourages direct car sales. We turn the customers towards their local CSR. The one CSR went out of business due to inopportune financial decisions exclusive of their relationship with Enterprises. Direct parts sales are made to those drivers who are not close enough to a CSR or who don't choose to deal with their own CSR. Our customers have their own philosophy of who they want to deal with. We don't actively solicit customers. I would rather have Chip, my parts man, do other work instead of shipping one part at a time. I'd much rather see the CSRs sell parts. Chip can do more "real work" and it helps the CSRs. We _absolutely_ want the CSRs to succeed. Enterprises cannot succeed without the CSRs.
Q. Speaking of CSRs, PBS Engineering [led by Bob Swenson] was recently taken off of the CSR list. People didn't feel that Swenson's removal as CSR was fully explained. What can you tell them?
A. I wasn't a part of that decision making process, so I'll have to defer to Martyn.
Q. People think he was removed because he was a vocal opponent of the Ford program. How do you counter that? Can you elaborate on why he was terminated?
A. He was not terminated. His contract was just not renewed.
Q. Competitors feel that Swenson's done a lot for the club over the years and helped to develop a lot of components for the class. Will the competitors experience any changes now that he's no longer associated with Enterprises? In particular, will the suspension be completely redesigned?
A. What you're hearing are just rumors. If and when suspension changes come, it'll be a long way down the road and they will be subtle changes. Of course, we have added an additional support member to the upper control arms. We're on our third generation of tires, and they keep getting stickier and stickier. As a result we're putting heavier and heavier loads on the suspension pieces.
Q. Let's talk about the tires; they cost $20 more than retail, but supposedly the only difference is the SCCA stickers. Is this true?
A. First off, the new tires are great. They're more expensive, but the Yokohamas last longer. They hold up better than the old tires. Robert Mumm qualified on the provisional pole (at the end of the first qualifying session) with tires that had gone through 18 heat cycles.
Q. But why are they more expensive than retail?
A. You will have to ask Yokohama and PSRG [Precision Service Racing Group, Yokohama's main distributor] about pricing.
Q. Some drivers say the tires aren't suited for the rain.
A. Some _drivers_ are not suited for rain! At a race in Memphis I saw the same number of guys spin on our tires as on other brand rain tires. Who wants to admit they can't drive as fast as another guy in the wet as on dry?
Q. Drivers can't understand why Yokohama tires and stickers are required on their Spec Racers, yet they receive no contingency money from Yokohamas for Renault-powered cars.
A. The contingency program is established by the tire manufacturer, Yokohama, and the club racing office.
Q. A lot of drivers want to continue running the Renault power plant, perhaps in a Club SR class.
A. Club SR is not healthy for the club. The Ford engine is the future and we've got to go that way. Any dilution or splintering of the Spec Racer class won't be healthy. Maybe not everybody can afford the Ford conversion but that's an unfortunate circumstance. Not everybody can afford a Formula Atlantic or a Sports 2000 or an American Sedan or the next step in anything.
Q. Many of the Renault drivers are grumbling about being treated like "second class citizens." Is this true?
A. Let me reemphasize that the Ford is the future of the class. It's taken a lot of our time and energy to get the program up and running. The Spec Racer (Renault) program needs very little maintenance and we're working to bring the Fords up to the same level of participation. Ford is the future and it's where we're all pointed.
Spec Racer is a still great place to get into racing. Although it's not necessarily an introductory class any more, the Sports Renault was only an introductory class for the first few years anyway. The guys in the Spec Racer Fords are as competitive as any other class here; there are very high levels of competition. There are subtleties in driving these cars quickly. It is still the greatest teaching class, especially in a racing situation because the cars are so competitive and equal.
Q. A lot of people have been looking at the Toyota SmartRacer. You don't feel that it's a threat to SRF, do you?
A. To put that car on a track will probably cost $30,000. More importantly, the attraction of the Spec Racer is that there's plenty of racing while the Toyota is a speculative car. Even in California you'd have maybe four cars to race, while there is always an abundance of Spec Racers. At the June Sprints we had 90 cars. All of our pro Spec Racer Ford events had around 30 or more cars; I believe we were close to 40 in Dallas.
Q. It's been ten years since Spec Racer (Sports Renault) debuted. Where do you see Spec Racer Ford in ten years?
A. Because of Ford's willingness to paticipate on a long term basis, unlike Renault, I see Fords staying healthy, especially in the Pro ranks. So many guys are running in the Pro class that they've made Pro racing their priority instead of running Regionals and Nationals.
Q. Has the development stabilized yet?
A. Well, we're still looking at the springs. Other than that there will be mere detail changes over the next decade.
Q. Do you have any final remarks for the Spec Racer participants or the readership in general?
A. Spec Racing is here to stay. The cars may have changed somewhat with the introduction of the Ford engine, but I'm very excited about the prospects for the future. I look forward to meeting a lot more of our customers and seeing more Spec Racer amateur and pro road racing across the country.