Dodge Engine Builders Have New Tools, Same Goal KANSAS CITY, Kan., September 26, 2001 - Legendary stock car engine builder Ray Fox usually had two engines, sometimes three, when he worked on the NASCAR Grand National Series cars that won 140...
Dodge Engine Builders Have New Tools, Same Goal
KANSAS CITY, Kan., September 26, 2001 - Legendary stock car engine builder Ray Fox usually had two engines, sometimes three, when he worked on the NASCAR Grand National Series cars that won 140 races from 1962 to 1974. Today, the Dodge teams have 20 to 25 engines per team, nearly a dozen of them apart in the shop at any given time during the season. Fox's whole team totaled eight people; today's teams will have 20 to 30 people in the engine department alone.
There are other dramatic differences as well, like the fact that Fox worked on the heads of his racing engines with a hand grinder. The computer-controlled metalworking machines of today's race shop hadn't been dreamed about yet, let alone invented. The one thing both generations share is the goal of winning races.
"That's what I get paid for," said Ernie Elliott, engine builder for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Elliott's engine group, located both in Dawsonville, Ga., and Charlotte, N.C., builds engines for the No.'s O1 and 40 of Ganassi Racing, and the No. 92 of Melling Racing. Elliott was pleased when the No. 40 Coors Light Dodge Intrepid R/T scored the first Dodge win of the season, but he quickly went back to work.
"It was a very satisfying achievement," said Elliott, "but that was yesterday. This weekend is tomorrow. You are only graded on what you do today, not what you did yesterday. Winning just makes us work that much harder."
Bob Dell, head engine builder for Petty Enterprises in Level Cross, N.C., says his engine group strives to win by preparing power plants that are durable and capable. "We think of the engine as a work in progress," said Dell. "We want to keep the evolution of the engine going. We never want to settle for what we have today, we want to keep coming up with ideas for making it better tomorrow."
Although Fox worked on many engines during his years as a builder, a favorite was the Dodge 426 Hemi engine. "That was the best thing that ever happened to us," said Fox. "We outran everyone with the Hemi." Developed exactly 50 years ago, the sound and the success of the Hemi engine became a well-known part of the history of racing. NASCAR eventually imposed new rules that took away the engine's competitive edge in stock car racing, but it is still a favorite for many drivers in drag racing.
Today in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing, there is a new Dodge engine known as the R5/P7. It follows the conventional shape required by NASCAR but the block and head incorporate several features that eliminate what was routine fabrication by the teams. The first R5/P7 was fired up on the dynamometer in the Concord, N.C. engine shop of Evernham Motorsports. The Dodge team was so proud it sent out a birth announcement. On the front, the card said, "Congratulations! It's an Engine!" Instead of a sleeping baby, the photo showed the new engine on the dynamometer. Vital statistics were given as 7:17 p.m. May 27, 2000, 350 pounds, 0 ounces, 24 inches.
During the development process, the race teams and the Dodge engineers worked together to make the basic Dodge engine parts, such as the cylinder block and heads, and the intake manifold. The objective, said Elliott, was to develop hard parts that are "capable of achieving the power levels you need to be competitive in Winston Cup racing." The race teams would then be responsible for developing the performance.
Terry Elledge, engine builder for Bill Davis Racing, which fields the No. 22 and the No. 93 each week out of High Point, N.C., said Ward Burton's recent win answered any questions the team had about whether the new Dodge engine is capable of winning.
"When we won at Darlington, a huge burden was lifted off all of our shoulders," said Elledge. "We felt good about the move to Dodge, but there was always that question in the back of our minds about, 'did we make the right decision?' We've been successful with Dodge within the first year, and that answered a lot of questions."
Elledge says his group starts each year with the objective of finishing every race and having the best engines in Winston Cup. This year, with a brand new engine, the team knew they would some extra hurdles to overcome but they feel very good about their performance so far.
"We've had only two engines fail," said Elledge, "and neither one was the fault of the engine. One ran out of water because there was a hole in the radiator, and the other was due to a transmission problem."
Elledge is one engine builder who knows what is required to bring a new engine up from development to being competitive. While working for another race team, he spent several seasons bringing along another manufacturer's new Winston Cup engine. Design work started in 1993, and development work took place from 1994 through 1997. Naturally, Elledge was skeptical when Dodge proposed developing a whole new engine and car in 500 days. It took several trips to Dodge headquarters and the DaimlerChrysler Technical Center in Auburn Hills, Mich., to convince him the change was the right thing to do.
"I was probably the last guy at Bill Davis Racing to agree that we should make the change to Dodge," said Elledge. "What convinced me to make the change was seeing how committed the Dodge family is to making it work."
Elliott says the Dodge team approaches the challenge a little differently than what he was accustomed to seeing. "They are very open-minded to the ideas we have here as experienced racers," said Elliott. "It can be very difficult to get a manufacturer to change anything, but Dodge has been very open-minded. If we have an idea, they are open to it."
One problem engine builders face is keeping their secrets - the things that give them a competitive edge - from migrating to competitors. Fox solved that problem by keeping engine preparation as his own personal responsibility. "I did the engines, period," said Fox. Elliott said, "Only a couple of us know the details." Elledge makes the most sensitive information available on a "need-to-know" basis. Dell strives to build a staff of long-term partners. "One guy can't think of everything," said Dell. "It's about the whole group."
Petty Enterprises prepares three cars for the Winston Cup Series and a truck for the Craftsman Truck Series. They gather additional information by preparing an ARCA RE/MAX Series car driven by Justin Labonte. "The ARCA car gives us an opportunity to try things and test parts," said Dell. "The team is willing to work with us, so that gives us a cheaper way to get test miles."
All of the engine builders praise the support they get from Dodge. "They have a very dedicated engineering staff and they do a great job," said Dell. "They are definitely there for us." "Dodge has a good program," added Elliott. "We get good technical support."
With two victories in the record book during its first racing season, the R5/P7 engine is beginning to build a new reputation for Dodge in NASCAR Winston Cup Series racing. It may take a while to match its famous Hemi big brother, but the R5/P7 is well on its way with a little help from its engine-builder friends.
This week in Dodge history:
* 9/29/56 - Buck Baker won a 100-mile race on the half-mile dirt track at Columbia, S.C., driving a Carl Kiekhaefer Dodge. It was Baker's 11th win of the season. Speedy Thompson was third in another Kiekhaefer Dodge.
* 9/26/71 - Bobby Isaac won the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway driving the K&K Insurance Dodge. Isaac led all but 55 laps on the .525-mile paved track. There were eight Dodges and five Plymouths in the 30-car field.
* 9/30/73 - Richard Petty won a rain-shortened Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville driving a Petty Enterprises Dodge. Petty took the lead for the final time on the 453rd lap. The race was red-flagged and ended at 480 laps. Buddy Baker finished fourth in the K&K Insurance Dodge.
* 9/28/75 - Dave Marcis won his first NASCAR Winston Cup Series race driving the Harry Hyde-prepared K&K Insurance Dodge at Martinsville Speedway. Marcis credited the win to a strategy of conserving his brakes so he could outmaneuver the other front-runners at the end of the race. He led six times for a total of 52 laps.