7. Are there cheaper or better options for what I am purchasing?

I can give you an example why a question like this is important. We've got some aluminums: 3003 versus 5052. They are essentially both a very formable item, but the 5052 has a little more strength to it. It would make a better belly pan on a Sprint Car than a 3003. So, if we know what you are doing with it, and it goes back to maintaining good communication with your vendor, we can sometimes help the customer get a better product for his needs without costing him a lot of extra money. So if a customer is ordering a sheet of 3003 aluminum and tells us he's going to use it on his kid's Midget, we might suggest going with the 5052. You will be able to do everything you want to it. It's still cheap but it has more strength, so it should be safer.

Also, one of the strengths of AED in particular is we sell a lot of 4130 alloy tubing. Because I move so much of it, a lot of times I can upgrade a customer from a DOM tube to 4130 grade tube if the rules permit it. To my knowledge, we are the only materials company whose focus is solely on motorsports, so we do have a pretty strong knowledge base here about how these materials are used and what works best in different situations.

8. Can you supply documentation for the materials you sell?

The reason for this question is simple. Are you getting what you are paying for? We know that there are some deficiencies in the processes that some of our vendors go through to get product to us. No one is perfect, and I'm not trying to say that AED will never have a hiccup. But I think it's important that whatever you are buying, you know what you are getting. We've had a pro-level racing team purchase aluminum plate, they lost the identity of it, and they used it to build a part that went on the race car. As it turned out, that material didn't have the strength compared to what they expected it to be. It is relevant with aluminum sheet if you are building panels or something that must perform as protection for the driver. You want to make sure you have the right grade of material. If you are making a bracket or a mounting point for the suspension, it's important you are sure you have the right grade of material. We can provide all the documentation upon request, but we also file it all in house for future reference if necessary.

9. Are you familiar with racing?

We won't ever tell you how to build a race car, but I know that being around the racing industry like we are has given us insights that can be beneficial to our customers. A materials supplier that is concentrating on other industries simply won't have that level of knowledge to help make sure you get what you need.

An example: Structural tubing, which is the square and rectangular steel tubing. We supply a lot of that for simple things. Tool chests, racks, trailers, cabinets, and things like that. But we also have the customer who uses square tubing in his race cars. A lot of our Late Models and Modifieds have square tubing throughout. If we understand that you are building a race car with it or the front portion of a Modified out of this tubing, we will cherry pick our lot and give you the best of the best. And that goes back to us buying from the same mills, or rather the right mills. Our stuff on the whole is straighter, it is a more true product. So we'll make sure we send out only the best of the best when we know it is going into a race car, but you get what you get when you are building some shelves.

Also, we know that some rulebooks have a minimum wall thickness, and that minimum is measured at the radius of a bend. We know that if a customer asks for tubing with that minimum wall thickness, it's going to be too thin in places once he bends it. So we can remind him that he may need to increase that initial wall thickness.

So, there are lots and lots of little things that my staff and I have picked up over the years that really affect race car builders and teams. We aren't trying to write the rulebooks or tell people how to build their cars, but we catch things. And so we can help them avoid some pretty frustrating pitfalls.

10. Do you have programs for shipping materials? What are your costs?

We always like to have customers come into our shop so that we can talk to them face to face, but that's not always realistic. One of the things that we take pride in at AED is we are very good at making product go away. Far, far away if necessary.

We ship globally. We utilize practically every means of shipping available when it comes to shipping materials to our customers. And you practically have to if you are going to minimize the customer's costs for shipping. We ship UPS and FedEx-type packaging, we ship on flatbeds and common carrier, we ship on aircraft when product goes overseas--and that's actually more common than it sounds when it comes to metals. We try very hard to keep up with current shipping costs and what options are available to keep our customers' shipping costs down. There are some things going on within the motor carrier industry where the costs of these long products--the tubing and the bars--are going up. They are reclassifying how these products ship. So we are currently very carefully monitoring how these products are going to ship and what the upcharges are going to be. So by knowing how race car builders are going to be using this material allows me to help them out. For example, I know that 16 feet is the threshold dimension in the motor freight industry now. That's a brand new deal. But a lot of our products are manufactured at the mill in 20- or 24-foot lengths.

Can we do something to help our customer save a little bit on the freight? Probably. We can cut the tubing and package it down to 16 foot and cut some costs. But the question is, what is his net savings? If I know he uses 10 foot lengths and I take that 20-foot piece of tubing and cut him 16-foot lengths, how much have I wasted? Can he use all those six-foot sticks after he's cut the tubing or are they garbage? So we will ask him, "What do you start with?" And then we will work with him that way.

The economy of shipping steel tubing around the country really depends on who you are and how you value your time. We are located in Indianapolis, and we have guys that come in from the middle of Tennessee to pick up material, and we can ship it to them for $125. They might spend 10 hours on the road, but they look at their time differently. When it comes to shipping the raw materials for building a race car, you have to take a hard look at how much an hour of your time is worth versus the cost of having it shipped directly to your door. The answer is going to be different for everybody.

The answers to these 10 questions are critical to getting the best possible foundation for your new race car build or even a simple front clip repair. Your choice of a metals supplier can mean the difference between winning and just driving around in circles. So choose wisely.