Austin Dillon, grandson of...
Austin Dillon, grandson of Championship NASCAR car owner Richard Childress wheels a dirt late-model around the Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway, no doubt there's some Cup tech in that #3 Chevy. Photo by Gary Jowers
What does your circle track program have in common with a NASCAR Nextel Cup (NNC) team or a Formula One team? You may think that the only answer is that all the cars have four wheels. I am sure that Smokey would tell you that we all have limits to our time and money. He would also tell you that the best teams always use their available resources most effectively.
For the sake of this article, we will define resources as money, man hours or material that you spend on your racing program. From NNC to your shop, having a plan and working that plan is the most important thing we have to do. You may think that a NNC team has no resource problem. However, look at the current "merger" trend in Cup racing. Both Roush Racing and Evernham Motorsports have sold a part of their teams to investors, for sources of additional funding.
You have heard the clich that circle track cars don't burn fuel, they burn money and time. Well, in many respects, this is true. The best teams, from NNC to your local circle track, spend their money on what is most important. Or at least they should.
With that said, a good question is "What is most important?" And, with respect to that, how important is engine performance? "Having worked with NNC teams for the last seven years, I always ranked the five most important elements in Cup racing as follows," says Charles Jenckes. (You may want to consider these as your own priorities):
* Team/Resource Management
* Aero/Mechanical Grip
* Pit Performance/ Race Strategy
ASA Late Model Challenge Champion...
ASA Late Model Challenge Champion Travis Dassow (on left) discusses his practice laps with a crew member. Photo by Chuck Gonzalez
"I am an engine engineer, yet I ranked engine performance Fifth...unless they break. When an engine failure occurs, it is unrecoverable." In many cases, a severely-damaged car can be returned to the track to gather points, but an engine failure is final. For example, the #8 car missed the Chase in 2007 because the team suffered five engine failures. It was not because of poor car or driver performance. Now let's examine the list.
The Driver The driver is the competitor and, in many cases, the data acquisition system. Without good feedback from the driver, making adjustments to the car is very difficult. Whether at a short-track or a Cup event, it is the driver's ability to ascertain what the car needs and his (or her) ability to communicate this to the crew that often represents the difference between on-track success and failure.
"Natural talent cannot be learned. We have all seen how a talented driver can make a mediocre car look good," says Jenckes. "For these reasons, I rank the driver as the most important element in the majority of race programs."
Does the team with the biggest budget always win? Well, David sometimes slays Goliath. So, in racing, how does this happen? It happens when a team works together and uses all of its resources most effectively.
Even in Formula One, where teams annually spend the equivalent of the gross national product (GNP) of a third-world country, there are limits to their resources. No matter how much money they have, no one can purchase time. Time is the great equalizer. All Cup teams today have big budgets. And, all teams have large staffs. Because of their vast resources, Cup teams have more combinations to test than they have time to test them. The teams that recognize what to test and use their time most efficiently will have the most success.
In the 2007 Cup season, the car of tomorrow (COT) was a perfect example of how resource management can make the difference in winning or losing. The teams that emphasized development of the COT performed significantly better than those that did not. Simply stated, think about how you'll spend your time, well in advance of when it gets spent.