Kurt Busch to Attempt The Indianapolis-Charlotte Double
posted by Phil Allaway
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Andretti Autosport announced this morning that Kurt Busch, driver of the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Sprint Cup Series, will attempt the Indianapolis 500 in a fifth entry for the IndyCar Series team. Once the Indianapolis 500 is completed, Busch will fly from Indianapolis to Charlotte, jump in his No. 41 Chevrolet and compete in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Busch considers the opportunity to do the double as an old-school throwback moment.
“This is really to challenge myself within motorsports,” Busch said in Andretti Autosport’s press release. “Perhaps I am a bit of an old-school racer; a throwback, I guess. I enjoyed the era of drivers racing different cars and testing themselves in other series. It is tough to do now for a variety of factors, but when the opportunity is there, I want to do it. While NASCAR is my home, I have been fortunate to compete in Pro Stock on the NHRA circuit a number of years ago and test a V8 Supercar. This opportunity was a talk with Michael [Andretti] over dinner one night, a “What if,” and now it’s becoming a reality for me to drive in the Indy 500 with Andretti Autosport. It’s literally a dream come true. To go to the famous Brickyard with the iconic Andretti name, it doesn’t get much cooler or better than that.”
Busch will be doing the Indianapolis-Charlotte double as a Memorial Day mission to men and women serving in the U.S. Military via the Armed Forces Foundation. Fans can contribute to the cause by texting AFF to 50555 to donate $10.
Busch, who has never raced an IndyCar, passed Rookie Orientation at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year during a test session. At the time, Busch was more or less testing the Dallara DW12 for fun.
Busch will be the fourth driver to attempt the Indianapolis-Charlotte double. John Andretti was the first driver to attempt it in 1994. After finishing four laps down in tenth in Indianapolis, Andretti crashed and had engine problems in the 600. Robby Gordon has attempted the double five times, most recently in 2004. However, Gordon failed to make it to Charlotte on time and did not start the 600 in 2000 (P.J. Jones started Gordon’s No. 13 Ford in that instance). Finally, Tony Stewart has attempted the double twice (most recently in 2001) and is the only driver to ever complete all 1100 miles. Neither of the three drivers has won either leg of the double. The best finishes are Stewart and Gordon’s sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis 500 (although Gordon’s came in 2000, the year he didn’t make it to Charlotte in time to start the Coca-Cola 600), and Stewart’s fourth-place finish in the 2001 Coca-Cola 600.
Danica Patrick, Justin Allgaier Talk About Phoenix Incident
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
A disappointing start to the year for Danica Patrick won’t include continued conflict. Patrick met with rookie Justin Allgaier Sunday, shortly after the Phoenix Cup race after a wreck ruined both drivers’ days. Patrick, who was critical of the No. 51 car on the radio, claiming Allgaier was “driving all over the track” appeared receptive to a conversation that quickly settled differences over what will be a long season.
“She was just upset because she got involved in the crash that we had,’’ said Allgaier to the Motor Racing Network. “She says she’s been through this and that she felt like I needed to settle down at that point. I explained my position on why everything happened. I think she understood where I was coming from. It doesn’t fix either one of our racecars. It doesn’t fix either one of our days. Unfortunately, we were both having pretty decent days.’’
Allgaier wound up 30th due to the incident while Patrick was 36th. The incident, which was caused by Allgaier’s spin also involved the No. 32 team and Travis Kvapil, which wound up 38th after sustaining heavy damage.
Camping World Close to Extending Title Sponsorship of NCWTS
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Tuesday March 4, 2014
Marcus Lemonis, CEO of Camping World, Grand Marshal of Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Phoenix International Raceway, and star of CNBC’s “The Profit,” made the announcement over the weekend that the retailer is very close to announcing a deal that would continue its title sponsorship of NASCAR’s Truck Series. The original agreement with NASCAR is scheduled to conclude after the 2015 season.
According to the sanctioning body, no formal contract has been signed, but “the agreement between the two parties has proven to be a beneficial one.”
“In about a month, we’ll be announcing a significant extension to that contract. It’s been great for us,” said Camping World’s Lemonis in a statement. “The NASCAR relationship has worked well for Camping World. When we started, we had 35 stores. Now, we’re up to 120 stores. As we travel the country and we meet new customers in stores, they always are very appreciative of our relationship with NASCAR. It’s been good.”
Gaining a long-term commitment from Camping World to sponsor the Truck Series would be a relief for NASCAR, which is set to lose Nationwide Insurance as title sponsor for the NASCAR Nationwide Series at the end of the 2014 season. The sponsorship of the Cup Series by Sprint runs through 2016.
The NCWTS is back in action on March 29th at 2:30 PM (ET) when the trucks visit Martinsville Speedway in the Kroger 250, which can be seen on Fox Sports 1. Ratings for the season opener were up 11 percent.
Harvick Takes Win At Phoenix In Second Race With New Team
posted by Justin Tucker
Monday March 3, 2014
Phoenix International Raceway has become Kevin Harvick’s home away from home. Sunday Afternoon was no exception as Harvick charged to the front early and would dominate for much of the day, leading 224 of the scheduled 312 laps to record his record fifth win on the one mile oval and his third win in the last four races at Phoenix.
Harvick, coming off of a disappointing Speedweeks which was capped by a last lap crash in the Daytona 500 in his debut with Stewart-Haas Racing, set the tone on Saturday by winning both practices while having the best 5 and 10-lap averages in the first practice of the day on Saturday. On Sunday, Harvick and his No. 4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet was nothing short of flawless as he was able to hold Dale Earnhardt, Jr. by .489 seconds after a late race restart to claim his 24th career Sprint Cup Series victory.
“Man, this is awesome,” Harvick said after his dominant victory on Sunday. “Man, this just solidifies so many things and so many decisions. It’s been so much work with all the time and effort that these guys (the crew) have put in—but what a race car.”
Stewart Haas Racing co-owner Gene Haas shared in Harvick’s excitement after the race.
“It took long enough,” Haas joked. “This is phenomenal. I think there was a lot of skepticism last year about what myself and Tony (Stewart) what we were up to, was there a lot of madness to this. Quite frankly, it’s a great team, there’s a lot of synergy at the shop, people working together. I don’t know what we did, but I think we put together a great organization.”
Daytona 500 winner Dale Earnhardt, Jr. continued his hot start to the 2014 season. Earnhardt Jr. would finish second on Sunday, marking his seventh consecutive top 10 finish since the end of the 2013 season. Earnhardt Jr. was pleased with the effort after a coast-to-coast whirlwind week after winning his second Daytona 500 and also gave great praise to the efforts of Harvick and the No. 4 team.
“I’ve got to congratulate Kevin. Those guys were two-tenths faster than everyone all weekend in practice. They were just phenomenal,” Earnhardt said. “To be able to run with them all day was a big confidence builder for us.”
Joining Harvick and Earnhardt in the top 5 of The Profit on CNBC 500K were Brad Keselowski with his second consecutive top 3 run of 2014 in third. Keselowski’s Team Penske teammate Joey Logano would finish fourth, and Jeff Gordon would come home fifth in his No. 24 Pepsi Max Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished in sixth, followed by Ryan Newman with a nice rebound after Daytona in seventh. Carl Edwards would carry the banner for Roush Fenway Racing by finishing eighth, Kyle Busch was ninth, and Jamie McMurray would finish tenth.
A look at the Profit on CNBC 500K by the numbers. There were 14 lead changes among eight different drivers, there were eight cautions for 39 laps which slowed the race pace to 109.229 MPH.
Next Sunday, the Sprint Cup Series heads to Sin City and the Las Vegas Motor
Starting Lineup: The Profit On CNBC 500K
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday March 1, 2014
Drivers in RED (i) are those ineligible to collect Sprint Cup points
Daytona 500 TV Ratings Down
posted by Frontstretch Staff
Wednesday February 26, 2014
What was the longest weather delay in Daytona 500 history turned out to bring NASCAR lower ratings and TV viewership Sunday night than expected. According to a report Monday from FOX Sports, the 56th running of the Daytona 500 airing at 8 PM (ET) posted a 5.6/10 national household rating/share which averaged 9.3 million viewers. That’s down 44 percent from last year’s 9.9, easily making it the least-watched Daytona 500 of all-time.
Due to the six-hour, twenty-two minute rain delay in Daytona, the race was up against the primetime coverage of the Winter Olympics Closing Ceremony from Sochi, Russia on NBC (15.25 million viewers). FOX also reported that 69% of the pre-rain delay viewers of the race, which began at 1 PM (ET) kept tuning in.
In comparison, the 2013 Daytona 500 on FOX was the most-watched race in five years, posting a 9.9/22 rating/share, commanding 16.7 million viewers. The Daytona 500 in 2012, the first to ever be run on a Monday and in the primetime slot did a 7.7/13 overnight rating/share which resulted in 13.67 million households viewing the race according to Nielsen TV ratings data.
Earnhardt, Jr. Claims Second Daytona 500 Victory
posted by Justin Tucker
Wednesday February 26, 2014
Ten years is a long time. For Dale Earnhardt, Jr., it felt like an eternity. NASCAR’s Most Popular Driver endured many near misses and close calls at the Daytona 500 since his only win in the Great American Race in 2004. Earnhardt had finished second in two of his last three Daytona 500s coming into Sunday’s race. He was also riding the tail of a 55-race winless streak, dating back to Michigan in 2012.
However nothing would stop Dale Jr. on Sunday, not even a 6 hour and 22 minute rain delay from capturing his second Daytona 500 win. Earnhardt Jr. led a race-high 54 laps on the evening and used some timely drafting help from teammates Jimmie Johnson and, on the final restart, Jeff Gordon to separate from the pack and secure the victory.
“Winning this race is the greatest feeling that you could feel in this sport besides accepting the trophy for the championship,” said a jubilant Earnhardt after pulling into Victory Lane. “We could fight off battle after battle. We got a little help at the end there from Jeff to get away on the restart. This is amazing. I can’t believe this is happening. I never take this for granted, man because it doesn’t happen twice, let alone once.”
Aside from the race itself the big story of the race was the 6 hour and 22 minute red flag, which threatened to move the race to Monday evening (had the race been postponed, FOX Sports’ Chris Myers had tweeted that the race would resume at 5:00pm EST). However, Mother Nature would cooperate and would allow the race to be run under different conditions from which they practiced this week. Once the race resumed, the intensity picked up from the changing track conditions. This allowed the pack to race side-by-side and at times 3-wide up to seven rows deep.
Joining Earnhardt Jr. in the top 5 for the 2014 Daytona 500 were: Denny Hamlin who closed out a spectacular Speedweeks in second, Brad Keselowski in third, Jeff Gordon in fourth, and Jimmie Johnson who overcome two wrecks leading up to the 500 in fifth.
Rounding out the top 10 in the Daytona 500 were Matt Kenseth in sixth, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. in seventh and Greg Biffle would bring his No. 16 Ford home in eighth. Austin Dillon would come home ninth in his first Cup Series race in the iconic No. 3 for Richard Childress Racing, while Casey Mears would round out the top 10.
A couple of major contenders for the Daytona 500 win would see their hopes dashed early on as Martin Truex, Jr. would blow up just 30 laps into the race, relegating him to a 43rd-place finish in his debut for Furniture Row Racing. Crew chief Todd Berrier was already in Nashville for a test session before the race was even over. Kyle Busch, meanwhile would have a pit road violation just before halfway and would spend much of the race battling back from that mistake. Busch would eventually finish 19th after leading 19 laps.
Danica Patrick would also be bit by bad luck as she was caught up in a multi-car wreck on lap 145. Patrick would lead her second consecutive Daytona 500, but wouldn’t have the finish to show for it finishing 40th. Tony Stewart would encounter a frustrating evening as well, with a fuel pickup problem derailing his quest for his first Daytona 500 win. Stewart would finish 35th.
A look at the Daytona 500 by the numbers. There were 42 lead changes among 18 drivers, while seven cautions for 39 laps would slow the race pace to 145.290 MPH.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series heads to the “diamond in the desert,” Phoenix International Raceway for The Profit on CNBC 500K. The Green flag is scheduled for 3:15pm EST.
Nationwide Series Post-Race Quotes: Drive4COPD 300
posted by Thomas Bowles
Tuesday February 25, 2014
Frontstretch Interviews – Courtesy Mike Neff
ELLIOTT SADLER – FINISHED 4th
Thoughts on the race?
It’s definitely a lot different racing than what we’re used to.
Comfortable with it?
Yeah, it’s just different. You’re worried about what you’re doing, but you’re also worried about what everyone else is doing and they’re not doing more than you’re doing. Physically pushing a guy is way better than just riding so you just gotta time it right and push it to the edge.
Happy to start the year with a top 5?
Yeah. Hell, that was the worst we ran all day, I think. I have no idea how they put the 3 car in front of us on that last restart. I hadn’t seen the 3 car hardly all day. When they put us from fifth to sixth, on the outside line, it just really boxed us in. I would have really restarted behind my teammate and given him a good push to the front. Anyways, it is what it is; we’ll take it and move on.
Looked like you were up front all day.
The guys did a good job. We had a fast race car. Great pit stops, just really proud of these guys. The car’s in one piece and we can take it to Talladega now. Great job by my guys. A lot of effort came into coming down here to Daytona and giving ourselves a shot to win. We had that chance to be up front and make some things happen. Fifth is not what we want, but we’ll take it and move on.
Bumping vs Pushing?
It’s way harder. You don’t want to lay on the guy in front of you, so it’s tough racing. A lot different than what we’re used to, ‘cause you gotta go. You gotta drag the brake too ‘cause you don’t want to hit the guys and you don’t want to stay on him. It’s a lot harder mentally than what we’ve done in the past.
Car was strong all day. Pushing vs. Bumping, is that harder to do than just getting on somebody and pushing them?
Yeah, it is a little bit. When you bump ‘em, you jar ‘em, it kinda jacks ‘em a little bit. It’s a little more abrupt, obviously. I thought it was OK there at the end. It was certainly fun and hopefully entertaining. But a little bit of a struggle in the early part of the race and the midpart of the race to see a good race. And that’s unfortunate for the fans. You can’t do that the whole race, you can’t tear up your stuff, knock your grill in, overheat your motor, all that stuff so there’s no sense in doing all that until you get down to the last lap. The 7 and the 6, they did a good job. Man, the 7 really held the 22 and I tight on the bottom. I was rubbing his door and hitting the apron at the same time, no room whatsoever. So it was good; wish we were the ones who could have won but a lot better now than what we were last year.
Going home in one piece makes it a lot better, right?
Yeah. My back feels good. My foot feels good. Past years here, I’ve been going home with pain so I’m alright.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Truck Series Post-Race Quotes: Daytona (Exclusives)
posted by Thomas Bowles
Saturday February 22, 2014
When you’re on the outside like that, how frustrating is it?
It’s so hard. Timothy Peters has won here. Kyle Busch has won everywhere. Ron Hornaday has been running Trucks forever, probably before I was even born. I was surrounded by veterans there, and like I told them I don’t have a rookie stripe but I’m a rookie. This is only my fourth Truck race ever, my fourth superspeedway race, and man, I figured out when the 17 got up in front of me, I pushed him. And as soon as I pushed him, he took off. And I went with him. And I just kept doing it, and before I knew it, he was leading. And I saw Ron in my mirror, backed up to him, and if it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened. I gotta thank him big time for that. That was a true teammate move right there. I really appreciate that. He just bounced off me and we got to the front. I tried my hardest to sidedraft Kyle. I was probably touching his door.
Top 5 in the No. 30 truck. This deal come together at the last minute, but you had a heck of a truck. Tell us about your night.
Yeah, I’ve got to thank Turner Scott Motorsports. The guys worked so hard on this Rheem Comfort Products Chevrolet. Exciting! Just got hung up on the outside and had to wait for my teammate there to catch up. And then he got to the bottom, so… I got the old 32 and started pushing ol’ Ryan to the front. So, it’s not bad. We’ll take it. You just don’t want to step over that boundary. You don’t know how far to push and shove. We bumped about six times down the straightaway without latching onto them. Hopefully, that was OK and we came home with a top 5.
Connect with Mike!
2014 Budweiser Duels Post Race Quotes
posted by Matt Stallknecht
Friday February 21, 2014
BUDWEISER DUELS POST-RACE QUOTES
They’re saying the wheel bearing burned up in it. I don’t know what caused it, they’re taking it all apart to figure out what the heck happened. Something abnormal that’s for sure I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen at all. Hopefully, we made the race and hopefully we can fix the problem before Sunday.
WHAT WAS THAT LOUD BOOM ONCE YOU TURNED INTO THE GARAGE?
Loud pop was a tire… thankfully, it popped, hopefully it didn’t hurt anybody. All the heat created in the left front that popped was pretty weird.
REALLY GOOD RUN. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF IT?
Yeah, it was good. We have a car we can work with for the 500. Got a good starting spot, so we’re going to rest easy, fluff and buff our car for a couple of days and get ready for Sunday.
ANY DIFFERENCE ON WHETHER THE TOP OR BOTTOM LANE WORKED?
Yeah, I was just moving around, trying to stay with the flow. For me, this car works on all parts of the racetrack. So I’m pretty happy with it.
DALE EARNHARDT, JR.
GOT SHUFFLED BACK, AFTER PIT STOPS AND THEN COULDN’T GET BACK UP TO THE FRONT. WHY?
Nah, we were just sitting there waiting until the last few laps to make a move. You didn’t want to pull down and get sent to the back. Seen a couple of guys get sent to the back really quick so we were just kind of waiting for the end. I felt like we had a good situation there with Ambrose behind us — we had a good run off Turn 2 and I went. It was the last lap, time to go do something, nobody went with us but hopefully Sunday is a different story.
We got a great car. We don’t have to work hard. We learned, we got a good race car. Got a car in one piece, ready to go so we’ll try and get through the next couple of practices, deliver it to the starting group this Sunday and we’ll be real happy.
YOU’RE IN THE DAYTONA 500!
Yeah, it’s pretty awesome. This Whitetail Chevrolet was so fast that I knew all I had to do was stick it behind smart, intelligent drafters and we could have a good finish. That’s what we did in the Duels and I’m excited. I’m excited to go do some stuff with the Nationwide car and have some more practice with this. But to know that we’re locked in the Daytona 500’s pretty cool.
YOU WERE OBVIOUSLY IN FRONT OF THAT MELEE AT THE END. WHEN YOU WERE UP FRONT THERE IN THE BEGINNING, WERE YOU HOPING TO JUST STAY IN LINE AND LET YOU FINISH TOP 5?
I was pretty content to ride and luckily I knew a lot of people around us were. It was nice to have a little calm and not really have to be racing hard the whole time. I knew that the pit stop was going to shake everything up and that’s exactly what happened. Fell back a little bit there but made the right moves at the end to get a good finish.
HOW STRONG ARE THESE RCR CARS?
They’re very strong! They definitely have the capabilities to be winning one of these races.
YOU’RE IN THE TOP 5 FOR YOUR HEAT IN THE DAYTONA 500. YOUR PRIMARY CAR IS SITTING RIGHT IN THE GARAGE, KIND OF WADDED UP. DID YOU THINK THIS ONE HAD IT IN IT?
Yeah, it’s a brand new car also. It’s just not quite as good as the primary but still a damned good car. I’m just proud of everybody at RCR for building such fast race cars. All of our cars have been fast, ECR motor’s been strong, even our affiliate teams have been qualifying really good and racing good. So… excited about 2014! It’s going to be a good year.
WELL MAN, YOU STARTED IN THE BACK BUT WORKED YOUR WAY TO THE FRONT WHEN IT COUNTED MOST. WERE YOU JUST BIDING YOUR TIME THROUGHOUT THE RACE?
Eh, you never know if you’re going to get back up there or not. We had to start at the back, we had to make a run early and see what we could do. We drove right to 10th, or something like that and then it got stagnant. We tried to make something happen, and went to the back again. Drove back up to the front. Again, just really proud of my guys. Matt Kruder did a hell of a job on that pit stop getting just enough gas in to gain some spots there.
RCR CARS SEEM PRETTY DARNED STRONG. DO YOU THINK THE RCR CARS HAVE SOMETHING FOR THEM ON SUNDAY — ESPECIALLY THE THREE JOE GIBBS RACING CARS THAT SEEM TO BE THE CLASS OF THE FIELD RIGHT NOW?
Oh yeah. The 20 car was extremely fast. The 11 didn’t qualify that good, but he’s a good drafter. I think he won. We definitely have something for him.
Check in with Matt and Jay on their site at CareyandCoffey.com.
I have seen the future of automotive engineering. I have seen the future of design and styling. I have seen the future of machining and construction, and I have been privy to the inspiration of the innovations of which they spurred. These diverse advancements were being explored through another futuristic concept: the future of team organization. All of these are intimately related to the future of motorsports, and all could be seen firsthand at an isolated research and testing facility in rural Alabama this last weekend. I know this because I was there – at Baja SAE Auburn 2012.
Allow me to provide some history and some details. Our small college here in Northern Lower Michigan has an engineering team that competes in annual “Mini Baja” events through the Society of Automotive Engineers. The SAE dates back to 1905 – some car-crazy, young Michigander named Ford was the group’s first vice president – and its focus has always been on encouraging, supporting, and promoting research developments in safety, performance, and efficiency. This group has been at the epicenter of transportation innovation for nearly a century; engineers in aeronautics, farm equipment, and motorized boating became affiliated with SAE back in 1916, providing the society with its present-day connections to anything mobility-related.
The SAE even allowed some of us touchy-feely cultural types to play a role in their on-going exploration of transportation’s evolution and innovation. Yours truly was a member of the SAE for two years a decade ago, and I presented a paper about Barney Oldfield and early motorsports technology at the group’s World Congress in Detroit in 2001, just a couple weeks after Dale Earnhardt’s death. My time with the SAE was limited, but what I learned from its members and their activities forever shaped my thinking about engineering, design, and development of new concepts. Just when I thought I had run my course with the SAE, I found myself pulled back – albeit briefly – into its circle.
A colleague of mine has advised a student engineering club at our college for many years, and their primary project has always been building a racer for the SAE’s “Mini Baja” division, one of twelve, collegiate-level design competition areas supervised by SAE. Other design competitions include Formula SAE (for open-wheeled, SCCA-like race cars) and SAE’s “Clean Snowmobile” Challenge (for “greener” examples of these popular recreational vehicles).
Our college has had varying levels of success in the Mini Baja division over the past decade or so; students at our school have always worked within the confines of SAE’s strict rulebook and our college’s tight budget. While larger universities typically spend close to six figures on their cars, our team had only about $12,000 with which to work. The engineering students had to scrimp-and-save and build their racer through sponsorship donations, gifts of parts and/or equipment, and a small donation from the college’s Student Government Association. Last year’s Mini Baja car did fairly well in competition, having been designed and built to race on an off-road course strewn with trees, rocks, and railroad ties (it also had to traverse a quarter-mile of waist-deep water). The car for Baja SAE Auburn 2012 would be facing different challenges.
This year’s car was brand new from wheels to roll cage, which required increased amounts of money, energy, hardware, and time. Since this project is not part of classes taught at our college, students must find the free time during which to weld, grind, bend, and assemble the suspension and body parts needed to transform their ideas and theories into a rolling reality. The 2012 SAE “Mini Baja” car was an improvement over last year’s machine, but it would still be less advanced in design and construction than cars built by better-funded teams. To residents of NASCAR Nation, this fact was more rule than exception.
So, how did I get dragged back into the SAE fold? It had to do with my residency in the aforementioned NASCAR Nation. My professional path winds through the wilds of motorsports, and through the jungles of NASCAR most directly, so when our engineering club needed a suitable back-up adviser for their trip to compete in Alabama last weekend, my name floated toward the top of the list. Our club’s regular adviser was in a hospital in Indianapolis while his son received chemotherapy for a rare and aggressive form of cancer. A call was quickly put out for full-time faculty members to assist with the trip; two of us answered the call, packed our bags, and headed for Opelika in two rented transport vehicles with race car, tools, parts, and students.
Did I mention that I had just returned home from my PCA/ACA conference trip to Boston? We made it home Monday night in time for work on Tuesday. A voice mail at my office early Tuesday morning pleaded with me to “take a trip” later in the week; it wound up that said late-week trip would leave from our campus at 3:00 on Wednesday afternoon! Suddenly I was back in NASCAR mode: return from one event, do laundry, repack, and hit the road for the next week’s race. The fact that most of my courses (and all of my students) are online made the adventure possible…. that, and the added benefit of having a supportive spouse!
The SAE Mini Baja event was to be held at the National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) in Opelika, Alabama, about thirty minutes from the campus of Auburn University. Events would be laid out all around the NCAT site, which is actually a working engineering research facility, including dynamic events (a hill climb and acceleration, maneuverability, and suspension tests) and a four-hour, Le Mans-style endurance race on Sunday.
The dynamic events were all about providing your mettle against challenging layouts like a dirt course that wove its way 300 yards up a steep hillside, and a suspension test track that featured a heavily-wooded, rock-strewn embankment into a ravine laden with buried concrete pipes, telephone poles, and railroad ties.
I’m proud to say that our college finished 13th out of 102 entries on this monster.
Sunday’s endurance race was along a two-mile course of changing elevation and surface (everything from dirt to grass to gravel/rocks). One of the spectator areas offered a spectacular view of the Mini Baja cars as they ran a high-speed straight that led to a tabletop dirt mogul. Upon landing (if you still had four wheels on your car), competitors then had to cross a section of unimproved railroad track before dropping downhill and making an off-camber, hairpin left into the woods. The idea was for teams to complete as many laps as possible during the available four hours. Pit stops for fuel, tires (if needed), and driver changes (each team had 3-5 at the ready) were not about speed, although quick stops meant more track time and more laps scored.
The cars, fully designed and built by college/university students, followed a pretty strict set of regulations, mostly for cost and safety purposes. Each car had to use a stock ten-horsepower Briggs-and-Stratton gasoline engine, and all vehicles were required to carry a fire extinguisher and have two kill switches.
All of the Mini Baja cars had to incorporate a roll cage and a five-point harness system, and all drivers had to wear full-faced, Snell-approved motocross helmets, gloves, and at least a Nomex shirt/jacket with cotton pants (several drivers actually wore full driving suits). Suspensions and drivetrains were of each team’s choice, although most cars seemed to utilize coil-over shocks on each wheel (many teams chose to use air shocks) and centrifugal clutch systems like you’d see on a go-kart or snowmobile. The heaviest Mini Baja cars were close to 700 pounds with the lightest car weighing a bit over 300 (our school’s entry tipped the scales at 501 pounds, minus driver).
The 2012 Baja SAE Auburn event included teams of student engineers from all over the world. Several teams from India entered the event, as did teams from Korea, France, the British Isles, and Mexico. One Indian team was located next to my college’s garage in the paddock area. These students seemed to be carrying all their parts and tools in grocery sacks and tote bags, and we later discovered that they had to hire a taxi to get them to-and-from the track from their motel.
It didn’t take our team long to see that these students needed help, so we began offering use of our generator, our work lights, and even our welding equipment. Some aspects of their car (which was a solidly-built, rather squat machine that was more rugged than racy, having been fashioned out of old/used industrial parts) required actual components from us; we loaned the team an extra fire extinguisher and bracket set-up, and we gave them a second kill-switch that made them legal enough to run the events.
The overall philosophy behind an event like this is to provide students with much-needed real-life learning experiences. It is one thing to study an engineering or design concept in class, and it’s another to experiment with ideas on paper, but it’s an entirely thorough education to apply what you learned to the construction of an actual racing machine. Such hands-on learning secures the future of motorsports in that it gives students a taste of what automobile racing is like. Not only are the teams required to formulate and submit business plans, but their design innovations are closely scrutinized (and critiqued openly) during Q&A sessions with event administrators. Technical inspection is both rigorous and frustrating as most teams fail their first attempt (our team passed on the first try and was awarded a brand new engine for their accomplishment).
Such classroom experiences align closely with their professional counterparts. NASCAR race teams – and teams in any form of motorsport, for that matter – go through the same trials and tribulations as they prepare cars, compete against their peers, and face the criticism of fans, sponsors, the media, and the sanctioning body.
The same universal rules apply: the haves typically do better than the have-nots, hard work is both expected and necessary, and good luck is something you make for yourself. These lessons are introduced through the Baja SAE experience, but their relevance is eternal. The student engineer of today who becomes the race engineer of tomorrow will operate under the same guidelines, no matter what kind of vehicle is parked in their paddock.
Like most paddock areas, the Baja SAE Auburn garage was all about helping those in need. Such is the case around NASCAR garages, where parts, pieces, and tools can be borrowed from another competitor (often with free advice thrown in, to boot). Racers can be generous to a fault, but such behavior is what makes our business so unique. It was encouraging to see the future of motorsports exhibiting the qualities so crucial to the basic nature of our attitude.
Helping those in need (or seeking the advice of fellow competitors) is a central trait in racing, but it’s not always encouraged within the culture of serious academic research; I know of colleges where advance knowledge of a competitor’s topic is met with stripped shelves and hidden books. Racing is a tough business, and one that’s often too tough to address alone. Learning to accept need, opportunities, and your own limitations is where a successful future in motorsports begins.
Accepting your own limits leads to a time when you can help others who are now where you once were.
Based on the generosity I saw from the students representing my college, and from the cooperative nature of teams competing at the 2012 Baja SAE Auburn weekend, I’d say the future of motorsports looks pretty positive. Doing more with less seems to be the mantra of these collegiate teams, even though the end result is what we’d expect of racers from any nation in any division. Being relevant in an event (to borrow the word from 2011 Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart) is still essential, and winning remains the ultimate goal, but these future designers, engineers, crew chiefs, and drivers see racing in a different context. They see themselves as part of a larger community – a community that blends the socialization of college with the seriousness of motorsports competition.
The challenge of these Mini Baja races is not simply to go faster, climb higher, and last longer…. the real challenge is to turn abstract ideas into tangible racing vehicles. What was true for visionaries like Henry Ford and Alexander Winton a century ago was alive-and-well at a research facility in the woods outside Opelika, Alabama.
I should know. I was there, and I saw the future…
©2000 - 2008 Mark Howell and Frontstetch.com. Thanks for visiting the Frontstretch!
It’s not all doom and gloom out there in the real world. Thanks Mark.
I echo Joe – thanks for the article