The Frontstretch: Life at the 55: How Engineering and Technology Brought Billy Scott into NASCAR by Tony Lumbis -- Wednesday May 22, 2013

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Last month, we kicked off our new series, “Life at the 55” with a look into the life of jackman/mechanic Tony Cardamone. This month, one of the team engineers on the Aaron’s Dream Machine, Billy Scott provides a little insight into his life and career. Scott explains the role of engineering in NASCAR and his transition from aspiring driver to someone who helps other drivers go fast. While he is one of the up and coming crew members of the sport, it may not be long until he is replaced…by his own son! Find out why in the latest edition of Life at the 55!_

Engineering has certainly become an integral part of NASCAR given all of the technological advances in the sport over the past decade or so. However, it wasn’t always that way. In fact, entering the sport through engineering did not even cross my mind when I was younger; I had my mind set on driving. It was a rather interesting road with a lot of unexpected turns that led me to where I am today.

I have been racing since I was five years old, starting out with motorcycles, four-wheelers, and go-karts and moving into stock cars when I turned 15. I was at the racetrack at least 30 times a year since I was six. One regret I have about that time was that I wish I was more hands-on about working on the cars.

Billy Scott is a team engineer and an integral part of the No. 55 Sprint Cup team.

I was always good with mathematics and numbers in school, and after high school in 1995, I went to college in Florida. During that time, however, my parents got divorced and I stopped going to school. I went to work while racing on the weekends, keeping alive my aspirations of making it to the next level. My mom and I moved to North Carolina in 1998, and I eventually attended a motorsports technology program they used to have in Hickory. I spent the next several years volunteering to help on friends’ race teams and it was then that I became much more hands-on with working on the cars.

In 2003, I received my first NASCAR opportunity with a team in what was then known as the Craftsman Truck Series. It was at that point that engineering really started to become more important in the sport. Most people who worked in NASCAR gained some knowledge of engineering just from working on the cars. To me, it was always impressive how some understood the topic so well when they never had an ounce of formal engineer schooling. Working in that environment renewed my interest in going back to school and by that time, I had a better idea of what I wanted to do when I got out. I attended a motorsports program at UNCC (University of North Carolina Charlotte) while keeping my skills sharp by working with David Reutimann’s cousin on Silver Crown and sprint cars and for a Grand-AM team during weekends and the summer.

After graduating in 2005, I was fortunate to get a job at Robert Yates Racing and worked there until they closed down. That’s when I began my career at Michael Waltrip Racing in 2008 and have been there ever since. Now my racing life is focused on MWR and my driving days are over…well, until I hit the local go-kart track!

One of the many advantages to working on the 55 team is that (crew chief) Rodney (Childers) is one of those people who is knowledgeable about the dynamics of the car from an engineering perspective,

We actually have three engineers that are dedicated to our team, two that travel and one that stays at the shop. At MWR, we have several engineering based tools so it pretty much takes a few of us working at one time to keep up. The simulations have become such an important part of car setup these days. I find it amusing how hard it is to beat the computer at times. Each one of our teams at MWR has a simulation program and it is unbelievable the amount of accuracy we get from it. There are not many changes made to the car that haven’t already been analyzed by the program. It used to be that you would make changes to the car without thinking about other impacts.

Another impact of increased technology is that there is really a fine line in the rules between what you can and cannot do as we saw that with the recent Penske penalties. Teams are always trying to put pieces together in the most optimized way. I did not see the pieces they had or know exactly what they were trying to do, but NASCAR is strict about what goes on these cars; they require that everything be submitted to them first.

Unfortunately, the Toyota camp took a hit as well with the problems on the No. 20 car. Even though we also get our engines from TRD, I can tell you that there is no additional scrutiny on our end following the issue at Kansas. TRD has handled that and assured the teams that it won’t happen again. Obviously the appeals board understood the nature of the issue by taking away some of the team penalties and increasing it with the manufacturer.

On another note, I’m pretty sure racing will be in my family for years to come as my four-year-old son is at the age where he is interested in everything that dad does. He really enjoys what I do. In fact, Tony Cardamone mentioned in his diary last month that he and his family like to camp at the track and my family and I usually join him. There is a group of us at MWR that take campers to the tracks that are closer to the shop and it enhances the experience for all of us. It’s funny because even my two-year old daughter is so into it that she cries when we leave, she’s ready to go to the next race track. One of the hardest things about the job is the time away from home, so it makes it a little easier when we are able to bring some of the home life to the track.

May is a big month for racing and one of the notable events in our sport is the All-Star Race. For us on the Aarons’ Dream Team, the event serves as both a test session for the 600 and a chance to experiment with some new setups. More than usual, this event is all about the win so if you’re off enough to finish fifth, you might as well be off enough to finish 20th. Since there are no points on the line, we’re more willing to take chances right out of the box and see if we can hit on something that will put us in victory lane. It’s also a chance to test for the race the following week but things are still a bit different even though it’s the same track. The most obvious difference is the race length and format. So not everything necessarily applies, but it gives you a chance to see where you stack up against the competition. We wouldn’t do a whole lot that couldn’t carry over but usually, if you find something that does work, it will apply to the following weekend.

The All-Star race is usually a great chance to spend some extra time with the family. We live in Statesville, which is about an hour away, so it’s not quite the home track advantage as it is for a lot of the other crew members. That is why we’ll be camping at the track. It is nice to have races in your backyard or at least in driving distance. I enjoy those weeks where I do not have to plan my schedule around being at the airport by a certain time. For places like Martinsville, Darlington and Bristol, you can actually have dinner with the family on Thursday night before you leave. It’s always nice to have meals home with the family when we can.

I hope you enjoyed a little insight into the unique life of a NASCAR team engineer! Thanks for your support of the 55 team! See you at the track, I’ll be the one with his head buried at the computer!

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