Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion has been on both sides of the fence when it comes to big or small race teams. He is now turning the wrenches for Tommy Baldwin Racing with Alex Bowman behind the wheel. After missing the Daytona 500 the team has tried to claw its way into the top 20 in points. They currently sit 34th and have a long way to go. However, they are already ahead of some people who made the show in Daytona.
Manion’s expertise will serve his fledgling organization well as they try to make up ground on the people who finished the race. Bowman continues to learn the craft but has done a great job of keeping the car moving forward. This week Manion talks about the off week, the start to the season and tires, tires, tires. Check out what he is thinking as the circuit heads to Texas.
Mike Neff, Frontstretch: We are coming off of our first off-weekend of the season six races in. How do you feel about the first six weeks of the year?
Kevin ‘Bono’ Manion: I wish I could sound more excited. I am excited about it but it has just been a struggle of heartbreak and bad luck. I am very excited about the future of the team. Alex is doing a great job. You look at where we are in points and it chalks up to ‘if it could have gone wrong it did.’ It started off with missing Daytona, which was juts heartbreaking, and so you have to pick up the pieces from there. Just the emotional stress of that and the depression and everything that is involved in not making that race. Add in the financial side of it and that was just a huge blow. It is upsetting to know that I work for a team that has been in business for seven years and had no security going down there to be in that race. It is just tough y’know. One of the name drivers almost went home from that race. Similar to last year at Talladega, although no full-time team went home, but it is upsetting that a team like that can go home. Then we watch the golf today and Tiger Woods could potentially miss the cut at the Masters. It is different though, they can miss tournaments but it is just hard to explain. It is two totally different things.
We blew up at Vegas 20 laps in, we got a hole in the oil cooler at Martinsville last week after something small went through the grill and put a hole in it. We feel like the car has had speed, we’ve done a good job with the setup, we’ve been OK. This is a long answer to a short question but it has been a heartbreak up to this point. We needed a weekend off and now we’ll come into Texas and see what we can do. I have been excited with the speed we’ve had in qualifying trim and some of the speed we’ve had in the race. We’re the little team that could and we are doing it, so we’re looking forward to this weekend and beyond.
Neff: What did you do during your off week?
Manion: We went to South Boston for a Southern Modified Tour race. We went up there with our modified with Ryan Preece driving. We ended up sitting on the pole and winning the race with our Curb Records Menards Chevrolet. It was pretty cool because Mike Curb finally got his first win in the Southern Modified Tour. We run the No. 98 in Southern Tour races. Mike Curb is the car owner and this makes him a winner in all of the divisions he’s raced in in NASCAR. He’s a big supporter of a lot of race teams and we are glad we could help him accomplish that.
Neff: I spoke with Matt Puccia last week about how Roush Fenway Racing has been a little behind this season and they are working to catch up. He mentioned that they are building a whole fleet of new cars with technology they developed in their engineering group. Obviously TBR doesn’t have near the resources that Roush Fenway does. Do you have the ability to build completely new cars from the ground up at all or do you have to modify and adjust on the chassis that you currently have under roof?
Manion: We’ve built some new cars. They aren’t brand new but they are close. We’ve put some clips on four of our intermediate cars and one short-track car this year. New bodies and new innovations but, as far as a brand new, ground up car, we haven’t built any. We did build some towards the end of last year. That is kind of a catch-22. We’ve rebuilt everything, with new parts and new development. But for a little team, it is tough to design a new car and go out and build it. We have no alliance with any race team this year. We just have the help we get through Chevrolet so all of us at the shop put our heads together. I’m fairly proud of our effort and the speed of our cars. Certainly the results and the points don’t show it but there is a lot of racing left to go and we could end up most anywhere in the standings. There is a lot of racing left to go and I’m just excited to get it rolling and get into these months ahead and turn a few heads. We’ll set our goals, we set them high. I like setting them high. If we can go up there and race 15th to 25th that is a pretty good goal. There are a lot of good race teams out there. The competition is the best it has ever been. We aren’t far off of those Roush guys. We outrace them quite a bit. There are some other teams up there too that we race with. Looking forward to just moving up a few spots in the points and getting a little bit more security. Whatever we do it is one race at a time and we’ll take them as they come and make the best out of it.
Neff: Last week we saw some penalties come down for the guys over at RCR. You don’t know the intricacies of what took place. Several years ago they were accused, but it was never proven, to have cut slits in rims to let air breathe off of them This time they are being accused of drilling holes in the tires. Just a personal opinion but I would think that drilling holes in the tires would initially let the air bleed off but would eventually seal up and not allow any more air to escape. Do you feel like there would be more of an advantage from slits in the rims than holes in the tires?
Manion: I really can’t answer that. Obviously if there is a slit in the rim it would probably work more efficiently but it is also almost a guaranteed way to get caught. If you have a hole in your tire you can blame it on running over something. I don’t know what is going to come of the appeal. I don’t know much about it. I try and stay out of it. I know there have been a lot of warnings lately about tire bleeding. I have a hard time believing that they are actually doing it, with all of the warnings but, you never know. I don’t know. You’re innocent until proven guilty so we’ll just have to wait and see.
I haven’t seen anything yet. Haven’t seen the tire. Haven’t seen any video., I haven’t seen any thing really. So, I don’t know what to make of it. Next up is the appeals process. I’ve been through a few of those. They are difficult to win but, if they feel they have a case, I’m sure it will be heard. That is a pretty big fine there, and a big points penalty, that is a big deal so we’ll see what happens with that.
Neff: Just trying to understand the advantages of controlling the pressure buildup. As the pressure inside the tires builds up it changes the grip level and characteristics. What is it that changes with the tire because they are radials so they shouldn’t change in size.
Manion: I imagine it changes the stiffness of the sidewall. That’s what makes your grip is the ability of the car to ‘get into the track’ so to speak. Similar to a spring, if it is too stiff it won’t allow the car to get down into the track. There is an optimum range of grip with the tires. Once it gets the pressure built up beyond a certain point it moves past the optimum level of grip. When we qualify we set the tires to where the optimal level of grip can be attained. The lateral grip with the tire is where the optimum is found. The pressure in the tire increasing is what takes away the lateral grip and ultimately costs you the ‘goody’ from the tire.
Neff: Another aspect of the tires for this weekend, we are dealing with another aged surface at Texas Motor Speedway. The character of the track can also be abrasive to the tires. Do you have to be concerned with tire debris clogging up the radiator and, if so, is there anything you can do to prevent that from happening?
Manion: I don’t think so here. The tire is hard enough that the rubber that comes off is more of a dust than a slag. I remember back in Darlington is where it always happened. It was more of a mixture of sand and rubber where, in Texas, the tire is hard enough that it will not get into the radiator. The way we can prevent it from getting into the radiator is we run a grill screen that we put in front of the radiator. We put a material between the screen and the radiator that catches the debris drops it to the bottom of the pan away from the openings. We also run a shaker screen between the grill screen and the radiator. That screen is mounted so it vibrates. The debris comes through the grill, it hits the shaker screen and gets knocked down to the duct work instead of going into the radiator itself. Those are a couple of ways. Technology has come a long way. The old-style shaker screen, a lot of the teams still use it, for a couple of different reasons. If a lugnut goes through the initial screen, you still have a secondary screen. Also with technology and innovation there are a couple of different things we can put in front of the radiator to help distribute the air throughout the radiator along with keeping debris out.
Neff: All of your practice is during the day this weekend and the racing is at night. Do you have to rely exclusively on simulations to make the estimates of how the car will change or do you go by the seat of the pants, knowing what you’ve done in the past and how the car will react?
Manion: I definitely look at notes but tomorrow morning’s practice and the conditions that the race track is going to be in will be really close to race conditions. It is going to be partly cloudy and only a high of about 65. We’re going to be really lucky and have close conditions to race conditions. The simulations really don’t take into account the sun or the clouds. Mostly just using your notebooks and watching what the track does and watching the feeder series to see what they do. If you watch the race and everyone is screaming loose then we will know that the track will loosen up. That is another way to approach that.
Neff: Once practice is done before qualifying Friday you are done with it for the weekend. Does that force you to do race trim runs throughout practice or were you planning on race trim the whole time and not worrying about qualifying runs thanks to the new format?
Manion: Tomorrow we have two practices. So what we will do is start out in race trim because that will be the closest to race conditions. We then get a break so, during that down time, we’ll most likely swap over to qualifying trim. We’ll then run about the last hour of practice in qualifying runs. We go right into qualifying at that point. The time from the end of practice to qualifying is a very short turnaround. You want to end practice in qualifying trim so you can top the gas off to whatever level you want, wipe it down, make a few quick changes and get in line to qualify. We know how difficult it is to get in line and get through that gee whiz machine, and that is what you want to get done.