Dress rehearsal preceeds the uncertainty looming at BMS

Dave Ongie • Mar 18, 2010 at 12:00 AM

Part 5 of 5

With all the parts and pieces in place, Chassis 643 is all set for a dress rehearsal.

At MWR, that means a trip to the pull-down rig as well as an engine dyno session.

The pull-down rig, otherwise known as the seven-post rig, is extremely valuable at a track like Bristol.

“There’s so much travel in the suspension, so much loading and speed, particularly at Bristol,” White said. “It’s so fast. The chassis dynamics are extremely important.”

With the data for Bristol loaded into the computer system, the pull-down rig can put the same stress on the suspension that the car will be facing during the race. The information gained from this session will help Tryson fine-tune his setup before the No. 56 team unloads at the track.

With a ban on testing in NASCAR that is entering a second season, this sort of virtual information is more important than ever before. White believes that this is where Hendrick Motorsports, which employs more engineers than anyone else in the Cup garage, has gained a huge advantage in recent years.

But Toyota is fighting back thanks to the TRD center in Salisbury, N.C. With 35 engineers on staff, TRD is hoping to help every Toyota team close the gap on the competition.

“This isn’t rocket science, but the guys that work on those tools are rocket scientists,” White said. “They are really bright guys.”

The doors at TRD are always open, and the teams take full advantage of several space-age tools, most designed to snag the most realistic testing data you can get without actually having a car out on the track.

Among these tools is an eight-post pull-down rig. In the spirit of Spinal Tap, think of it as a seven-post rig that goes up to 11.

“We have an eight-post rig there which is like a seven-post on steroids,” White said. “These guys use it a ton — they’ll use it before and after (races) sometimes.”

The folks at TRD are big on “goalposting,” which means bringing in cars from every Toyota team straight from the track to Salisbury the day after a race and running them on the eight-post.

“We share the information among all of our teams so everyone can see how the other teams ran on the racetrack and basically see what their fundamental handling characteristics were,” White said.

While the engineering muscle being built up at TRD is helping the Toyota teams catch up in terms of handling, White said MWR and Team Red Bull are still at a disadvantage when it comes to engines.

Joe Gibbs Racing provides its own horsepower, but MWR and Red Bull rely on TRD engines, which are shipped in from Costa Mesa, Calif.

The logistics of this has created some headaches, but more importantly, White said it is putting MWR and Red Bull at a competitive disadvantage, and the problem has several prongs.

“The time and distance, the big disadvantage is, first of all, we have to have a larger engine pool than our competition,” White said. “To support these five teams, we have close to 100 engines in a pool. You have to have rebuild time, service time while they’re in the field, and transport time back and forth.”

Every day there are huge aluminum boxes arriving at MRW. These boxes have been built by Toyota to carefully ship engines via FedEx, and most of the time they successfully shield the delicate engines from the rigors of air travel.

The process of shipping and receiving engines is so time consuming that MRW has someone on staff whose only job is to ship and receive engines.

Aside from the inconvenience, the long-distance arrangement also has created lag time when it comes to finding fixes for engine failures.

White said that when an engine fails at Roush Fenway Racing or Hendrick Motorsports, for example, having the engine shop on site is a huge advantage for those teams.

“They basically have a fix by Monday afternoon and it’s in effect for the next race,” he said. “In our case, up until the beginning of this year, our group in California didn’t even see the engine until Wednesday afternoon. We were at least a race behind the competition.”

Luckily, engine issues don’t usually arise at BMS, so Chassis 643 should be in the clear. But Scott Elfver, an engine tuner for MWR, will be at the track just to be sure everything goes smoothly.

His job starts after the engine is installed at the shop. Elfver is present when the car goes through dyno just to be sure there are no problems with the installation or performance.

Once the car arrives at the track, Elfver is in charge of caring for the engine throughout the race weekend.

Since the No. 56 finished 32nd in owner’s points last season, the car will go through engine inspection on Friday before the body is inspected. That means an early morning for Elfver.

“We get engine tech first so I’m the first one to get the car,” he said. “We get it and basically check transmission ratios, rear end ratios, size of the engine, manifold and carburetors. That’s our morning, it’s just all tech and then we reassemble and get ready for practice.”

Race week has arrived, and Chassis 643 is ready to roll.

This isn’t the first rodeo for this particular chassis — it ran at Richmond last season and has been through a test session in New Smyrna.

But in the rapidly changing world of NASCAR, this may as well be the car’s maiden voyage. The parts and pieces used this weekend are light-years ahead of the parts it ran with last time out.

Chassis 643 briefly sees the light of day as it rolls out of a garage door toward the hauler, where it is loaded up along with a backup car.

Once the door closes, it’s lights out as the hauler heads out to Interstate 77, chugs over the mountains and toward NASCAR’s version of the Colosseum.

The next time daylight strikes the No. 56, it will be in the infield of BMS. The stands will sit empty, waiting for the throngs bent on destruction.

As the crew members roll Chassis 643 through the inspection process, the next chapter in its story is waiting to be written.

If the ending is an especially happy one, the car may end up in the lobby of Raceway USA.

But short of a victory, this chapter of Chassis 643’s life will likely draw to a close back where the story started.

There’s a spot inside the fabrication shop at MWR not 50 feet away from where cars are born. Presently, Martin Truex’s car from Atlanta sits alongside the car Michael Waltrip crashed during the Gatorade Duels and the one he piloted in the Daytona 500 a few days later.

These cars are waiting patiently for their next chapter — one more trip on the merry-go- round, one more shot at glory before time and technology pass them by.

How will things turn out for Chassis 643? The story continues tomorrow at www.timesnews.net as we follow Truex, Tryson and the entire No. 56 team through practice and qualifying for the Food City 500.

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