Editor's Note: As this story wasbeing prepared for publication, RCR announced major changes to itsengine program. The most significant change was the hiring of NickHayes, formerly technical director at Cosworth, who will lead thecompany's engine R&D in his role of engine research and developmentdirector at RCR.
It requires a small army of specialists to supply a competitive NextelCup team with horsep
At Richard Childress Racing, horsepower is the Holy Grail. The amount ofmoney and manpower the organization is willing to invest into everyengine is incredible. There is literally no part, including brackets andpulleys, used straight out of the box. That level of attention to detailrequires 239 man-hours for a new engine, and that doesn't take intoaccount the amount of R&D effort that went into creating the latestengine package. For the sake of consistency, that level of effort goesinto every engine built, whether it's a first option racing engine, abackup, or a powerplant that will only see time at a test session.
That may seem excessive, but it's necessary if you hope to find VictoryLane in the ultra-competitive world of Nextel Cup racing. But you alsohave to consider the fact that between its three Nextel Cup racingprograms, its Busch Series and Craftsman Truck programs and its enginelease programs, RCR's engine department supplies engines to 10 differentracing teams every week. That also includes backups and test engines,which means the total output for 2005 will likely exceed 600 engines.
To handle that type of demand, RCR employs 60 people in the engineprogram, and another six to eight are devoted exclusively to R&D. (Forcomparison, RCR employs a total of 325 people.) One of the biggestproblems that can infect a racing program of this magnitude is that theproduction demands force the operation into an assembly-line mentality.When that happens, the staff feels less connected to the racing effortbecause they have no idea how their efforts actually affect the resultson the track, and the result can be less attention paid to quality. Whena problem does occur, it can also be harder to pinpoint the source. RCRcombats this by assigning one engine builder and one engine tunerexclusively to each team. This makes the engine team a greater part ofthe race team itself and also appoints someone to be directlyresponsible for each engine in each car. Yes, there are higher levels ofmanagement responsible for the overall program, but no one has morespecific knowledge with every engine a team uses than its engine builderand tuner.
"On the team, the lead engine builder stays in the shop, and hisassistant also serves as that team's engine tuner and goes to the trackon the weekend," explains Danny Lawrence, RCR's assistant chief enginebuilder. "Our system is a little unique, but we think it works well.Each team has its own allotment of engines for a season, and they takeresponsibility for them. They know exactly which engines are theirs onthe track, and we feel that they take a greater interest in each enginethan if they were simply working in an assembly-line fashion."
IN THE SHOP
Engine builder Jon Richardson pulls a prepped block and a cart full ofcleaned and inspecte
The lead engine builder for Dave Blaney's No. 07 Chevrolet is JonRichardson, a longtime part of RCR's engine program who has builtengines for Dale Earnhardt and just about every other driver that hasbeen a part of the organization. His assistant, engine tuner RonLiddell, not only tends the powerplants at the tracks but also is thefirst line of communication between the race team and the engine shop.
There is no way the engine builders and tuners, who are only in the shoptwo days a week at best during the season, can completely handle all theengine chores for their respective teams by themselves. Instead, otherdepartments handle almost all the responsibilities associated withengine building except for final assembly. The idea is to allow anengine builder like Richardson to concentrate solely on the criticaltask of final assembly.
Richardson handles both brand-new engines and rebuilds. Either way, itnormally takes him three working days to complete an engine and have itready to be dyno tested. All RCR engine builders use the same "recipe"or package of parts that go into every racing engine (the only time itchanges is for the restrictor-plate engines), although Richardson sayseach engine builder has his own habits when it comes to actuallyassembling their engines. The process actually begins in either theblock prep department or the teardown area.
After a weekend of racing, one of the first things that's done when thecar returns to the shop is the engine is pulled, and if there have beenno significant engine problems, it is sent to the teardown area. There,a team pulls the major components apart and cleans and inspects all theparts. Again, if there are no major problems spotted, all the parts areput on a cart and stored until the engine builder is ready for them. Thecylinder heads, as well as the crank, rods and pistons, go to separateareas to be prepped for the rebuild.
When Richardson begins a rebuild, he pulls all his records for thatparticular engine and retrieves the block and other components. Newpistons are used for each rebuild, and before Richardson begins, othertechnicians have already pre-fit them with the crank and rods to makesure all the assembled components will fit together in the engine blockwith the correct tolerances. By the time Richardson is ready for theblock and rotating assembly, all the machine work has been completed andall the mating components have been checked for proper fit.
Whether it's a new engine or a rebuild, Richardson says it takes threedays to complete an
Typically, it takes Richardson three days to complete an engine build.The first day can be a bit of drudgery. Richardson normally spends it onpaperwork, filing rings, gluing gaskets, washing parts, and otherwisepreparing the many components before assembly can begin. One of the mostimportant responsibilities for RCR's engine builders is to make sure nodamaged or overly worn parts make it into a rebuild. Richardson inspectsevery piece beforehand. He also keeps track of how many miles everycomponent on an engine has run. Different parts have different lifespans (calculated in terms of miles on the track). After a certainamount of time, RCR prefers to replace a part that may still be workingrather than risk a breakdown on race day. For example, pistons and theflywheel are good for only a single weekend of racing. Camshafts used tobe the same, but now improved technology allows them to be reground andused for a second race. Rocker arms and pushrods are good for 1,200miles, so they are usually run in one long race and a shorter race (Whenyou add in practice, an engine may be run 650 miles over the weekend ofa 500-mile race.). Although they are completely rebuilt after everyrace, a new set of SB2 heads can be used for a dozen races or more.Richardson keeps up with all of it and is responsible for "retiring"parts when the time is right. Some parts will be sold at a discount toracers and engine builders in lower divisions, while parts consideredsecret will simply be destroyed.
Richardson says the second day of the build is actually the first timehe will be able to start putting things together. "That's when the funstarts," he says. On day two, the crank and bearings will be installedin the block. The pistons and rods will be added to that, completingwhat is known as the "rotating assembly." After that is completed, hewill bolt down and seal the oil pan and maybe even install the camshaft.The end result is the completed "short-block," which is essentiallyeverything contained inside the engine block.
Completing the engine is the goal on the third day. The cylinder headsand the valvetrain, along with the intake manifold, are added to theshort-block to complete the long-block. Finally, a newly rebuiltcarburetor and all the accessories are bolted into place. Every enginethat leaves the assembly area is dyno'd before it goes into a carbecause the flat tappet lifter mandated by NASCAR must be broken in withthe cam. After the break-in procedure to mate the lifter to the cam andseat the rings is completed, each engine is tested for torque andhorsepower output. Although an engine builder may use identical parts ontwo engines and assemble them the same way, there can still be mildvariations in output. After dyno testing, Richardson's best engines aresent to the team to be used on the track, while others that don't quitemeasure up are used as backups or for testing.
Of course, by the time the dyno break-in procedure and testing have beencompleted on an engine, Richardson has already moved on to the assemblyof another. The demands of a Nextel Cup race team for fresh engines arejust too great. Thankfully, he says RCR's engine program is designed tomake it as easy as possible for an experienced builder to turn out oneultra-performance engine after another--with each capable of winning atany track.
AT THE TRACK
At the track, engine tuner Ron Liddell has primary responsibility foreverything that conce
I followed Richardson's assistant, Ron Liddell, to the track where heworks as the No. 07 team's engine tuner. It was qualifying day at Lowe'sMotor Speedway for the Coca-Cola 600, so there was a lot on the line.Liddell was relaxed and willing to answer any question I asked, but hedidn't hesitate to stop mid-sentence if his attention was needed underthe hood. The garage area at a NASCAR Nextel Cup event is a world apartfrom the RCR engine shop. Everything in the RCR engine shop is designedaround the engine builder to allow him to do the best job possible.Here, the engine tuner's job is just as critical, but he must workaround the rest of the crew working on the car in cramped conditions andunder NASCAR's schedule. The schedule is designed to make the overallshow, not the needs of an engine tuner, go as smoothly as possible. So aproperly prepared engine tuner will spend lots of time sitting on hishands waiting for practice and then get hit with short periods of insaneactivity as he tries to get the most out of a practice session or prepthe car for qualifying.
Typically, Liddell spends only two days a week at the RCR shops. Whenhe's there, his responsibilities include loading and unloading all theengine parts he feels will be necessary on the hauler, making sure theNo. 07 team has the correct race engine to install in the car beforeloading up, tracking dyno tests, and helping build engines. Whenever theNo. 07 team travels--whether to a racetrack or a test--Liddell goes withit.
"Teams have different ways of [determining] who does what with theengine," Liddell says. "But with RCR cars it's pretty simple--I'm theonly one who touches it. I'll work with the driver and crewchief to makesure they get what they need, but I think this system works well becausewhen it comes to something concerning the engine, you know you areresponsible."
Liddel gets constant input from driver Dave Blaney on how the engine isperforming. A savvy
Liddell's first responsibility when the car gets to the track is tounload and prep the car. He watches over the NASCAR tech man who "pumpsand whistles" the engine, which is gearhead lingo for checking theengine's displacement and compression. Unlike the rest of the crew,which works out of one big pit wagon, Liddell has his own toolboxorganized with exactly what he needs, as do most engine tuners. One ofthe specialty tools he uses is a mini-weather station, which helps himtrack weather changes to make sure the jetting in the carburetor staysoptimized.
During practice for qualifying, Liddell keeps close tabs on the healthof the engine. Early on in practice, driver Dave Blaney will kill theignition with the engine at full throttle and coast in. This allowsLiddell to check the plugs to make sure the engine is running properly.If everything looks good, he will save those plugs for the actualqualifying run.
Liddell carries two spares on the No. 07 hauler--one in the backup carand a second engine tucked away in a storage area with enough spareparts to practically build a third. But if disaster happens and anengine blows, he says he isn't limited just to what he has on his truck.The RCR racing stable believes in putting the very best equipment on thetrack, so if the No. 07 Chevrolet needs another engine, Liddell has theoption of comparing dyno sheets and pulling any backup engine from anyRCR truck as long as another team doesn't need it. After all, the bestracing engine in the world isn't going to do anyone any good if it issitting in the hauler during the race.
Liddell makes a quick timing check before the No. 07 lines up forqualifying.
As the practice unfolds, it becomes clear that the No. 07 car isn't upto speed. Blaney can manage only the 39th fastest lap. Much of that wasbecause he was fighting a loose condition, but after practice Liddellruns a few ideas past Blaney, crewchief Philippe Lopez, and chief enginebuilder Danny Lawrence and decides to make a pretty drastic change.NASCAR's one-engine rule allows changing the intake manifold, andLiddell does just that. "On the dyno, this new manifold makes less poweroverall, but it is a little better in the higher rpm range," Liddellexplains. "On an open track like Dave will have during qualifying, hecan keep the rpms up, and this manifold should help him make some morespeed." Liddell also makes a timing adjustment and changes the oilbefore qualifying.
Despite the dyno numbers, the change is a bit of a risk since Blaneywill not have a chance to test it on the track before his qualifyingattempt. That's the reason for the quick meeting, but had he felt thechange was necessary, Liddell could have made the decision on his own.In the qualifying session, the new manifold proves to be an improvement.Blaney qualifies Thirty-First, eight spots higher than his practicetime. Of course, there's little time for celebration; Liddell has onlyone hour before the garage closes, and there is still plenty of work tobe done.
Before race practice starts on Saturday Liddell must change thecarburetor, reset the timing, replace the battery, oil, and spark plugs,hook up the oil cooler, clean and check the filters, and then talk tohis driver to make sure everything feels right.
"You always have to trust your driver," he explains. "If he doesn't likethe motor--and it doesn't matter whether he's right or not--you have tomake him happy. If he thinks he's getting beat on the straights, he'sgoing to over-compensate in the turns, and that's going to causetrouble. So it's not just about building a great engine. It's aboutmaking sure your driver is comfortable with it, too."
With that, Liddell heads back to the garage to get back to work.