Cup ConnectionEaker's "meekness," however, had an unexpected benefit. One of the first race cars to go into the tunnel was a NASCAR Winston Cup Series stock car-a Pontiac Grand Prix, as a matter-of-fact. And since it shared the same body as Eaker's "bread-and-butter" passenger cars, he was given the project. The next race car to go to the tunnel for aero tweaking was a Monte Carlo, and Eaker again got the work. Soon, the man who had sacrificed himself for GM's greater good was known as the company's racing aero specialist and in charge of any fendered race car, from stock cars to funny cars (another person had the Indy Car program).
Eaker worked in GM's wind tunnel from 1977 until 1994, and from 1984 on he was in charge of all of GM's special projects. During that time he helped NASCAR develop measures to keep cars from experiencing the dreaded "aero-lift" when spinning at high speeds. They included extended rocker skirts to keep air from getting under the right side of the cars, recessed right-side windows, and even the now-ubiquitous roof flaps. On other fronts, he developed body-side air deflectors for Top Fuel dragsters that help reduce drag caused by the steamroller-sized rear tires, and he co-designed, built, and drove a Pontiac Trans Am that set an '89 Bonneville class speed record at 293 mph.
Meanwhile, the popularity of NASCAR was continuing to grow, and the racing budgets were keeping pace. More and more Chevy and Pontiac teams were finding it necessary to make regular trips to GM's wind tunnel in Michigan to work with Eaker and search for that elusive aero edge. Eventually, the powers-that-be at Hendrick Motorsports decided the organization needed its own aero engineer to guide its then three-car Cup effort. Having worked with Eaker many times over the years, Eddie Dickerson, the leader of Hendrick Motorsports' chassis and body department, made the GM racing specialist his top priority for the hire. After putting in more than 15 years at GM, Eaker was hesitant to ditch it all and sign up with a race team, but when Hendrick Motorsports flew him and his wife down for a visit to the complex in Concord, North Carolina, he was sold.
Eaker joined Hendrick Motorsports in 1994, relocated his family from Michigan to North Carolina, and immediately began making trips back to Michigan to work in the GM wind tunnel. "I became their worst customer," he says with a laugh. "Since I knew how everything worked there, I knew when they told me they couldn't do something if what they really meant was they just didn't want to."
Eaker stayed with Hendrick Motorsports through the end of 2001, and during that time the organization won all five of its Cup championships. "Hendrick Motorsports was such a fantastic organization, I believe they would have won all those championships whether I was there or not," Eaker says in his usual self-effacing manner. "But I hope I made some contributions that made it a little bit easier."
Despite all the success, Eaker decided in March 2001 that it was time to leave when his contract expired at the end of the year. Earlier, there had been talk of HMS building its own wind tunnel, but with so many changes going on in that organization, the timing for such a large undertaking just wasn't right. Eaker, however, felt the time was ripe for a full-scale wind tunnel in Mooresville, North Carolina-a central location that is just minutes from 80 percent of the nation's top stock car racing teams. A scale-model wind tunnel had already opened in the area with good success, and Eaker felt a full-scale unit wouldn't be far behind. If he didn't do it, somebody else would.