Saturday, May 03, 2008

Waste not, want not and all that

It used to be that engineers were treated the same way reporters are in the NASCAR garage.

You know, like scum.

The "racers," people with grease under their fingernails and oil smudged on their shirts, would send the team's token "egghead" off to look for the left-handed tire tool or on some other kind of similar snipe hunt. Everybody would have a big laugh and completely ignore whatever "input" the college boy had to offer.

Along the way, of course, somebody started to figure out that at least some of what the "atom smashers," as one driver has long called engineers on his team, were talking about might actually make their race cars go faster.

Then, somebody won a race and decided they won it because of something somebody worked out using a computer or a simulation on it. From that moment until today, the influence of engineers and the tools they bring with them has continued to grow in stock-car racing.

Maybe that pendulum has swung too far?

Maybe now, you've got a bunch of engineers sitting around deciding how to build the best race car for a virtual world, guys with college degrees and IQs that look like lap speeds at Talladega who don't trust anything that doesn't come straight from the data.

Maybe now when somebody who knows what it's like to crawl around under a car instead of only flying over a three-dimensional representation of it on his laptop is treated with the same derision as the engineers once got.

Hey, Skippy, how about going to the warehouse and getting us a carton of those invisible printer ribbons?

I've run that theory by a few people in NASCAR recently with expected results.

People who think the concept of theoretical racing has gone too far say I'm on to something. People who claim to know what a seven-post shaker rig is supposed to do look at me as though I had three heads.

There can be no doubt that technology has reached remarkably higher levels in NASCAR's top series in recent years, and that the rate of change in that technology keeps accelerating.

But I still believe that the people who put their hands on and in actual, real-world race cars have a vitally important role in the sport, too, and that's why I believe the test that will take place Monday and Tuesday at Lowe's Motor Speedway is so important.

Not everyone agrees.

"My personal opinion is it's kind of a wasted test, a waste of money," Clint Bowyer said. "With this car, you're just so limited. There's just not that big change you're going to make to make or break your car, speed-wise. It's all fine-tuning, finding the little things and massaging what you have."

Well, yeah. That's pretty much the point. Sprint Cup race teams have a new car they're working with this year and some of the teams seem to be having trouble getting the handle on it. Most of the time they can make it go around the track, for sure, but the little things seem to be what separate the best teams from the rest of the teams.

Maybe there won't be any eureka moments at the LMS test, at which nearly 50 teams are expected. There are three sessions each day - morning, afternoon and night - and each team can choose four of the six in which to run. But if four or five teams find something that will help them run better in the Sprint All-Star Race and the Coca-Cola 600, and those teams run better and make the racing better during Charlotte's race weeks, then I will have to respectfully disagree with Bowyer's assessment of this being a "wasted" effort.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree, David and for once, I agree with Bowyer.

theresa said...
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