Once upon a time there was a race hauler that pulled into the race track early on Tuesday morning. The sun rose gently over the stands, the car in the trailer was lowered to the ground. The mechanics prepared the car, just like any race day. The engineers, crew chief, driver, and spotter would gather around to go over the day’s list and together decided what the main things they wanted to learn were.
This is testing. It’s long days, lots of travel, junk food lunches, and a lot of guys watching 1 or 2, maybe 3 cars, circle the track. Teams were once allowed to test at will, then they were told only 4 tests on tracks that they visit, then, no testing. All was done in order to “level the playing field” and “save the owners money.” Well, I honestly think the verdict is in.
It has done, neither. Every team spends more and more money on wind tunnel tests and pull down rig testing and dyno testing. Teams look to gain an advantage. If they can find one one hundredth of a second, they’ve made a gain. In NASCAR that little margin is huge. The cars are so closely prepared and built to specification that it can cost teams hundreds of man hours in design and engineering. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in proofing, testing, refining every aspect of the car.
This is better, right? I mean, small teams are better off this way. No, they aren’t. If a small team sees a pull down rig, it’s likely once or twice a year. If they see a chassis dyno, it’s roughly the same. Wind tunnel? Never heard of it. Many small teams run second hand equipment, sometimes third hand, sometimes innumerable people have owned, raced, beaten, and repaired that chassis. There’s no wind tunnel testing here, in the second half of the field.
Would testing be any different? Yes. Small teams once had a chance to go “all in” on a certain type of track. Maybe they would invest in testing on a road course. Maybe they would invest on testing the Restrictor plate tracks. The point is, they had options. Maybe it would only help in four races, but it was something. This testing also gave young drivers and drivers new to the series actual seat time.
Simulators are great, they can help learn a racing line, they can help with reflexes, they can help with muscle memory for shift points. They cannot replace true “seat of the pants” data. How does the car feel? How does the car sound? How does the air pressure in the cockpit change? This is all very important for a driver to learn, to experience, to feel, and to see! If you need practical demonstration as to why this is better, look no further than licensing in NASCAR. You have to drive a real car, on a real track, so real NASCAR officials can watch you.
Doesn’t this help the big teams more? No. Big teams have plenty of ways to research and develop, incredible think tanks of men & women designing the next big thing. They can simulate and test it, send crews to wind tunnels, put it on the pull down rig. Would they test? Absolutely, but it gives the small teams a chance at some tracks. Right now, it’s a week in and week out struggle. If they knew that once they got to New Hampshire Motor Speedway they had a good set up, they’d circle that and say, that’s our week. Save money and save equipment, we are putting everything we can into that track.
When you give small teams hope, they can go to sponsors and tell them, “We have what it takes here. We need to get the best tires and best motor and best transmission money can buy because this track, we know.” Now they have a shot. They can potentially run in the top 5 when they go to NHMS year after year. Right now, most small teams are hoping to get a few top 20 runs so they can afford to get to a pull down rig test for the end of the year, if they have time.
Testing would allow small teams to spend a few extra days at a track they just raced at and prepare for the following race there. What would I like to see happen? Unlimited testing for any team not in the top 20 owner’s points but is running full time. Very simple reason, if only the small teams can test, some big team is gonna walk up to them and say, “Test this for us and we will give you…” It’s like a type of revenue sharing program like other sports have. This elevates small teams and allows big teams to continue to prosper.
But, that’s just my thought.
I’ll see you in the box.