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A COMMITMENT TO THE FUTURE AND SAFETY OF THE SPORT
The official unveiling of the NASCAR Research and Development Center in January 2003 was a signal to the motorsports world of NASCAR’s unprecedented level of commitment to the future and safety of its sport. It is the first research and development center owned and operated by a sanctioning body of a major motorsports series.
The 61,000-square foot NASCAR Research and Development Center, located on 16 acres in Concord, N.C., is a $10 million facility devoted to safety initiatives, enhancing competition and containing costs for its teams. It also is a portion of an investment in excess of $50 million to achieve those objectives over the next decade.
“We have always had a commitment to these key initiatives, but as the sport has evolved so has the need for a state-of-the-art facility that possesses all the resources to continually raise the bar in our sport in terms of safety and competition as well as making it cost efficient for our competitors,” NASCAR President Mike Helton said. “The center allows NASCAR endless opportunities to continually enhance and improve the sport for years to come.”
The current NASCAR Research and Development Center replaces a smaller, 20,000-square foot building in Conover, N.C. The Conover facility, purchased in July 2000, played a key role in several initiatives, including the incident data recorder program and a composite seat study that led to new seat guidelines.
The 16-acre site in Concord was purchased in February 2002 and groundbreaking for the building began two months later. NASCAR hired Yates-Cheitzberg Architects and CM Black Construction Company for the project and the two Concord-based companies teamed up to finish the facility in nine months. The project was completed in December 2002 and officially unveiled to the motorsports community in January 2003.
The center is managed by Mike Fisher, who brought more than 16 years of experience in automotive engineering to NASCAR when he was hired in September of 2006. The facility houses 53 offices – including those of NASCAR Vice President of Competition Robin Pemberton, the directors of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series – and various departments that allow NASCAR to transform an idea into a finished product in-house. Those departments include computer aided design (CAD) and modeling, engineering, fabrication, CNC/machine shop, prototype shop, CMM precision measurement, powertrain lab, and restrictor plate management.
The NASCAR Research and Development Center also houses its accident investigation group, a secured impound room and areas for confiscated parts, parts pending NASCAR approval and parts approved by NASCAR. Also on-site is an energy management development research area outside the building, which allows for low-speed crash testing and analysis.
Mike Fisher brings an extensive background in the automotive engineering and product development field to his position as Managing Director of NASCAR’s Research and Development Center.
Since joining NASCAR in 2006, Fisher, 42, and the R&D team have been involved in several key initiatives in the sport including the creation of a seating performance specification, numerous cost control initiatives, and the development of the new NASCAR Nationwide Series race car.
Prior to joining NASCAR he worked for 16 years in the automotive industry. After starting his career at General Motors Corporation, he was employed by Lear Corporation for the last 10 years in their Interiors Division. He held several positions with Lear, including his most recent role (2005-2006) as Director of General Motors Truck unit, where he was responsible for leading the commercial and program management activity for Lear’s Interior Division GM Truck business. He also was the Director of Launch Management for the General Motors Group for three years (2002-2005), where he led a team of nine project managers in manufacturing pre-production planning activity from award to launch for 21 different product programs.
Fisher also worked two years with Lear’s DaimlerChrysler Division in Ebersberg, Germany, where he led the successful launch of the European PT Cruiser interior components. He served as Platform Director for the Jeep Programs in Rochester Hills, Mich., for three years (1997-2000), where he directed the design, engineering and commercial resources to help resolve quality control issues and develop new products.
A Michigan native, Fisher received his B.S. in Industrial and Operations Engineering from the University of Michigan and his MBA from Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mich.
He and his wife, France, have two daughters and reside in Concord, N.C.
NASCAR Research and Development Center:
Focal Point in Ongoing Commitment to Safety
The NASCAR Research and Development Center, the first of its kind for a sanctioning body of a major racing series, has proven to be an invaluable resource in NASCAR’s ongoing commitment to safety.
At any given time, as many as 20 short-term and long-term projects are in varying stages of completion and a priority list determines the amount of resources and time earmarked for that specific task. The projects range from the expansive and long-term new car chassis to immediate solutions such as the gear rule that was implemented prior to the 2006 season. All are designed and implemented in an effort aimed at improving the racing environment for competitors.
Below are some of the key ongoing projects and accomplishments in which the NASCAR Research and Development Center and its personnel have been involved:
HEAD AND NECK RESTRAINTS
NASCAR currently has approved two types of head and neck restraints – the HANS Device and the Hutchens Hybrid device– but continually analyzes other types of restraints, along with a team of medical doctors and bio-mechanics experts, for possible future approval.
Commonly referred to as “soft” walls because of their impact-absorbing nature, the SAFER system has been installed on all the oval tracks that host the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and on the key areas at the road courses. NASCAR worked with the Indy Racing League and barrier experts at the University of Nebraska, a group led by Dr. Dean Sicking, on the project. It involved the design and custom fitting of SAFER barriers for each oval track. NASCAR and UN-L continuously evaluate new tracks as they are added to the schedules.
ENERGY ABSORPTION STUDIES
NASCAR continues to evaluate energy absorbing materials and their placement in the vehicle to dissipate the force of impacts and provide better protection for the driver. Side impacts propose one of the larger risks to driver safety and are also one of the most frequently seen crash scenarios. Through this testing, NASCAR determined the type of energy management materials it installed between the roll cage door bars and door panels of the new car chassis to help reduce the force of impact. NASCAR R&D efforts continue to focus on the best way to manage energy in all crash situations.
COMPUTER MODELING FOR CRASH SIMULATION
NASCAR, along with its technical partners, uses LS-DYNA, an industry recognized simulation tool, to evaluate vehicle structures and test safety improvements. The layman’s explanation is that a computer simulation can simulate how the structure of the car behaves during on-track incidents. This information can then be used to guide design changes to improve crashworthiness of the race car.
ENERGY MANAGEMENT DEVELOPMENT RESEARCH AREA
NASCAR has constructed an energy management development research area in the rear of the facility for low-speed crash tests and analysis. The test vehicle “boogie,” which could be described as a four-wheel battering ram equipped with an incident data recorder and high-speed cameras, gives NASCAR the ability to crash test various car pieces and components in-house and analyze the data.
INCIDENT DATA BASE
NASCAR has constructed a database of on-track incidents to gather valuable information for research on various fronts of its safety initiatives. NASCAR continually updates it each race weekend as on-track incidents occur.
THE NEW CAR CHASSIS
The safety benefits of the NASCAR Sprint Cup chassis have been demonstrated since its introduction in 2007. Inspection and certification of the Sprint Cup chassis takes place at the R&D Center. Since 2006, on average 1,000 chassis per year have been certified for use in competition. Starting in 2010, the R&D Center will conduct certifications on the new Nationwide Series car (the new car will run in four series events this season before running fulltime in 2011) utilizing the same chassis to ensure even more drivers benefit from the safety advances in the chassis design.
SEAT PERFORMANCE DEVELOPMENT
Over the course of 2008, in a cooperative financial effort between NASCAR, SFI and seat manufacturers, R&D Center personnel designed and constructed a seat testing fixture to support the development of an SFI seating specification.
All of the NASCAR seating suppliers have evaluated their products on the new testing fixture and the new specification SFI 39.1/39.2 has been finalized. This new specification and revised seats will be fully implemented over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons as another key safety initiative in the sport.
COST MANAGEMENT STUDIES
In 2010 the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will continue to implement a number of changes to provide owners opportunities to contain the cost of racing. The engine sealing program will be expanded to allow the use of more previously raced engines and the NASCAR Spec Engine will be allowed for use at certain Camping World Truck Series events. At track crew limits will be expanded to and adopted in the Nationwide Series. The R&D Center completed the analysis of a “dry-break” fuel nozzle system that eliminates the need for a fuel vent can pit crew member. It will be optional in the Camping World Truck Series starting in 2010. The development work was coordinated through the R&D center with significant industry input. The R&D Center continues to evaluate costs in all series while investigating cost reduction strategies for the sport across the board.
A new inertial engine dynamometer was installed at the R&D Center in 2008. The design and function of this dyno provides a different way of measuring an engine’s performance throughout its RPM range. The previous dyno measured horsepower and torque of the engine. The new inertial dyno captures these values as well as the natural acceleration properties of the engine. Over the past year, The Grand-Am Racing Series made significant use of the new dyno to assist them in evaluating engines and maintaining a level field of competition.
Incident data base
NASCAR has constructed a data base of on-track incidents to gather valuable information for research on various fronts of its safety initiatives. NASCAR continually updates the data base each race weekend as on-track incidents occur.
THE NEW CAR CHASSIS
This is the culmination of a seven-year project for a new race car that focuses on safety improvements, competition initiatives and cost containment measures in the new design. NASCAR worked closely with the manufacturers and race teams during the developmental process. The new car raced 16 times in 2007 and will race the entire NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule in 2008, a year ahead of the previously announced rollout schedule.
NASCAR has researched a roof hatch that would provide a driver with another method to exit from his car. The hatch would be accessible to the driver in the cockpit and he would be able to open it to the front or rear, or completely remove it. Various types of hatches and secure hinges have been crash tested, and guidelines for installation and use can be found in the 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rule book.
ENGINE COST STUDY
In 2008 the NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series will implement a number of changes to the engines with the intent of increasing the racing “life” of the engine. The changes basically focus on reduced RPM and a small reduction in horsepower to allow teams to use engines for multiple events. This will save teams the cost of having to use a new engine for every event, when it may not be needed. The development work was coordinated through the R&D center with significant industry input.
This project is competition-related with the car, which was built by NASCAR R&D personnel, allowing NASCAR to test various engines, components and configurations, all in-house.
Energy management development research area
NASCAR has constructed an energy management development research area in the rear of the facility for low-speed crash tests and analysis. The test vehicle “bogie,” which could be described as a four-wheel battering ram equipped with an incident data recorder and high-speed cameras, gives NASCAR the ability to crash test various car pieces and components in-house and analyze the data.