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Michael Waltrip Racing Shop Tour - Click above for high-res image gallery

From most vantage points, the drivetrain in the NASCAR Car of Tomorrow seems to have its origins somewhere just after the discovery of fire. Under the hood is a pushrod V8 with 350 cubic inches of displacement, using the same architecture first outlined in the early 1950s. In its current form, ye olde mill is now delivering somewhere between 800 and 900 horsepower, and the small-block is still fed by the same Holley 4150 carburetor anyone can pick up from the local parts store. Behind the engine is a similarly crude four-speed manual transmission built to take repeated abuse. And little else. It sends power to a Ford nine-inch rear end – a design which, compared to the engine, is brand-spanking new. It was introduced in 1957.

If we're talking weaponry metaphors, the average NASCAR racer is a Louisville slugger wrapped in barbed wire compared to the Predator drone of your average Formula One or WRC beater. Or at least it looks that way from a cursory glance. But make no mistake, this is still big dollar racing, and the teams lapping Charlotte Motor Speedway or Talladega are still doing everything in their power to beat the rules at every turn and make their car faster than the rest of the pack. That means dabbling in advanced metallurgy, fiddling with fluid dynamics and finding out how to make their 3,450-pound behemoth faster than their competitors with the same kit.

It's an odd crossroads that fuses new and old tech, and a recent trip to Michael Waltrip Racing had us checking our NASCAR prejudices at the door.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Tim Brown, the suspension manager for Michael Waltrip Racing, was kind enough to give us a brief behind-the-scenes tour of his team's Charlotte, NC shop. If you've ever found yourself sucked into an episode of The History Channel's Madhouse, Brown's name probably sounds familiar. When he's not working over the flexy bits for the Waltrip team, he's building and racing his own open-wheel modified car and starring in the reality TV show. The guy says he gets around two hours of sleep a night.

The easiest question to ask here is: Why do NASCAR teams continue to embrace technology that most of the motoring world has banished to the history books? The short answer is ease of enforcement. Once upon a time, manufacturers could run whatever hot mill they had laying around shop, but that resulted in a handful of teams running away with each race. In order to level the playing field, the NASCAR rule book was amended to only allow one driveline combination. That ridiculous curb weight was set at about the same time.

But the rules say the car has to weigh 3,450 pounds. They don't say where that weight can be positioned on the vehicle. Word has it that by regulation, each gearbox has to weigh 68 pounds, but there is no spec on each individual gear. It's been said that when some teams gets their gearboxes from Jasper, it immediately disassemble every last piece and trim weight where they can to reduce rotational mass. Tungsten then gets epoxied into the bottom of the case in order to make up the difference and get the weight as low to the ground as possible.

Four years ago, most of the cars on the track were using no more than 40 pounds of tungsten as ballast. Since then, that number has climbed to 400. That means that in the years between 2006 and 2010, engineers have managed to trim 360 lbs of weight from an otherwise "spec" chassis and lodge it closer to the ground. Rumor has it that teams have tried everything from reducing the sidewall width of steel tubing to slimming down the already paper-thin sheetmetal wrapped around the frame. Needless to say, NASCAR officials have gotten wise to most of the tricks and have resorted to using infrared sensors to determine the thickness of most materials on the car.

Likewise, most of the vehicle's non-spec components have been lightened until they can just barely stand the abuse of racing. The Michael Waltrip Racing shop is filled with rack after rack of replacement parts – hundreds of A-arms, spindles, and ring-and-pinion sets that have been built within microscopic tolerances. Some pieces, like those $2,200 ring-and-pinions, will only be used for one race before being scrapped. Everything else will be disassembled post-race and measured. Anything out of tolerance will be scrapped and replaced with a newly minted example.

Each team spends nearly as much time researching exactly which lubricants will stand up to the abuse of 500 miles at top speed. The Michael Waltrip Racing crew has stuck with the same Mobil 1 you can buy from your local Wal-Mart.

After Brown wrapped up the tour, we had the good fortune of speaking with Steve Hallam, Michael Waltrip Racing's vice president and director of competition. The guy cut his teeth with the old Lotus F1 team, and worked for years as McLaren F1's chief track engineer. Ask the guy what's so different between NASCAR and F1, and he'll politely tell you, "There's still a checkered flag at the end of the race."

Thanks to Mobil 1 for sponsoring Autoblog's visit to the Michael Waltrip Racing shop.

Photos by Zach Bowman / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 4 Years Ago
      Disclaimer, I work for GPC which is the parent to NAPA. Having met Waltrip and other racers at our employee days I have to say, he is amazing in person and not what most people who speak negatively of the sport would expect.

      That being said, after seeing some crash footage of these cars I long lost my desire to see them race vehicles I can buy. Sorry but that would be close to boring let alone to dangerous for the drivers. There is footage out there of a 180+ impact nearly straight into a wall with one of these cars and the driver walked away.

      If the sport were so easy then why don't more F1 and similar do well in it? I certainly don't relish the idea of bumping at the speeds they drive let alone maintaining it through curves and the like.

      Hats off to them, I certainly can't do it, and having met several that do I am always impressed.
      • 4 Years Ago
      I think you mean either ultrasonic or eddy current in lieu of

      "Needless to say, NASCAR officials have gotten wise to most of the tricks and have resorted to using infrared sensors to determine the thickness of most materials on the car."
      • 4 Years Ago
      *Waits for the trolls that post pointless and repeated comments about how NASCAR sucks...

      Hey, it's Tim Brown. I wish you guys would of included that he drives in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series.
      • 4 Years Ago
      Interesting, bu still pointless, boring racing. Let's see American Touring Cars, you know, like how NASCAR kinda used to be.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Continental Tires Sports Car Challenge...
        • 4 Years Ago
        You're right! Forgot about that one. THAT's entertaining racing!
      • 4 Years Ago
      (( Insert generic 'left turn' joke here ))
      • 4 Years Ago
      I've always felt that NASCAR should adopt a more Touring Car-ish style of track in order to have less round and round type racing, but apart from that though I can't find anything to fault in series. Especially not in the technology used since it actually works really well. The cars are fast, reliable and could outhandle a LOT of much more expensive race cars with a few suspension mods. Laugh all you want at pushrods and four speeds, but 800hp is still 800hp and a top speed of 180mph is nothing to sneeze at.

      What really blows my mind though is their durability. I'm not sure if the new "Cars of Tomorrow" last as long as the older era cars, but I remember reading in 1994 that the current cars in the race would last as long as a street car. That's 10 to 15 hard years of beat-em-up racing without needing much more than a tune up and maintenance. Try THAT with your fancy pants F1 car.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Do it. Not just curves, but slopes too. Maybe surface changes? Not dirt, but concrete -> ashphalt -> rubberized.
        • 4 Years Ago
        180 doesn't even scratch its top speed seen it go 210 into the turns at California and 215 down Indianapolis
      • 4 Years Ago
      although i think watching NASCAR is boring as hell, the actual work and research going into the racecars is still amazing.
        • 4 Years Ago
        Good point. Hell probably *does* have an oval...
      • 4 Years Ago
      Why can't the photographer just take the pictures with a level perspective. This isn't MySpace is it?
        • 4 Years Ago
        No, I didn't see a single shot into a mirror with the flash reflecting off of said mirror...
      • 4 Years Ago
      They might be crude from a basic engineering standpoint, but the refinement of what they have to work with is absolutely incredible. These motors and chassis are refined in every way they possibly can be for the design/rules they hampered with.

      I for one like this kind of racing. It's close and driver skill is what matters. I would like the cars a lot more if they were closer to what you could buy at the dealership like they were in the 1960's, but there are other racing series for that.

      Call it Nascrap if you want, but it's still racing, and Racing is fun.
        • 4 Years Ago
        I've tried and tried, but failed to derive any fun whatsoever from seeing ugly, overweight and dino tech cars with pretend bodies that have absolutely nothing to do with street cars they look like going around in circles (on most circuits).

        But hey, to each his/her own. If it makes you happy, do it, and more power to you and NASCAR.
      • 4 Years Ago
      The bottom line is this, it doesn't matter if the cars are F1, Indy Car, WRC, or NASCAR, the drivers all respect each others sport. Look at how many drivers have made the switch to NASCAR from Indy cars, F1 and look how hard their transitions have been. Juan Pablo Montoya and Tony Stewart are the only two modern drivers that have been successful. Another great driver, Marcos Ambrose from Australia (Tasmania) is another example. He was a 2 time champion in Australia in the V8 series he will be the first one to tell you that NASCAR is the most competitive and difficult racing he has ever done.
      So all you folks that continue to slam NASCAR should open their eyes and minds, then make a comment after you actually do some research on the sport. We all have the right to our own opinions but it comes down to this, racing is racing no matter if it's NHRA, NASCAR, or F1 and the who ever crosses the finish line first wins the race.
      • 4 Years Ago
      "and have resorted to using infrared sensors to determine the thickness of most materials"

      uhhhhh, I think you mean ultrasonic sensors....

      • 4 Years Ago
      Where's the Hello Kitty engine oil?

      I see a Camry...but no Hello Kitty
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