The Car of Tomorrow

By Doug Bartholomew  |  Posted 2007-11-14 Print this article Print

NASCAR frontrunner credits product lifecycle management for unbelievable winning season on the track.

The Car of Tomorrow

The Hendrick achievement is all the more remarkable coming in a race season when NASCAR was switching car and engine platforms. NASCAR began a shift to the new "Car of Tomorrow," using it in 16 of 36 races in 2007. The basic engine and chassis are designed to make the cars safer and more cost-effective.

While most of the NASCAR teams struggled just to get ready for the first Car of Tomorrow race at Bristol Raceway last March, Hendrick stood out from the pack, having the new car's engine and chassis nailed from the starting flag. Hendrick drivers blasted off the starting line, winning the first five Car of Tomorrow events, and eight of the first 15. Most of the other racing teams didn't fully commit to the new car until after the season began, when NASCAR announced it would use the Car of Tomorrow full-time next year. Since then, five other teams won seven of the last 11 Car of Tomorrow races.

Consistent success in the world of racing today requires not only the best drivers but the best cars, technologies and management teams. With the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow, the demands on the engineering and mechanical teams supporting the Hendrick drivers were more daunting than ever.

"We've had a lot of change this year, but dealing with the new Car of Tomorrow has definitely been a tremendous challenge," says Jim Wall, engineering director at Hendrick, a racing organization with more than 500 employees based in Charlotte, N.C.

For one thing, Hendrick had to quickly get up to speed with the new RO7 engine, which becomes the new power plant for all teams using Chevrolet engines. It replaces the old standard SB2, the small-block Chevrolet motor NASCAR has used since the mid-1950s. Other teams made a similar shift to newer Ford or General Motors engines and chassis.

Hendrick's engineering department uses the Siemens PLM system to track the entire bill of materials—essentially all parts and components—used in its three families of engines for race, test and mockup.

"Being able to take the information on the new engine as it came in and put it in the system from the start was a big benefit to us," Wall says. "In the past, a lot of SB2 information was legacy information we had imported from various locations on the Hendrick campus. It was nice to only have to file information one time and have it in the database ready to be shared and leveraged" by the mechanics and the race teams.

Next Page: Speed and Consistency

Doug Bartholomew is a career journalist who has covered information technology for more than 15 years. A former senior editor at IndustryWeek and InformationWeek, his freelance features have appeared in New York magazine and the Los Angeles Times Magazine. He has a B.S. in Journalism from Northwestern University.

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