ESPN's Andy Petree answers your questions
Former championship crew chief and current ESPN analyst Andy Petree took a pit stop before The Brickyard to answer questions from NASCAR Icons readers.
NASCAR Icons readers filled the mailbag with questions for ESPN analyst Andy Petree and he responded to some of the best ones below.
Petree is a former crew chief, driver and crew member on NASCAR teams, most notably as Dale Earnhardt's crew chief with Richard Childress Racing for back-to-back Cup titles in 1993 and 1994.Petree, who joined ESPN in 2007, also owned Andy Petree Racing and he worked with such drivers as Ken Schrader, Kenny Wallace, Joe Nemechek, the late Bobby Hamilton and Greg Biffle. Here are your questions and Petree' answers: Andy, if someone's goal is to one day become a crew chief, what education is necessary?
Cedar Falls, Iowa Petree: I would say more is always better ... and an engineering degree would be helpful in today's environment. With that being said, to get an engineering degree takes years and those years usually are not spent at the racetrack; they're spent in school. So there's a little bit of tradeoff. Some guys, like myself I got a tremendous education in racing at an early age building my own race cars from the ground up and learning every aspect and every component on the car that way. That was OK for my time period but today the environment has changed so much and the cars have become so much more technical that I think the engineering degree would be very beneficial, especially looking forward. That's something that would be more beneficial than spending time laying underneath the race car. It's hard to combine working as a mechanic while studying for an engineering degree. Some guys do it. They find a way to race a little bit while they're going to school. I really do believe that the more education you have in today's environment the better crew chief you'll be. It's still more than just technical and engineering things. A crew chief has to be a great leader, a coach, a people person, all these things, too. And that's why there's not a great crew chief just around every corner. It takes a great set of skills to be a good crew chief and a winning crew chief. How do these guys get so much forward bite with the rear end steered to the right and the rear toe-out that they have? It would seem like these cars would be so loose off that you couldn't even touch the gas.
Auburn, Ala. Petree: It looks like the back ends of the cars are sliding out; that's not really what's happening. It's actually just steered in that direction, and the goal here is to put a side force, an aerodynamic side force into the car by doing that. When you do that, you actually do increase the forward bite. When you skew the car with the right rear of the car out the wind is trying to straighten that car back out because it's hitting the side of the car. Even though it looks like the cars are sliding sideways, they're really not. Their tires are still in very good grip with the racetrack. They are just steered in that direction to skew the body of the car. They used to put the bodies on crooked on the chassis to get that side force. When NASCAR went to the new car they kind of legislated that out. You couldn't do that anymore because of all those templates they have. I've always said in this sport you can't unlearn what you've already learned. And these guys knew that getting the car at a sideways angle to the wind was definitely faster and they figured out a way to do that with the chassis instead of the body. And so that's why you saw the cars get so radically steered to the right until NASCAR finally put a limit on it. Why don't they eliminate the use of tape on the grills of the Cup cars? It seems that would eliminate one of advantages that the lead car has when in clean air. It would also reduce the number of engine failures caused by overheating when too much tape is used.
Maple Grove, Minn. Petree: That's a great question right there. It would be a great option and I think it would probably be in the right direction. This has been tried before; NASCAR did this with the truck series at the restrictor plate tracks to just keep the drag up on the trucks. Again just like I said ... you can't unlearn the fact that anything you can do to restrict the air flow in the front of the car is going to make it go faster. If they came up with let's say a square-inch minimum opening, then teams will be figuring out ways of building real exotic radiators and ductworks to restrict airflow. Eventually they'll find out how to do that. Even though I think it's the right thing to do and I think it would achieve just exactly what Brad says, I think it would take away a little bit of that advantage from that car in the front and it would definitely reduce the engine temperatures and all that. With so many races becoming fuel races, why can't softer tires be used? A hard base below the softer compound could be used for safety.
Whetstone, Ariz. Petree: That has been done before. Years ago there were a lot of races that were won on strategy or fuel mileage where the tires would just last forever. NASCAR kind of went to Goodyear and asked them to build some softer tires for the coming season, which they did. And it did take a little bit of that away, where the guys almost had to change tires when the cautions would come out and they wouldn't have that option of staying out because the tires would just give up too much. We have kind of come back into that, having tires so durable that this option is available. We've been down that road before, and some people think that's not the right way to win. But I think as a crew chief it's kind of neat when you can engineer a win through strategy. And harder tires do open that strategy up a little more. So yeah, that's been tried. The biggest thing is Goodyear wants to have a durable product on those cars. They can't afford to have such soft tires that they fail or cause problems or wear out and could blow out. That's just bad P.R. for the company, so they're going to always stay more toward the conservative side on the tires. And as far as that dual compound, like a harder base below the softer compound, I don't know if that's even possible. I'm not a tire engineer but it sounds to me like it would be very difficult. But I'm going to Goodyear in Akron, Ohio, next week to go through the factory and talk to the engineers, so I'll ask them while I'm up there.