Chemistry for NASCAR Drivers and Crew
Chemistry and NASCAR
Consider the two following definitions of chemistry [kem-uh-stree]:
- the science that deals with the composition and properties of substances and various elementary forms of matter.
- the interaction of one personality with another.
Chemistry is very important in the industry of NASCAR. To win races, both the driver and his crew must have chemistry with each other. They must also have more than a basic understanding of the function chemical science plays in the optimal performance of their race car. Both aspects of chemistry are vital in the successful career of NASCAR racing teams. Team chemistry will be examined in detail while the scientific knowledge required by team members will be outlined.
Money may be the most important element in modern-day stock car racing, but team chemistry runs a very close second.— Bill Elliott on his first ever NASCAR win
All teams involve a group of people working together to achieve a common goal. NASCAR racing teams work together to produce and keep a race car or group of cars in top running order, supporting a driver by providing him/her with the proper tools to win races. In order to function optimally, an effective team:
- shares leadership roles
- shares accountability for their product or products
In the case of NASCAR, this process involves the production of a car and driver who together regularly win races.
Effective teams express the following characteristics:
- They have open-ended meetings during which objectives are established.
- They utilize active problem-solving strategies whereby each member listens to and provides input on the problems encountered.
- Every member of the team has a clearly established role.
- However, if one team member requires help with their task, the others will set aside their work if necessary to assist.
- Team performance is based on the outcome of the entire team, NOT on the work of individuals.
- In strong team relationships, team members intuitively understand each other's body language and pet phrases.
Chemistry is so important. Sometimes, you never hit the right combination. But, man, I look back and I think we're very fortunate. Didn't have any idea it was going to be this good. But I think that the chemistry between these two guys, and I've been doing this for 30 years, is as good as or better than any I've ever seen.— Rick Hendrick on the relationship between Earnhardt Jr. and crew chief Steve Letarte
NASCAR Teams and the Importance of Chemistry
A driver and his crew may get along off the track, but while working as a tightly bound racing team, they may not have the elusive communication skills necessary to become a top-winning team. Most important in the team chemistry of NASCAR is the communication evident between the driver and his crew chief. Subtleties of language are extremely important. A crew chief must know exactly how much the car needs to be tightened when the driver says "it's really loose", "it's a little loose" or "it's just a smidge loose".
Fixing a car problem could involve a large number of possible fixes. NASCAR chemistry involves the knowledge a crew chief has of his driver in order to know what fixes he wants in each circumstance. Every driver is an individual and likes things his own way. The crew chief who figures out what tweaks to the car make his driver satisfied and able to win races is on his way to having that elusive, winning NASCAR chemistry.
We live in a society exquisitely dependent on science and technology, in which hardly anyone knows anything about science and technology.— Carl Sagan
Chemistry Knowledge Instrumental to a NASCAR Team
The understanding of the following chemistry concepts are vital knowledge for the successful NASCAR team:
- The process of combustion is a chemical reaction involved in the use of fuels. The more complete the combustion, the more power which is available to increase the car's speed.
- Understanding the basic premise of gas laws, especially in the maintenance of the car's tires. Nitrogen gas is used in racing tires due to the fact that it expands less than normal air when heated. The racing crew needs to know that the tire will experience a pressure increase when heated and inflate tires according to the weather and track conditions.
- Chemical kinetics are important to the crew in understanding the effect of higher compression on fuel combustion and the possible ramifications when tweaking the engine.
- As the car and safety equipment of the driver are composed of many different polymers, the crew must have an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each in order to maintain speed and safety during changing conditions.
- Latent heat of phase change is an important concept as the NASCAR driver cannot sweat because of the protective clothing worn. As special cooling systems are used to maintain the driver's body temperatures in extreme in-car temperature conditions, it is vital the crew know how to maintain the safety cooling systems.
If GM had kept up with technology like the computer industry has, we would all be driving $25 cars that got 1,000 MPG.— Bill Gates
Famous NASCAR Racing Teams
Very few NASCAR racing teams have found that elusive team chemistry leading to uber-successful careers.
- Ray Evernham and Jeff Gordon were one successful team. Together they won three cup titles.
- Dale Earnhardt Sr. had successful chemistry with crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine. With Shelmerdine as crew chief, Earnhardt had 46 wins, 142 top 5 finishes, and 246 top 10 finishes.
- Richard Petty and Dale Inman also had that successful team chemistry. Inman was Petty's crew chief for 30 years. Together they won 198 races and seven championships.
Each of these teams were dominant forces in their era of NASCAR. In fact, these three crew chiefs were instrumental in bringing the widespread use of pit crews into NASCAR racing.
Cohen, Ben. The Wall Stree Journal: The Daily Fix. Daytona 500: Why Tide for Jet Fuel? February 28, 2012.
McCormick, Steve. About.com NASCAR Racing. What is NASCAR Chemistry? 2012.
Ryan, Nate. USA Today. Voted 'the greatest crew chief,' Ray Evernham branches out. August 24, 2010.
Sreenidhi, S.K. citeHR. Psychology of Working Together in Teams..
© 2012 Teresa Coppens