In The Garage With: The Hendrick Shock Specialists
- Nov 09, 2004
- Team Hendrick
A surprise can lie around every turn on the NASCAR circuit, and it’s the job of the shock specialist to be prepared for what each track has in store for the team every weekend. Shock packages have become increasingly important to competitors in recent years, as they help the car to maintain a fluid motion while on the racing surface.
Hendrick shock specialists travel on the circuit every weekend and work closely with the crew chief and race engineer to find shock combinations that maximize the car’s handling capability while being suitable for the driver’s individual style.
“When we first get the car on the track each weekend we’ll try to start out with the same package we ran there last time,” says David Lovendahl, shock specialist for driver Brian Vickers and the No. 25 GMAC Financial Services Chevrolets. “But if you had a recent test at the track, you’ll run those shocks instead.”
Using the same package that was run at a recent test or a previous race serves as a basis, but the specialist will still make adjustments for the current weather conditions and any changes that may have been made to the track such as resurfacing or rebanking.
“You have to be prepared for anything that can happen on the track,” says Lovendahl. “I’ll always have a couple different sets of shocks ready to go. This way we’ll have a few different options to choose from.”
One of the greatest aids to the shock specialist is a shock dynamometer or “dyno,” that each Hendrick race shop and transporter is equipped with. A shock dyno simulates on-track conditions and helps the team anticipate a change in the car’s handling without actually having to put the shocks in the car.
“On the truck we have a small room where I can work with the dyno that is dedicated solely to shocks,” says Lovendahl. “On the dyno you can cycle a shock as if the car was making a lap on track and then record the data. You run all four shocks, compile the data and then you can find out if the car will be loose or tight.”
Something else which aids the shock specialists greatly is consulting with their counterparts on the other Hendrick teams.
“We share information with each other at the track and also a lot in the shop,” says Lovendahl. “Our drivers all have different driving styles and prefer different things, but sometimes what works for one will work for another.”
After the first practice session, and prior to the start of qualifying, the specialist will make any changes to the shocks that are needed for time trials such as changing gas pressure in order to get heat into the tires.
“When we come back from qualifying we’ll always run that package over the dyno again to record its performance,” says Lovendahl.
Any final adjustments to the shocks will be made while the team is turning the car around into its race setup or “race trim” for the final practice sessions.
“Sometimes there isn’t a whole lot of difference between what we race and qualify with,” says Lovendahl. “For instance, we qualified and raced basically the same package at Richmond.”
By the time race day roles around, most of the specialist’s major responsibilities have been taken care of. They may fine-tune the shocks further if needed and some will then help with setting up the pit box and stall. Hendrick shock specialists may also assist during the race with pit duties such as cleaning the car’s windshield, catching tires and pulling hoses during pit stops.
“Being a shock specialist is quite challenging,” says Lovendahl “It is a constant learning curve because of the new body rules as well as the changes to the spring and shock combinations made by NASCAR.”
When the team returns to the shop, the shock specialist will assist with disassembling or “tearing down” the previous week’s car. They will then perform a post-race shock inspection to ensure that no changes occurred during the race, such as parts of the shock leaking or rubbing. The oil and seals are also replaced in the shocks so they are ready to be used again.
“We try to stay two-to-three weeks ahead of schedule with the shocks,” says Lovendahl. “Besides racing practically every weekend, you have to factor in all of the testing we do, especially the No. 25 team since our driver is a rookie. So it’s essential that you stay ahead of schedule and be thoroughly prepared for upcoming events.”