CONCORD, N.C. — Hendrick engine room assembler Andrew Ossowski is proof positive that you learn by doing. The self-taught, 48-year-old native of Brigham, Quebec, Canada, has honed his craft at the highest level as one of 116 members of Hendrick Motorsports’ engine department, headed by Jeff Andrews.
Ossowski is part of an award-winning engine team, which has collected the last two Mahle Clevite Engine Builder of the Race awards after propelling a Chevrolet into Victory Lane at both Martinsville (Va.) Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway. Overall, the department builds engines for five of the 12 Chase competitors, including the five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson.
Ossowski has been a Hendrick employee since 2000, when he was hired by the late Randy Dorton. Before arriving at Hendrick, he started out in a high school machine class, graduating to work in the old NASCAR North Series. From there, he became a mechanic with an Indy Car team. After that, another door opened for Ossowski to build and oversee the production of race engines at a shop in Grandby, Quebec.
He followed his older brother to Hendrick and the mentorship of the legendary Dorton, one of the first to use the “cause and effect” approach to building engines and diagnosing problems. Ossowski and his colleagues will have assembled and freshened some 700 engines at this stage of the season for the four Hendrick teams and the company’s customers that include Stewart-Haas Racing.
“He (Dorton) opened up my eyes on how you go about fixing problems,” said Ossowski, who with wife Ann Marie Venneman has three children. “He always dug deeper into cause and effect and how to trouble-shoot issues. We build to very tight specifications. Every engine is the same down to every single bolt and torque pattern. If you have a problem, you can diagnose back.”
Neither Ossowski nor his colleagues build for specific teams. The choice, off the rack so to speak, is up to the management in the engine department. The assemblers find out later if their engine was the one that carried Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. or a customer such as Stewart-Haas Racing to a high finish or Victory Lane.
Some of the engines that Ossowski has assembled have reached Victory Lane, specifically Gordon at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway. Ossowski also helped on the engine Johnson used to win his first pole position at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway. Earnhardt’s Wrangler Chevrolet claimed the first win by a NASCAR Nationwide Series new car in 2010 at Daytona.
The Canadian worked directly with General Motors’ engineering staff on the development of the company’s R07 engine. Casey Mears’ victory at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in 2007 marked the engine’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory. “Throw me a challenge; that elevates me,” Ossowski said.
His current project is electronic fuel injection slated to replace carburetion beginning with the 2012 Daytona 500. “We started with a clean slate eight months ago, and it’s a (major) undertaking,” he said. “We have to tailor it to the needs of the driver to make the smoothest, cleanest accelerating engine (while) creating a package that’s reliable.”
Having a limited number of opportunities to actually test the EFI system on track is a challenge both for Hendrick and the other NASCAR Sprint Cup teams. “Dynos don’t represent the real world,” said Ossowski. “We discover so many problems going to the racetrack. You really hope you get the most of the tests we have (because) a 25-lap run might not produce the problems you could encounter in a 48-lap run.”
With two races remaining in the Chase, competitors move to Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s KOBALT Tools 500. (ESPN live 3 p.m. ET).