In NASCAR, each team has its own characteristics and quirks-drivers have good luck charms and routines, pit crews have systems and priorities, and every owner has a unique way of running a successful team. At Hendrick Motorsports, no one can dispute that their systems are working and working well.
Hendrick Motorsports, based in Charlotte, NC, is one of the largest, most sophisticated and successful racing operations in the world. Only 21 years old, the operation now includes the (#25), GMAC/Ditech.com driven by Brian Vickers, the (#24) DuPont Team with Jeff Gordon, the (#48) Lowe's Home Improvement team driven by Jimmie Johnson and the (#5) Kellogg Team with Kyle Busch.
All together, Hendrick's teams have won four consecutive Winston Cup Championships; 100 Winston Cup races, including three Daytona 500s; and the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis. Even so, such success never comes easy or cheap.
Proudly, Miller Electric Mfg. Co., Bernard and Weldcraft all play a big part in that success, each showing a significant presence throughout the Hendrick fabrication shops.
Building on a Philosophy
Hendrick Motorsports boasts an impressive 70-plus acre facility, every square foot of which they use to build nearly 100 percent of their racecars. Building cars in-house is a rare occurrence in NASCAR, but one that Hendrick believes has kept the teams in winning positions. "We make our own chassis, hang our own bodies, do our own R & D and, obviously, build our own engines," says Scott Shriver, chief fabricator for R & D at Hendricks. "It's a complete turnkey style of a race car versus some of the smaller teams. They actually buy a chassis, from Laughlin, Hopkins or from one of the other manufacturers out there, and then go to a body shop and actually get a body. Here at Hendrick we do that 100 percent in-house."
Paul Cavin, fabricator, MIG welds a Hendrick Motorsport's chassis cage using a Millermatic 210.
Hendrick's philosophy of building everything in-house allows them complete control over their time and their ideas. Although NASCAR has strict guidelines, Hendrick can still put their own fabrication ideas into place, while also testing different vehicle designs that may help them gain speed, strength and endurance.
To accomplish the enormous task of building a racecar, Hendrick has created in-house chassis and body shops. Every team at Hendrick orders a specific style of car from the in-house shop and then the individual teams build them. This system has proven to be an efficient process for fabrication and speeds overall production-each team owns approximately 15 cars, with each car taking about one month to complete.
How It's Done
Each team's fabrication area is broken into four main sections- the center, the front snout, the rear clip and the cage-with specialists who work in each section. Within each of the four sections there are sub-components. For example, on the front snout, fabrication includes building spring buckets and bumper mounts, each of which may have up to 100 different pieces.
"There is a certain procedure that we follow when fabricating and welding each of the parts together," says Paul Cavin. "The goal is to keep everything fabricated evenly. You don't want to start at one end and just weld one side because everything will pull that way and become off-balanced."
To maintain the desired evenness, fabricators weld the front clip's components first and then weld the spring bucket to the rear leg. The procedure then calls for welding the other side of the spring bucket to its front leg and moving criss-cross to weld the sway bar tube to the front leg and the bottom piece to the rear leg in the back. Fabricators then move to the suspension points, working and welding the front of the suspension point and then the rear of the suspension point, working back and forth until finished.
Just as Hendrick has its own procedures for welding its components efficiently, NASCAR also regulates many of the assemblies. "NASCAR regulates how the center section is built," fabricator Morgan Stafford, Jr. explains. "It's very critical that the frame rails are an equal distance from the centerline of the race vehicle. The front snout and tail section have to be centered off of the tail section, because if you're off, the car will not run well. It's a meticulous process."
According to Stafford, fabricators have to go around the racecar about a half a dozen times to ensure that they center every part. Once they achieve the desired precision, they tighten everything down, making certain that no components have shifted. "Just thirty secondths of an inch could throw this corner off or that corner off. We actually measure to plus or minus approximately 1/64 in.," adds Stafford.
Consistent Procedures Means Consistent Welds
Although fabrication specialists work on specific components and use specific procedures on each component to ensure a perfect fit-up, one crucial element remains constant throughout Hendrick: welding equipment from Miller, Bernard and Weldcraft. In fact, Hendrick Motorsports depends on the equipment to weld thousands of parts and subassemblies and for the final assembly of its racecars.
"Just about every station has a welding machine and no matter what you are working on, at some point you've got to weld something," says Dan Jenn, fabricator. "And all our welders are Miller."
Hendrick welding operators complete most of the welding using gas metal arc welding (GMAW) or MIG, a fast and efficient welding process. "I mainly use a Millermatic® 210 MIG welder and I've never had any problems-that's important," says Cavin. To help achieve such trouble-free operation, Cavin and other welding operators tend to keep the wire speed a little lower than the voltage, opting to weld with the voltage tap set at 4 or 5 and the with wire feed speed control between 35- and 45-IPM. For thicker materials, such as the bucket, increasing the voltage increases weld penetration, ensuring better sidewall fusion and reducing the chances of joined pieces cracking or breaking apart.
Hendrick fabricators couple their Millermatic 210's with Bernard® Q150 air-cooled MIG guns, which allow fabricators to choose between various trigger options, while the addition of Centerfire™ consumables offer the precision necessary to create top quality racecars-the Centerfire tips, gas diffusers and nozzles keep the welding wires at a fixed setting to ensure better welding consistency. Fabricators can change the Centerfire "Drop-In" contact tips without tools and that quick changeover adds up to valuable time savings when fabricators need to get a car back on the track.
Hendrick Motorsports also uses several of Miller's TIG products throughout its facility, including Syncrowave®, Maxstar® and Dynasty® TIG welding machines, along with Weldcraft SF-225 modular flex head torch packages. TIG welding offers strength and weight benefits to Hendrick's vehicles and as the process evolves, TIG products are becoming easier to adjust and control, a definite benefit to the precise welds needed on racecars. "We're trying to keep the cars as lightweight as possible and to make the welds cleaner looking," continues Cavin. "It's a much nicer looking piece when it's all done. But, the weight savings alone would be the biggest reason for using the TIG process as much as possible."
Paul Cavin, fabricator, MIG welds components using Miller's CP 200.
The fine-tuning capabilities of the Miller TIG products are quite apparent in the shop, according to Cavin. "I use the Syncrowave® 250 and the Maxstar® 200 depending on what application I'm welding," he explains. "Personally, I like the Maxstar for precision. I can easily fine-tune the arc starts on this machine while using .020- or .040-in. tungsten. With other machines, you can actually blow those tungstens off. So, if you're welding on .020- or .035-in. material and you want a real fine tungsten, you can do that with this machine."
Using Weldcraft's SF-225 torch packages eliminates the need to keep extra torches in the shop. With it's flex neck and multiple torch heads, the SF-225 lets Hendrick fabricators create seven different torch configurations from an existing water-cooled TIG torch. That helps fabricators adjust to the many different angles they have to weld and means less downtime for changing torches for each application. Fabricators just need to change out the torch head instead of the whole torch, a feature that helps get the job of building the racecars done quicker.
Fast Repairs on Fast Cars
After a crash, Hendrick's fabricators often need to repair severely damaged vehicles within a week. The added pressure of this time frame makes the teams' fabricators rely even more on the quality of their welding equipment.
Ron Reedy, body shop foreman, repairs Jeff Gordon's #24 car using a Millermatic 175.
"The sides of the cars get damaged quite often," Ron Reedy, body shop foreman explains, "Sometimes we are able to save the nose and the tail is okay too. Other times we get cars where the nose pushes in around the radiator opening. That's more common-in fact, we probably replace more front faces, noses and tails than any other part on the car."
To repair such damage, the fabricating team cuts off the dented area by grinding a small area through the spot welds and pulls the sides of the sheet metal off. Then the team rolls up new sides, which are generally .023-in. sheet metal, and temporarily rivets the metal into place. When everything fits and all the sheet metal is on the car, including the fenders and the hood, fabricators paint the inside of the panels. Finally, they weld all the panels and complete painting and decals.
Consistency Makes a Difference in the End
Whether Hendrick Motorsport's fabricators are building new cars or repairing damaged vehicles, there is a consistent procedure, a shared system and common equipment throughout the facility. "Our reliance on tools like Miller welders is critical to our success," says Shriver. And the success of Hendrick's teams is important to thousands of fans throughout the world.
For more information on Hendrick Motorsports' racing teams, visit hendrickmotorsports.com. For more information on Miller Electric's welding equipment, visit millerwelds.com. Visit bernardwelds.com for more information on Bernard guns and consumables or weldcraft.com for more information on Weldcraft TIG torches and accessories.