There’s little doubt that the automotive industry inspires strong emotions. While essentially a collection of metal, wires and rubber, the resulting product has served people for over a century, transporting them with new levels of speed and convenience. But more than that, cars have helped quench humanity’s thirst for competition, and as a result, inspiring some of the most intense emotions from motorsport enthusiasts. While some may consider motorsport a pastime, the truth is that where competition exists, innovation and excellence thrive.
What many motorsports have in common is the implementation of strict guidelines each team must operate within. These guidelines (hopefully) ensure the resulting races are competitive and entertaining as well as keeping the drivers and crew as safe as possible.
The teams therefore know the precise limits they have to manufacture within and they also know that the guidelines exist as a gatekeeper to advantageous performance. The logical conclusion from this is that the optimal car should fit in a footprint as close to the permitted dimensions as possible – literally nanometers within the guidelines in order to extract as much performance as is allowed.
To achieve this goal, motorsport teams need reliable measurement tools, otherwise they run the risk of unintentionally overstepping that mark and being disqualified. And when drivers are often risking everything to win points, disqualification is unthinkable.
At the recent HxGNLIVE Global event in Las Vegas, Tad Merriman, Engineering Manager, Engine Shop at Hendrick Motorsports highlighted the importance of being able to push the limits to their continued success in NASCAR: “We are going to find that line, and if that line moves, we’re going to put our toes on it again. Our primary goal is to generate the maximum horsepower while staying within the regulations set by NASCAR.”
NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing) was formed in 1947 to standardise stock car racing and optimise safety. Since then, NASCAR has ensured their strict controls are complied with at every race through careful checks.
Hendrick Motorsports was founded in 1984 as All-Star Racing by businessman Rick Hendrick and the team has gone on to win a NASCAR-record 298 Cup Series races and 14 Cup Series owners and drivers championships. Hendrick Motorsports has been an incredibly consistent performer in NASCAR since their first race and the role of accurate measurement in their success has steadily grown.
“We bought our first CMM (coordinate measuring machine) in 2001 and that was for measuring engine parts. But if you look at our campus now, we have 5 CMMs – one was just added last week as part of our partnership with Hexagon – and between 30 and 40 arms.” The huge change over this time has not just been about the amount of measuring required, but the purpose of it.
“When you look back, measurement was a tool for conformity. Now, it’s a tool for performance. So there’s a big shift there, but a subtle one,” adds Merriman.
Changes in the way NASCAR oversees the sport has changed how teams function and achieve success: “Now, the majority of the vehicle is prescribed to us by NASCAR. We have to buy single source parts from NASCAR-approved suppliers so the focus has changed completely from being a manufacturer to being an assembler. The margins have become much narrower and the effort needed to find an advantage has increased tremendously as you have to look closer at every component.”
The sea change in NASCAR has meant teams have needed to switch their approach and adapt quickly. Those who have done so the quickest have put themselves in the best position to perform strongly on the track. Hendrick Motorsports has gained a great deal of support from their partners during this time, including Hexagon.
“That’s why our partnership with Hexagon is really valuable to us, because we have to look at more parts and we have to look at those parts more closely. And we’re looking at really tuning those parts, not just checking for conformance,” says Merriman.
“With any part, you’re going to have variability, and for us, which way that variability exists, matters. If you look at the body of the car, we want a specific shape but must stay within a mandated plus or minus tolerance of 0.150 inches on the surface of that body. There is performance in how you pull panels in or push them out so understanding the shape of that panel is important to us, and then multiply that across the whole build of the car.”
Walk the line with confidence
Motorsport is very much a team sport where enormous amounts of trust are placed on individuals and groups within that team. With Hexagon as a partner, Hendrick Motorsports can continue to compete with the knowledge that no other team can push closer to that line and extract more performance from their car, as Tad Merriman concludes: “We always want our partners to learn from us and we want them to make us better. Our partnership with Hexagon is fantastic because it gains us access to the tools and the technology, which is great, but it also gains us access to the people with the knowledge. Having a partner in Hexagon who you can call with a problem and them say ‘try this technique’ or ‘we’ve got a software application that can help with that’ is just tremendously important.”
Read more about Hexagon’s partnership with Hendrick Motorsports and the tools they use in this feature from Engineering Reality magazine: https://hexagon.com/resources/resource-library/hexagon-helps-hendrick-motorsports-toe-the-line-while-pushing-the-envelope