When Jackson’s Ronnie Johncox was an IndyCar racer, he did what he could to avoid crashing.
Now Johncox is invested in the science of racing collisions.
Johncox’s Technique Inc. is contracted by NASCAR to build the chassis for every Cup Series team, starting this year with the sport’s new Next Gen car. The chassis is the framework or “skeleton” of the car which includes a steel roll cage with various bars to protect drivers in the event of a collision.
Previously, each NASCAR team was responsible for building most of the components for their cars. But with the Next Gen car of 2022, there are companies committed to building parts for everything teams, in the hope of bringing more parity to the sport.
Technique has built NASCAR parts before. But building the entire chassis for each team is an important step.
“From our perspective, I think everything went extremely well,” Johncox said, noting that they avoided supply chain disruptions by procuring the materials well in advance.
Naturally, the greatest test of Technique’s work is when cars crash. Johncox has entered more NASCAR races than ever this year to see how the cars hold up.
“I’m the guy in the garage who walks over to a car that’s just been completely destroyed and says, ‘Man, that thing looks awesome,'” Johncox said. “The perspective that I bring, I have to be very careful how I phrase this in the garage. Everyone is upset and they just broke their car. I’m glad the car did its job and the pilot is safe.
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While the cars show durability, some drivers have complained that the cars felt “stiffer” than in previous years during crashes.
Kurt Busch crashed during qualifying at Pocono Raceway three weeks ago, in what seemed like a less violent collision than many others this year. But Busch walked away with concussion symptoms. He missed the last three races because the doctors did not allow him to return.
“It’s interesting because the accidents you see on TV that see less impactful are among the worst. There are so many variables that go into what happens in an accident,” Johncox said. “Sometimes the ones that look the worst, they’ve absorbed all that energy, so it’s really not that bad for the driver.”
Busch’s accident at Pocono is a prime example, Johncox said.
For the pilots, Busch’s injury confirms the safety alarms they have raised.
“You look at the cars, and they’re like, ‘Oh man, they look great!’ That’s the problem,” said Kevin Harvick, who won Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. you get hit by the hammer. The car survives – but is that really what you want?
NASCAR began installing SAFER barriers at the tracks in 2002. These barriers were placed next to the wall and have polystyrene-like blocks that absorb impact energy to keep drivers safe.
Harvick says crashing into the Next Gen car is like hitting a solid concrete wall before the SAFER barriers appear.
“Any time I hit something, it’s a lot harder than any hit I’ve taken in any of the other cars,” Harvick said. “Hitting anything in these cars is brutal on the inside, for the driver.”
The chassis was designed by NASCAR and Dallara – Technique simply won the tender to produce the parts.
It’s up to NASCAR engineers if they want to tweak the chassis design for 2023, Johncox said — although the car’s stiffness isn’t solely determined by the chassis.
“At the end of the day, it’s a complex system. You have the tire, you have the shock, you have the spring, you have all your suspension geometry, you have the chassis,” Johncox said. “It’s up to the (NASCAR) engineers to find out.”
Making the new car safer should be the No. 1 priority for NASCAR right now, Harvick said.
But he is skeptical.
“I don’t think anyone knows what this fix is,” Harvick said. “But it won’t be high on the priority list because it’s going to be expensive.”
Consistency over performance
In the past, when Technique made parts for race teams, the goal was always to improve performance.
But now that Technique is building pieces for all teams, consistency is key. Each part must be exactly the same – within a fraction of an inch, to be fair for all racing teams.
All parts must be identical whether new or repaired. Technique repairs chassis that have been involved in crashes, although about a third of those will be totaled if the crash was serious enough, Johncox said.
“Everything we repair has to be equivalent to new,” Johncox said. “If it’s not, we won’t send it.”
NASCAR teams pay around $28,000 per chassis after all parts are included. Each team can have seven per driver.
To date, Technique has built over 300 complete chassis and repaired over 300 components. The chassis is divided into three parts: the front, the center and the rear. If a driver breaks down and only damages the front, for example, the center and rear can be spared.
Chassis are assembled at Technique’s facility in Concord, North Carolina, as most NASCAR teams are based in that region. But all the tubes and machined parts are made in Jackson.
Technique had many of its employees at Sunday’s race at MIS, since the track is only 25 miles from Jackson’s headquarters. There’s a lot of pride as employees watch the 200 mph cars they’ve contributed to.
The company also had a booth at MIS showing what the chassis looks like on its own. Johncox hopes to use NASCAR to get kids excited about STEM fields.
Technique has 37 workers in North Carolina and 180 employees in Jackson, and its hires for various positions.
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For an updated list of MIS stories from this NASCAR race weekend, Click here.