NASCAR on NBC podcast

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 85: Max Papis on his bond with a Jimmie Johnson he knew then and now

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The first time Max Papis saw Jimmie Johnson 20 years ago, he saw a stock-car driver – even though the future seven-time Cup champion then was unrecognizable in many ways.

Long before he became a health-conscious triathlete and cyclist in his spare time, Johnson was a pudgy off-road driver who was helping set up an awning for Papis’ CART IndyCar team at the Long Beach Grand Prix.

“Jimmie was pretty chubby back then,” Papis said with a laugh during an episode of the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I was joking with him and said ‘So, are you training to become a stock-car driver?’ Back then, a stock car driver was thought of having a bigger build.”

Eight years later, Papis watched his first Cup race at Sonoma Raceway, where Johnson started on the front row. By then, Papis had begun testing cars for Hendrick Motorsports, developing a bond with Johnson. After once teasing him about his fitness, Papis often has trained with the fitness-conscious Johnson, giving him his first heart-rate monitor as a gift.

“The relationship with Jimmie is something dear to my heart, one of those things that extended way beyond racing,” Papis said. “From setting up an awning to becoming a seven-time champion, it’s just an honor to see that good things can happen to good people.”

With Johnson’s support, good things have happened to Papis. The veteran of NASCAR, IndyCar, sports cars and Formula One developed a safer high-performance steering wheel that Johnson was among the first to use. Max Papis Innovations steering wheels quickly became a popular choice for NASCAR drivers. All 40 starters in the 2017 Daytona 500 used an MPI steering wheel.

“I’m just amazed how a dream can come true, servicing the sport, providing better safety can lead into something creating a business,” said Papis, whose company also makes steering wheels for Late Model, sprint car, off road and drag racing. “This is a true American dream.”

During his appearance on the podcast, Papis also discussed:

–His memories of racing in the IndyCar series;

–A long career in various racing disciplines (and which he considers to be the most pure);

–His work in tutoring young NASCAR drivers such as William Byron.

Papis also will appear on NASCAR America today from 5:30-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN, breaking down Kevin Harvick’s win at Sonoma Raceway with Leigh Diffey, Dale Jarrett and Jeff Burton.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 84: Alba Colon on keeping secrets and Chevy’s ‘secret’ simulator

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Chevrolet Program Manager Alba Colon likes joking the NASCAR teams she oversees are her kids, and the primary challenge is getting them to play well and share together.

And just as with any sibling rivalry, even when the cooperation is strong, there still is the potential for a family squabble.

“They’re all hiding something from each other, right?” Colon asked with a laugh during the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Because they need to go win Sunday, but it’s the whole concept of we have to develop the tools to get better.”

That plan seems to be working this season with Chevy leading the series in manufacturer wins (seven) that are spread across its three key partner teams, Hendrick Motorsports, Chip Ganassi Racing and Richard Childress Racing.

Colon said the departure of Stewart-Haas Racing after the 2016 season engendered a renewed spirit of collaboration between the three organizations. The podcast was taped in a conference room at Ganassi’s shop, where Colon had met with executives from all three teams as part of a monthly meeting.

“A lot of things changed for Chevrolet at the end of (2016),” she said. “We always had a key partner concept, and when the changes happened, we got together and said, ‘Now there’s three of us. We have to get better and improve the way we do things.

“We work together as much as we can during the week, but Sunday, it’s one against the other. I’ve seen how we’re getting better and better at working together and that’s been fascinating.”

The teams have split the work of building and testing a wheel force transducer vehicle that should help optimize aerodynamics, and when they joined forces recently on another top-secret project, “it nearly gave me a heart attack,” Colon said.

The trick is General Motors can foster only so much team spirit without infringing upon proprietary information that can’t be shared across its teams. Colon sometimes takes copious notes to ensure she is cordoning off data.

“You need to have a conversation with teams to put that data in your brain but as soon as you get out of the building, you need to forget it,” she said. “Trust is a big deal. If you lose the trust, it’s not going to work. We have to know a lot of things. How do you help to give an answer without giving away (other teams’ information), that’s the magic that we need to all work together. How do you make things happen without giving away your trust?”

Colon, who has worked in NASCAR for General Motors since 1994, said it depends on the dynamics of those monthly meetings with Ganassi, Hendrick and RCR, finding the right people “to make decisions so that everything seems open but stays in the room.”

Another facet of Chevy improvement stems from a driver simulator that opened in Huntersville two years ago. (Chevy hasn’t showcased it to the public yet, and when asked if it’s in an undetermined location off I-77, Colon joked, “that’s very true and as much as we can discuss.”)

Ford Performance and Toyota Racing Development were ahead in building their driver simulators, but Colon said Chevy recently has been validated by buy-in from several drivers. Dale Earnhardt Jr. tested on the simulator before Dover International Speedway, and Colon said Jimmie Johnson logged several sessions of making laps in virtual reality.

“You see drivers asking for that, you’re doing something right,” Colon said. “We are not near where we need to be with it, though. We still are working on it.”

Other topics discussed by Colon on the podcast:

–Her joy at seeing the No. 3 win for the first time in nearly 17 years in Cup. At one of her first sessions as a GM engineer in 1994, Colon was told at Talladega Superspeedway by Dale Earnhardt that “I will not give you more than a year” in NASCAR.

“It made me a little bit mad, but he helped me,” said Colon, who has a prized photo with Earnhardt after his 1995 Brickyard 400 wins. “When someone says you can’t do something, that inspired me more. He helped me to get to where I am. He told me, ‘I knew you could do it.’ He’d be so amazed with everything his son has accomplished. He’d be proud looking at all of us.”

–The impact of engineering in NASCAR and the quest of Colon, who has a mechanical engineering background, to drive more women into the field;

–The battle to recruit more engineers to NASCAR away from Silicon Valley.

–The future of NASCAR in an era of autonomous cars.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

 

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 83: Travis Geisler, Team Penske’s jack of all trades

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When he moved into a newly created role at Team Penske more than six years ago, Travis Geisler had a title but lacked a job description.

The team advised told him to figure out what being its director of competition would entail.

It’s included being a hiring manager, a liaison between the racetrack and race shop and sometimes a travel agent – depending on the day and the forecast.

“You have to have the logistics buttoned up, and there’s no one better than who’s sitting at the track and understands the needs and where people need to go,” Geisler said on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “Sometimes I end up figuring out rental cars and airplane tickets, and that’s OK. At that moment, it’s the best I can do for the team.

“Some days it’s more managerial and administrative like finding a mechanic.”

The most important part of Geisler’s job is keeping Team Penske’s road crews connected with its Mooresville, N.C., headquarters. A mechanical engineering graduate of Vanderbilt, he worked as a race engineer and crew chief (with Sam Hornish Jr. from 2008-10) at Penske before his current position.

That breadth of knowledge and relationships helps accelerate the pace of implementing improvements to Penske’s cars. When a power steering problem cropped up at Richmond International Raceway in a Friday practice, a few calls and some overnight work had a solution shipped in with Penske’s Xfinity pit crews the following day. On Sunday, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski finished 1-2 in the race.

“I can promise you on any weekend, any time of the night we call, those guys are on it,” Geisler said. “Sometimes, it’s someone comes in the shop and we fly something up on Sunday morning to get it in the car.”

Other topics covered on the podcast:

–Why Geisler and his supervisor, Team Penske vice president of operations Michael Nelson, work hard to reduce the demands on crew chiefs Paul Wolfe and Todd Gordon;

–The balance between working on long-range “game-changing” development vs. weekly refinement of the race car;

–The essence of team owner Roger Penske.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 82: Dave Pericak on a cold call to Roger Penske and keeping secrets

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Keeping Cup teams on the same page while also keeping some secrets between them is a key part of Ford Performance Director Dave Pericak’s job.

And it made for an interesting call to Roger Penske after Ford signed Stewart-Haas Racing to a multiyear deal beginning with the 2017 season.

How would the Team Penske magnate react to having a new team under the Ford umbrella in NASCAR’s premier series? Pericak wasn’t sure.

“I called Roger up and let him know this was happening, and his response was phenomenal,” Pericak said in an appearance on the NASCAR on NBC podcast. “I didn’t know what kind of response I was going to get. He said, ‘Dave, awesome move for Ford. It’s going to raise the chinning bar for all of us. That’s going to make all of us better.”

Because Penske virtually coined the concept of the “unfair advantage” in racing, there were questions about the efficacy of asking the team to work closely with another.

Pericak said Ford Performance acts as the buffer between its teams, ensuring that data and information can be shared without compromising the proprietary intellectual property.

“Penske and Stewart-Haas have done a really good job of integrating and learning each other,” Pericak said. “Each team has trust in Ford Performance, so the things that have to remain within a certain team, they absolutely will. Those things we can common-ize and have discussion on, Ford facilitates that discussion and dialogue. We’re doing that role because we have the trust of all the teams, then the teams can work together because there’s a common ground of trust.

“We’ve been very good that we have to make sure we don’t violate that trust, and the things that can’t transfer over, they just don’t transfer over, and there’s a respect from each team that knows there’s going to be an area where we say, ‘That’s off limits.’ So that respect is there, you’re seeing way more collaboration than ever before and we have plans for additional collaboration to give us a more competitive advantage in the future. It’s every week, every month, that trust is building more and more. The results are showing. It’s all coming together to show this is the right approach.”

Other topics discussed by Pericak on the podcast:

–How driver simulator has played an important role in development;

–Where NASCAR is headed with its manufacturers;

–The importance of avoiding marketing leading competition;

–The security of Ford’s NASCAR program after a CEO change;

–The future of racing as autonomous cars become a reality.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.

NASCAR on NBC podcast, Ep. 81: Will Power

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IndyCar champion Will Power joined the NASCAR on NBC podcast in advance of the 101 running of the Indianapolis 500.

Power, who won the series title in 2014, is seventh in the standings after getting caught in a crash and finishing 23rd at the Indy 500.

The Team Penske driver discussed why he is in better shape than a year ago because of a new diet to alleviate food allergies, his tales of using Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s motorhome at Indy and the difficulty of finding a good game of squash in Charlotte.

The native Australian also talked about raising his newborn son in America and his comfort with becoming a more outspoken veteran in the series.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the AudioBoom embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here. The free subscription will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

It also is available on Stitcher by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify and a host of other smartphone apps.