Just last week the Team and I interviewed Jeff Andrews, the Director of Engine Operations for Hendrick Motorsports. If you’re a race fan or engine enthusiast I’m sure you’ve probably wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at a race, about the motorsports lifestyle, and what a professional like Jeff knows or thinks about the latest racing engine technology.
10 Minutes with Jeff Andrews – Hendrick Motorsports Just last week the Team and I interviewed Jeff Andrews, the Director of Engine Operations for Hendrick Motorsports. If you’re a race fan or engine enthusiast I’m sure you’ve probably wondered about what goes on behind the scenes at a race, about the motorsports lifestyle, and what a professional like Jeff knows or thinks about the latest racing engine technology. I’ve got the scoop on all of that and more with an inside look at what a Director of Engine Operations goes through day in and day out while making sure his team gets to Victory Lane. If you have any questions for the Team or Jeff, let us know – we’d love to hear from you! Jeff Andrews at 2008 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Fontana Doc: Thanks for being here with all of us today Jeff. Here’s your first question – How did you get your start in motorsports? Jeff Andrews: It all started with my Dad. He has been involved with building race engines for various racing series across the U.S. for most of his life, since he was capable of building an engine when he was an early teenager, whether it was his own race cars and then later on to building engines for other competitors. He did all of this out of our garage, and I remember when I was very young standing on the back of engine stands at 5 years old watching engines being built. Years later I began working for him in various facets of engine assembly. My start in professional motorsports began in 1987 when a good friend of mine on the West Coast who was a driver had some contacts in what was the CART Series at that time which led to my first job in professional motorsports. Fast Eddie: OK…my turn. In your opinion what is the most important factor to winning a race? Jeff Andrews: Outside of driver skill… what’s most important is being consistent throughout the entire race weekend from practice to the race. You have to have a lot of things go your way on Sunday as well, the engine’s performance and durability, the performance and handling characteristics of the car, the pit crew and pit stops, the race strategy that the crew chief calls – it takes all of these things and if you are have a good day in all of these areas, at the end of the day you’ll win a race. Suzi: Great insight! Now I’ve got one for you. What do you like most about working for Hendrick Motorsports? Jeff Andrews: I like the people that I work with and the day-to-day challenges that the competition of NASCAR brings, but what is most rewarding is putting those challenges in front of our people and watching them work together as a group to conquer the challenge. They are the best group of men and women to work with, we are very fortunate to have them working for us. Doc: My question is a bit more technical. What are the technical challenges you expect as NASCAR goes from carbureted to fuel injected engines in 2012 – what are your thoughts overall and are you in favor of it? Jeff Andrews: Some of the challenges will be packaging and implementing the fuel injection systems in both the vehicle and the engine. Anytime that we make a change to engine architecture that involves something where there’s a vehicle interface, it becomes quite challenging because we’re not only affecting our inventory of parts and engines but we’re also affecting the team’s inventory of parts for the vehicles – so that’s a challenge to understand how we’re going to deal with it and how we’re going to implement it. From a technical side on specifically the engine, the biggest change will be the way the systems that deliver the fuel and spark to the engine are controlled and adjusted. What used to be a physical jet change or a manual adjustment to ignition timing will now be set and programmed through a laptop. With this comes a challenge in educating our folks who tune the engines at the race track. We will no longer use timing lights or jets to adjust the air fuel mixtures and ignition timing at the race track – we’ll do all of this through a laptop computer. I am definitely in favor of the change. NASCAR needed to advance technically, specifically in the area of the engine and our manufacturer Chevrolet, needed our R07 engine to advance further technically to give them greater relevance to the type of technology that they’re selling in their vehicles today. Going forward, it will be easier for the race fan or mechanic that has technical knowledge and understanding of fuel injection and today’s emissions systems to easily identify with what we’re doing. Fast Eddie: Great answer – sounds like it will rev up the competition! Here’s a curve ball for ya…So this one time, I’m going down the backstretch on the last lap – leading the race of course, and my engine blows as I hit turn 3. Doc had the nerve to tell me I was pushing too hard – how do you handle inevitable engine failures with your drivers? Jeff Andrews: You have to absorb their frustrations, put aside your disappointment and the fact that the product you have given a race team has let them down on that particular weekend. You have to listen to the driver, crew chief and the team. You’ve got to understand all of the factors that were a part of the day and make sure none of them were conditions that led to the failure. Higher temperatures or a missed shift somewhere on the restart by a driver could be causes. Put all these things together, then sit down and analyze the failure so you can make sure it doesn’t happen again. If we are unfortunate enough to have a failure we have to learn from it and make sure it does not happen again. The worst mentality that you could ever have when trying to handle and deal with failures is being defensive. I have to be completely open and accept that the engine failed. You can’t have an excuse either. The longer you blame a failure on something other than the engine, the more time is taken away from getting to the root failure. Suzi: Shifting gears – I know you were recently married – how did you and your wife meet? Jeff Andrews: I met my wife Cheryl just by chance at a restaurant in Fort Worth, TX. I was in town for the race weekend and went to dinner with a few friends that I work with. We were there to meet a local friend of ours that we have dinner with on our visits to Texas. Little did I know that he was bringing Cheryl with him as a blind date for a friend of mine. Well, fortunately for me, the blind date did not go so well and Cheryl and I got to know each other, the rest is history! Fast Eddie: How romantic…OK back to me. Here’s the most important question of the interview – as a driver, and of course a winner, what do you do to make sure your drivers get to Victory Lane? Jeff Andrews: First and foremost is to ensure that we have durability and reliability in our Chevrolet R07 engine package that is running the race on a weekly basis. If we want to get to Victory Lane, the first thing we have to do is finish the race. The next is to work very hard to make sure our engines are running at a competitive power level to give our teams an advantage to be their best on Sunday. Suzi: Jeff, you look like a guy who knows how to have a good time. When you’re not at the races, or in the shop at Hendrick, what do you do for fun? Jeff Andrews: Spending as much time on the road as we do, we really like to get away from Charlotte and the everyday routine with a trip to a warm beach somewhere, my favorite place we’ve been is Antigua. Outside of that, I really enjoy working in my own garage on my 1963 Corvette, my 1969 Z28 Camaro and riding my Harley. Doc: I’m like you I love to be in the garage too Jeff. Now for final and most important question of the interview –as a fellow engine expert, what other technical advancements do you foresee in the future for race engines? Jeff Andrews: We’d like to see the engine to continue to evolve at a level of technology that is even more comparable to what’s happening today in the production car world – for example, direct injection, which is when the fuel is directly sprayed into the combustion chamber of each cylinder of the engine rather than into the intake track. However, we have to be very cautious as a sport and as individuals who are responsible for the money spent in this sport that we plan our advancements in technology carefully. NASCAR does a terrific job at this; our sport thrives today because of the rules that are in place to help control costs. We applaud NASCAR for taking this in small steps, allowing us to slowly ramp our technology level up. At the same time, we need to make sure we’re a sport that keeps progressing with technology so it continues to bring along other technical partners not only to Hendrick Motorsports but to the sport in general.
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