When NASCAR cars crash, a Michigan company surveys the damage

When Jackson’s Ronnie Johncox was an IndyCar racer, he did everything he could to avoid a crash.

Johncox is now invested in the science of competitive collisions.

Johncox’s Technique Inc. has contracted with NASCAR to build the chassis for each individual Cup Series team, starting this year with the new Next Gen sports car. The chassis is the frame or “skeleton” of the car, which includes a steel safety cage with various bars to protect drivers in crashes.

Previously, each NASCAR team was responsible for building most of the components of its cars. But with the next-generation car from 2022, there are companies that have contracted to produce parts everything teams, hoping to bring more equality to the sport.

Technique has built parts for NASCAR before. But building the entire chassis for each team is a big step.

“From our perspective, I think it worked out extremely well,” Johncox said, noting that they avoided supply chain disruptions by purchasing materials well in advance.

Naturally, the biggest test of Technic’s work is the car crash. Johncox has been to more NASCAR races than ever this year to see how the cars handle.

“I’m the guy in the garage who walks up to a car that’s completely gutted and says, ‘Man, that thing looks great,'” Johncox said. “The point of view I present, I have to be very careful how I frame it in the garage area. Everyone is upset and just gutted their car. I am happy that the car did its job and that the driver is safe.”

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Although the cars show durability, some drivers have complained that the cars feel “harder” than in years past during crashes.

Kurt Busch crashed during qualifying at Pocono Raceway three weeks ago in what appeared to be a less violent crash than many others this year. But Bush left with concussion-like symptoms. He missed the last three races as the doctors did not allow him to return.

“It’s interesting because the crashes you see on TV see less impactful are some of 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 crash at Pocono is a great example of that, Johncox said.

For the drivers, Busch’s injury confirmed the red flags they had raised about safety.

“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. “All this energy is absorbed by you. So it feels like you struck by the hammer. The car survives – but is that what you really want?’

NASCAR began installing SAFER barriers on tracks in 2002. These barriers were placed against the wall and have Styrofoam-like blocks that absorb crash energy to keep drivers safer.

Harvick says crashing a next-gen car is comparable to hitting a solid concrete wall before SAFER barriers are in place.

“Every time I hit something, it’s a lot harder than any hit I’ve had in any of the other cars,” Harvick said. “Hitting something in these cars is brutal on the inside for the driver.”

The chassis was designed by NASCAR and Dallara – Technique just won the bid to manufacture the parts.

It’s up to NASCAR engineers whether they want to change the chassis design for 2023, Johncox said — although the car’s stiffness isn’t determined by the chassis alone.

“When it comes down to it, it’s a complex system. You’ve got the tire, you’ve got the shock, you’ve got the spring, you’ve got all your suspension geometry, you’ve got the chassis,” Johncox said. “That’s what the (NASCAR) engineers need to understand.”

Making the new car safer should be NASCAR’s No. 1 priority right now, Harvick said.

But he is skeptical.

“I don’t think anybody knows what that decision is,” Harvick said. “But it won’t be high on the priority list because it will be expensive.”

Consistency over performance

In the past, when Technique created parts for racing teams, the goal was always to improve performance.

But now that Technique is building figures for all teams, consistency is key. Each piece must be exactly the same – within a fraction of an inch to be fair to all competing teams.

All parts must be the same whether they are brand new or refurbished. The technique repairs chassis that have been involved in crashes, although about a third of them are total if the crash was severe enough, Johncox said.

“Everything we refurbish has to be equivalent to new,” Johncox said. “If it’s not, we won’t send it.”

NASCAR teams pay about $28,000 per chassis after all the parts are included. Each team can have seven per driver.

To date, Technique has built more than 300 complete chassis and repaired more than 300 components. The chassis is divided into three parts: front, center and rear. If a driver crashes and damages only the front, for example, the center and rear can be spared.

The chassis are assembled at Technique’s facility in Concord, North Carolina, as most NASCAR teams are based in that area. But all tubing and machined parts are made in Jackson.

Technique had many of its employees at Sunday’s race at MIS, as the track is only 25 miles from Jackson headquarters. There is a lot of pride as employees watch the cars fly by at 200 mph, which they contributed to.

The company also had a booth at MIS, showing what the chassis itself looks like. 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 is hiring for a variety of positions.


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