Inside Joe Gibbs Racing
Category: IMTS • Mar 29, 2021
Trying to show footage from inside a NASCAR race shop is tougher than editing a witness protection video. AMT’s Stephen LaMarca, Host of the IMTS Network series Road Trippin’ with Steve, visited Joe Gibbs Racing for an inside look on how they prepare cars for drivers that include such icons as and Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr.
What LaMarca discovered is that hyper-competitive NASCAR teams operate with a secrecy the CIA would envy because the rules make it very challenging to obtain a competitive edge through fabrication. For example, cars for the NASCAR Cup Series must conform to very specific parameters. The engine must have a displacement no greater than 358 cubic inches, the car body must measure 206 x 78.5 x 53 in. and total weight must be 3,400 lbs., including driver, fuel, fluids and seats — and 3,200 lbs. excluding driver, fuel, fluids and seats.
To protect the team’s intellectual property, some of the details remain intentionally vague. Mark Bringle, Technical Sponsorship and Marketing Director at Joe Gibbs Racing, proudly notes the facility uses a fleet of 40+ machining centers, including three Doosan VC 630/5AX 5-Axis vertical machining centers and four 5-Axis Doosan horizontal centers. He’ll tell you the team fabricates more than 2,000 parts in-house, he’ll show you the Stratasys 3D printer and say 30 parts go straight from the printer to the car, but as for the specific parts being machined, “flux capacitor bracket” is all he reveals.
Machining secrets aren’t the only thing kept under wraps. In fact, the cars themselves are literally wrapped in vinyl instead of painted, and that is one process the team will discuss.
Traditionally, transitioning a race car for a rapidly changing race schedule or sponsorship would take several days using paint, not to mention time spent getting it to the body shop and decaled. Now, the same car can be transitioned for use with a different sponsor from one week to the next, providing a big cost advantage. Joe Gibbs Racing even made the decision to open their very own in-house print shop, “which makes the whole transition process even faster,” says Bringle.
Race wrapping is also lighter than paint—about 5 pounds lighter. This weight advantage, along with imbedded decals, give the driver another significant advantage—performance. A lighter, more aerodynamic car translates to increased performance on the track. Along with endless design and customization options, some additional advantages of race wrapping include enhanced vehicle protection and easy removal. While paint is cheaper, and often free for racing organizations, money saved in time and labor far outweigh paint costs.
While different types of films are used for different surfaces, the broad steps involved in wrapping a vehicle are the same. First, the surface must be thoroughly cleaned, preferably with a non-alcohol-based cleaner. Film is precisely positioned over the desired area for wrapping. A fresh sharp blade is needed for cutting to fit a vehicle surface, such as a side panel or hood.
Wrapping film contains special adhesive that allows for required repositionability. Microscopic glass beads actually keep the adhesive away from the surface while positioning. Once placed, the pressure activated film can be bonded to the surface using firm squeegee strokes. This action disperses microscopic beads in the adhesive, forming a complete bond to the surface beneath the film.
Once positioned and adhered, the stretched areas of film must be heated to ensure the film stays in place, effectively re-casting the vinyl to its final shape. USA Today got its cameras inside Joe Gibbs Racing and provides a time lapse video of the wrapping process on the #20 car, which will be driven by Christopher Bell for the 2021 season.
For more an inside look at Joe Gibbs Racing metrology lab — one place the IMTS Network cameras could go — check out Episode 6 of Road Trippin’ with Steve.