EP171: Talking Innovations with Earnhardt Technologies Group

EP171: Talking Innovations with Earnhardt Technologies Group

Published by Crate Insider on 7th Nov 2023

This week Kate had Steve Maynard, from Earnhardt Technologies Group on the podcast. Steve brought his expertise to the mic for an exciting conversation about the cutting-edge technology shaping the world of racing.

So for anybody who is not familiar with Earnhardt technologies,  tell us a little bit about what it is that you guys do. (2:12)

Well we're a company that started 14 years ago, in the business of building parts and components for a lot of different types of racing. In the beginning, we were doing work for a lot of the cup teams and XFINITY teams and kind of, as we evolved on and on and went down the road a little bit, we ventured off into more the short track Saturday night guys and started building you know, parts and pieces for those asphalt late model cars, dirt late model cars, and dirt mods. And we've just kind of evolved from there and gotten to where we are now through you know, just years of being in the short track stuff.

One thing that when I'm talking to chassis builders, and we end up talking about you know, chassis components and suspension, your name comes up a lot. You know, Earnhardt technologies, I hear you guys have some of the best bird cages that exist for dirt late models. (3:25)

Yeah, we, I like to think so. We, we've worked hard on perfecting the parts and pieces that we build here. We've had, we've had a lot of good input over the years from some national touring guys, as well as some chassis companies that have worked with us in the past as far as that goes to develop parts and pieces that, you know, are on the cutting edge and do a lot of the engineering work and the hard work the figuring this stuff out. So when we sell it to some of these guys, they can, you know, they can be confident that what they're buying is is the best and, you know, fits fits what their their needs are. So, yeah we think that, you know, not only our birdcages but you know, a lot a lot of stuff that we do is you know, we go go above and beyond as far as building the parts and products to you know, just tolerances and things of that nature. It, it's all about paying attention to details. And we have a great bunch of guys here that that are all pulling chain the same way. And at the end of the day, when when a product is ready to go out the door to the customer, it's it's top notch.

Do you find that what you learn with the super late models translates to crate late models? Or do you find that there is an adjustment because there's just less horsepower? Does it matter? (6:27) 

Well, it does translate. The cars are basically the same as far as it goes. But the difference between super super late models and crate late models, I would say that the crate late models being that they're lower horsepower cars are you're looking for every little thing that you can get. I mean, if it, if it picks you up a couple of hundreds, you're you're gonna get it, you know, you're it's almost harder really to race the crate cars. I mean, it's kind of funny, I think but it is almost kind of harder to win with crate cars and race the crate cars because they are so they are so equal. So everybody's looking for that slightest advantage that they can possibly get. And that's where paying attention to the details of things that we do here can show up big for them crate guys, as well as super guys, but in particular, the crate guys because those cars, you know, they need to roll as free as they can possibly roll, through their suspension travel, you know, all the way dynamically statically the cars need to be just as free and roll and, and. And it's tougher to it's tougher to find those little things nowadays, so you got to work really hard to do that. But yeah, I mean, there's, there's definitely there's definitely a correlation between the two.

Brian says "good guys that also do driveline service". So tell us a little bit about your driveline service. (10:15)

So we have Rex here that has been - he's been here for a long time. And Rex is pretty much the, the guy in the brains behind our our driveline department. He builds a lot of the two and three speed transmissions, sets up rear gears for rear ends. I mean, he has a lot of experience in that field, and a lot of knowledge that he's accumulated over the years so he's pretty much perfected his craft there and all of that driveline and transmission rear gears work is primarily for the asphalt late model world- not so much on the dirt world not really a whole lot of transmission work or rear end work on that on the dirt side of things, but he stays busy on the asphalt side. So we have you know, he can obviously service his little two and three speed transmissions that he builds, service and build you rear gears. At one time we had we had a chassis dyno here, we still have a chassis dyno here. It's just not we don't have it open to the public now. So it's, we learned a lot through testing on the dyno and, his actual transmission dyno machine, and he has in the facility here to you know, figure out what, you know, what types of oils and gear cuts and all kinds of different things to make speed with and over the years of him doing that for the cup cars out of here. He's, he's pretty sharp when it comes to that stuff. 

I wanted to follow up, you mentioned that you guys have a chassis dyno, but that you stopped opening it up to the public? Is it that you just don't have time to do that aspect? Or do you use it now for really dialing in? I mean, there's so much you can learn from a chassis dyno far more than just, you know, basic engine dyno where you can, you know, just make one little change and see what that's doing for what's happening at the rear wheels. Nobody cares how much horsepower your engine has, it matters how much is translating to the rear wheels. So, you know, I'd love to hear more about that. (13:09)

Well, that was obviously it was here, for whenever the cup teams were raced out of here, and they, they download everything before it left to go to the racetrack. So it was just a service that we offered for a while it got to be where we were so busy inside the shop, trying to get components built and and just really didn't have the manpower to run it. So we kind of got to where it was, you know, got to be more more of a situation where we we just didn't have time to manage it and do it. So so we just stopped dropped out, you know, renting renting time on it, basically. Who knows, I mean, at some point, we may we may decide to fire it back up and offer that service again to some folks but currently, it's sitting idle.

But from your point of view, what would you recommend to a racer- or what advice or you know, maybe talk to the racers who are watching on why they might want to go to a chassis dyno and give them an idea of of some of the things they can learn? (15:10)

Well, I think first and foremost, there is a lot to be learned on a chassis dyno. But I think, particularly for anybody that races crate cars, where the horsepower is low, I think it's a good opportunity to take a look at your drive line angles. So because there's can be a lot of horsepower gain and a lot of horsepower, robbed from misalignment in your drive line. So and particularly with dirt late models, the way the cars are, the attitude that those cars have as much rear steer as they have as much chassis separation from the rear end as they have, we get in some really awkward drive line angles. They get your drive your drive shaft and I and some misalignment areas that can rob horsepower from your from your motor. I mean, the crate cars especially because, it's are so low horsepower anyway, but the Supers, it can be that with the Supers as well. So that would be my biggest thing for for guys to encourage them to get their cars on a dyno is to, you know, not only to monitor to what's going on with your engine, your carburation, and your headers and all that stuff, but but there's a lot there's a lot to be gained with the drive line, drive line angle, angles in those cars as well. And, and that's can be a simple fix, you know, I mean, there's we we have spacers, I mean, you can buy spacers to, you know, the motor needs to be put in the car, and you just don't want to set a motor down in the car square. Because the car's not going around the car is a dynamic added, the motor has to be set in the car basically crooked, too. So dynamically when the car is is at posture, your your drive line angles are always straight as you can possibly get them to prevent robbing any horsepower.

Darren says, "what are the best driveline angles for An IMCA stock car?" Now, I have a feeling that is a loaded question. (19:32)

I'll be honest with you, I'm not real versed in the IMCA world of things, particularly the stock cars. But I've seen some of those races on television and I noticed the way that those guys have got those cars. You know, they've got them postured up on the left rear. And, and it looks like, from what I've seen that there could be potentially a lot of problems with the way those race cars are, are going around there and the way they look. So I really don't have an answer for that. You know, obviously, your, I don't know what the numbers would be. But it seems a way that you could get that one of those cars on a pull down rig, as well as a chassis dyno and kind of get a visual on what's going on with your drive shaft. And what's you know, that there's a lot that goes into that how much rear steer is in the in the rear of the car, how much how much rake is in the car, there's just there's a lot of variables that go into, to figuring this stuff out. And, and like I said, with the stock cars I'm not really familiar with, with those particular cars that much so. But ideally, you want you know, you would want you would want your u joints, to be to where there there's no bind in U joints that could potentially cause driveshaft problems or potentially enough movement in the drive line to where the driveshaft could be getting driving too far up into the rear of the transmission and causing horsepower problems there. I've seen cars dirt late model cars that have had driveshaft issues and drive line issues to where the driveshaft would be drove up. Because we're just here drove up in so far into the transmission that they've actually gotten the transmission pretty well locked up, or trying to lock up and cause the cars to just basically go numb, nothing, nothing from that point on, once that starts to happen. Nothing that you can do that car to, to really fix it. And and it's something that a lot of guys don't pay attention to. So it can be happening. And all along these guys be thinking way I have a shock problem or I have a birdcage problem, or I have some other problem when all along it was the dry chef, just a mis alignment problem with a driveshaft causing it that can can drive you crazy to try to figure a problem like that out.

I guess that brings us to another great question is - tell us about how racing has changed so much, especially in like the last 10 years? It used to be the parts that you could buy, but would you agree with me that it's not what you buy, but it's what you know, and having In the best information and the most technology at your fingertips. (24:41) 

Oh, absolutely. 100% Correct. Yeah, it's absolutely mind blowing. That we've gotten to an in the dirt late model world, particularly in the last 10 years as far as technology. If, you know, back in the day, we had in the 80s and early 90s, and through them I worked for a company out of Indiana that built a lot of race cars. And during that time, you know, everything, I look back on those times now, and, and a lot of that was so primitive, compared to what we do now. There was a time a point in time, that, you know, we still you still adjust this time, you still know, you still tighten the cars up the same, you still free car up the same way, we still the physics of the car stills it's just now in today's day and age, we have the tools to at our fingertips to make adjustments used to we would Okay, well, you know, a guy would come in and the cars loose? Well, you know, they would do a couple of jumps. And this is all based off of the drivers feel, you know, they didn't really know, they didn't know smash numbers, they didn't know load numbers on the wheels, they didn't know any of that they had no way of measuring it. So. So they would make this basically the same adjustments that we would make now on these cars. But now we have so much technology and so much data and so much knowledge about what's going on that it's easier now to you know, to adjust these cars and make the adjustments and, and everybody has access to that, to that knowledge now. So it's everybody's got it, and it's made it, it's made it tougher, and you know, everywhere you go now, everybody has, you know, pretty much everybody has the same cars, you know, I mean, they're all They're all good race cars, they all have strong points. And there's, things now that that you know, in the day of the 80s and 90s, you you really didn't rely so much on shop builders are people like that to help you with your race cars as far as setup and balance and stuff like that, well now you really need to work closely with a shop builder on a consistent basis to to really even keep up quite honestly, the shock technology is changing day by day. And is there's a lot of development and new things that are coming along that if you don't build a relationship with a shop builder, and and even your chassis builder, you're you're gonna struggle, even if you have all these other tools to you know, smashers or pull down rigs and all the tools that are at your fingertips. You're still going to struggle unless you have a connection and those people around you that are able to read that data to you and interpret that data that can help you get faster. So I mean, it's wildly changed. There was a time what I was gonna say is, I think it was in the I want to say it was in the early 90s This is probably the most drastic This is probably the thing that changed for late model is they took the Left side shock behind the axle too. And when that happened, you remember you remember you probably remember seeing your dad's cars going around the racetrack and the cars were always flat. They did have a lot of attitude like the dirt late model cars now that arms race slash will, well, they didn't have traction back in the day, they don't have traction but have traction like we have today. 

The tires were not the same size they are today. So once that went to, once that change happened, it changed her late model, it turns it changed her late model race, and probably the big the single most biggest thing that happened. So at that point, once that happened, all the cars got traction, everybody had traction, then it was just a matter of balancing that traction with the amount of steer, so you can have all the traction in the world in your car. And then then guys started working on the front ends to turn with all that traction. So you know, and from that point, we've just, we've continued to evolve and to working on fine tuning the balance of ours. To the point now where it is, you know, like I said, you need you need, you need support, you need support from engineering support, if you can get it you need shock support, if you can get it chassis support from your chassis builder. I mean, it's, you need all that nowadays, were back in the day, you probably didn't You didn't need all that.

Would you say that racing was really in that's like its golden days back in the like the 80s? Is that the golden days? Or when were the golden days of racing? Or is it today? (33:37)

I would say for me, for me the golden days was the late 80s and throughout the 90s. 

Do you have any favorite stories from from back then? (34:15)

There was a lot but you know, I mean, I find it interesting that you know, one particular guy, this this kid from from California. He actually moved from California to Tennessee and his name was Scott Bloomquist. He, he used to come to like, I didn't know Scott Bloomquist from anybody when he first come to Masters Built but I had no idea. This guy pulls up in our truck and he's going to pick up a car frame a chassis from from us there. And he comes walking in the door and he's got the long hair and you know comes walking in and he surfer looked who in the world is this guy, you know? And I thought, you know, this this guy, what is he doing? This guy is surely not gonna is not a racer. And sure enough, he was a racer, he come and pick the car up and well, he actually stayed there and we built the car. He worked. He worked with us a couple of days there and I got to work with him closely and, and see how he operated and his thoughtfulness thinking process of building cars and, and he built he took so basically he came and picked his car up after we got it done, took it home. And, and and I thought, you know, unless something was different about the guy, you know, I could just from working around him, that that there was something special about him. And so he takes the car home and puts it together finishes putting it together. And and I think he, you know, I think he won like, I don't know that year that first year he got one of their cars, I think he I think he won 40 or 50 races in that car. And I'm like, you know, you really don't need to judge a book by its cover because he was like, he looked like anything but a racecar driver when I saw him for the first time. And we all know where he's at now. I mean, he's probably the greatest of all time.

So what do you do for fun? Besides, you know, work, obviously, you work and do some cool engineering stuff. But, you know, what do you do for fun? (48:30)

Well, besides work and travel, and that sort of thing, I like to golf. I mean, I do like to golf, and I don't I don't golf as much as I would like to but I do like that. And, you know, I wasn't, you know, messing with some older cars and stuff at one time and may eventually get back into that at some point. But I just spend time with my grandson. He's seven now. So he's in a lot of sports. So that keeps me that keeps me going too. 

So traveling, do you go to a lot of races, then? (49:27)

I spend a lot of time on the road. I don't know how many I went to this year. I haven't. I haven't looked it up. Probably not as many this year as I have in the past. But I would say between 40 and 50. At this point that I've been to, probably next year it'll be quite a few more added. I want to I want to get out west a little bit further I want to go out and I want to go out to I also want to go back out to Iowa for a while I want to go to Kansas, and maybe even Colorado, I think there's a couple of series out there that are trying to get going really good. And, and we have some customers out that way that I'd like to go out and spend a little time with and try to try to drum up a little business out in that direction. And, and, but, but yeah, yeah, I attend a lot of the Lucas Oil races, a lot of World of Outlaw races. And then, you know, several other regional races that are around, I'll go to, I feel it's important that, that, you know, that I go the track and be seen and, you know, talk to guys and there's, well, I get a lot of inspiration by going to the racetrack and seeing people and talking to people and, and a lot of the products that, quite honestly, that that we've built here have have come from, from talking to crew guys, and some of the, some of the racers that whether it, you know, be something simple, or, or something, you know, pretty pretty trick. You know, I'm always I feel like, it's important to be around those guys that are doing it for a living, you know, day in day out working on these cars, and always looking for things that will make their life easier, as far as tools and parts and pieces that are easier to work on user friendly. And, and I don't feel like that. I feel like if I am not at the racetrack and make myself known that, that I would probably, you know, it would be a lot harder to come up with some of the things that we come up with, as far as product.

To manufacture a product is no joke, you know, the investment in, like you mentioned engineering and then, you know, prototyping and and then if you're not going to just build one I mean, you know, maybe you throw out a prototype every once in a while and then you know, bring it to a show and just kind of get some feedback. And then from there deciding whether you're going to go full bore, I don't know, is that still a strategy that's maybe used in, you know, whether it's in your racing company, or others? Or is it pretty well vetted before it ever gets to the prototype stage? (55:00)

Well, I mean, there's, there are some stuff, that's, we'll go ahead and press forward with it out there to R&D. Listen, guys, let them R&D it. Help us, you know, there's some things that are pretty, pretty simple that we, you know, once we talk it over and, and hear him out here, the peer the needs of the guys that are out there, we pretty much have a good idea that if this guy here needs it, then it's probably going to be okay to go ahead and press full, press forward with it and build some, but there are some parts and pieces that, you know, we need to probably go ahead and, and, you know, R&D a little bit, go ahead and build, build a prototype, go ahead and get it on someone's car, let them test it. And, and, and go from there. And, you know, there's, you know, it cost to do that, but, but, you know, a lot of times, that's the only way you're really going to on and particularly in suspension components is, yeah, build something and really try it. And it could be just a, you know, it could be not a complete new product, it could be just a revision of something that we've done already. To better it or to make it a little, a little bit.

So you can see Earnhardt Technologies at the CARS Racing Show, which is going to happen January 5-6, 2024. So we're just two months away. I know it seems like a forever away, but it is not very far away. (58:40)

We're already gearing up and getting prepared for it. And anybody's listening I would I would encourage you to come to that show. We do the other shows- PRI shows and some other some other shows. But there's something special about the CARS Show that seems a little different than than those other shows is and one thing for me that I feel like is is makes it a good show is is the one on one contact with the people the way it's laid out you're not you're not walking on top of one another, not just overwhelmed with with people you know I have time to spend with everyone. Normally everyone that comes by I'll have time to spend with them and you go to some shows and it's just not possible the amount of people that the foot traffic that comes through there and your list of vendors is continues to get better run better and better. And so I definitely would encourage anybody to come to come and I'd make plans to come and see that show.