Baja Project is About Innovation...And Fun
Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of articles about Valvoline and Cummins' attempt to compete at the 49th SCORE Baja 1000 in November 2016. Read the first article here.
The Valvoline-Cummins team expected to make some repairs after the first of its two trucks was “thrashed” during testing this summer at the Badlands Off-Road Park in northwestern Indiana (U.S.A.) – but not quite so quickly.
But for the employees who have been working on various aspects of the team’s entry in the famous endurance race, this project has become a labor of love.
“We’re getting paid to have fun,” said Harvey Bailey, a Technician in Experimental Machining at the Cummins Technical Center in Columbus, Indiana (U.S.A.). He has performed a lot of the welding for the roll cage and engine mounts. “I’ve learned so much.”
With some help from co-workers who helped cover their regular assignments, the team got the red truck ready for the inspection, which it passed with flying colors.
“There was a real sense of urgency,” said John Nachtigal, Sales & Operations Planning Manager at Valvoline. “We had to do good work together and quickly.”
“There were a couple of long days,” added Evan Berkemeier, who is also an Experimental Machining Technician at the Cummins Technical Center. “But we got it done.”
Valvoline, one of the world's foremost producers of motor oils, is entering two 1989 Dodge Short Bed Regular Cab trucks in the Baja race scheduled for Nov. 16-20 in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico, where the event will start and finish.
Cummins is the lead partner on the build, providing two 2003 vintage ISB 5.9 diesel engines for the trucks.
The team has been getting the red truck, “El Tropico,” ready first and then applying what they learn to the blue truck, “El Arctico.” The names reflect the respective color schemes of each truck (red and blue), the temperature range forecast for this year’s Baja 1000 (41° to 75° F) and the Mexican locale of the race.
Valvoline embarked on the project to demonstrate its hands-on expertise and celebrate its 150-year legacy of providing top quality lubricants. El Arctico will be driven by Valvoline-sponsored professional drift drivers Chris Forsberg and Ryan Tuerck.
El Tropico will be driven by Roger England, Cummins Director – Materials Science & Technology at the Tech Center, and Aaron Quinton, Chief Engineer for the Cummins G Series Engines, both of whom have experience driving race cars.
Employees from Valvoline and Cummins have been traveling frequently between Valvoline’s headquarters in Lexington, Kentucky (U.S.A.) and the Tech Center in Columbus to work on the trucks, with most of the engine work taking place at Cummins and the rest (suspension, wiring, roll cage etc.) handled by Valvoline and other partners in the effort.
For several Cummins employees, the Baja project has been a chance to try new things. Trades Associate and 16-year Cummins veteran Marcus Hoevener, for example, has lots of experience building engines at Cummins – “I don’t know how many but it’s been a ton.” He has not, however, worked on many race engines.
Several team members are excited about a dual air feed Hoevener developed to get a more even air flow across the whole engine, cooling some cylinders significantly.
“I’ve seen this technique used on some older engines,” said Hoevener, who works on tractors in his spare time. “I talked about it with one of our engineers in the flows lab and he thought it might help.”
Hoevener said he’s also enjoyed getting to know the Valvoline members of the team, describing the work environment as collaborative and fun. England and his counterpart at Valvoline, Lead Build Engineer Michael Wedding, have given the team a lot of latitude.
“A lot of these guys have never worked on a race vehicle, so we’ve learned a lot by trial and error,” Wedding said, “but that’s the point – to use what we know but to learn new things, too.”
Valvoline is developing a website devoted to the Baja project. You can find stories there about the initiative as well as details on a new promotion Valvoline is sponsoring to give away a free trip for two to the endurance race Nov. 16-20 in Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico.
Several Cummins team members say the project will help them work more effectively developing new ideas because they have a deeper knowledge of an engine. The machining lab, for example, plays an important role in taking engineers’ ideas and turning them into prototypes.
“I’m going to be able to work better with our engineers,” said Bailey. “This project has forced me to really think.”
England expects the Baja project will ultimately result in better products from both Valvoline and Cummins.
“If we were not able to add value to our customers, we would not be doing this,” said England, who maintains racing pushes engines beyond anything a normal person would do to a normal engine, opening the door to innovation.
“Now granted I’m a little biased, but we have some really smart people from Cummins and Valvoline working on this project,” England said. “And the work that these folks do together to make get the best possible results is amazing.”
Come back to The Block to see more stories on the Baja project, including this story on the project’s test run at the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb.