U.S. Department of Energy - Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
Vehicle Technologies Office
ORNL's High Temperature Materials Laboratory Assists NASCAR Teams
You might say some scientists at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) hang with a fast crowd.
NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick, in the No. 29 Mr. Goodwrench Chevrolet, leads the pack during a recent race at California Speedway.
More and more, NASCAR teams seeking a racing edge are making pit stops at ORNL's High Temperature Materials Laboratory (HTML) for high-tech tips to better performance.
"ORNL facilities that are used to test and develop transportation and materials technologies are gaining popularity among the NASCAR set," HTML Director Arvid Pasto said. "HTML provides a means for racing teams to study ways to enhance a car's ability to race at high speeds."
Pasto said the HTML helps solve problems in advanced energy conversion systems — such as race cars — to make them more efficient and reliable. Instruments available at the laboratory have extensive capabilities for characterizing the microstructure, microchemistry, and physical and mechanical properties of materials over a wide range of temperatures. These capabilities are valuable when dealing with high levels of heat and stress produced by stock cars.
The HTML staff has worked with some nationally and regionally recognized racing teams on a wide range of test materials, mechanical designs, engine life and failure, Pasto said.
Ed Wall, director of the Department of Energy's (DOE's) Vehicle Technologies Office, said the HTML is a DOE-funded National User Facility, which is free to institutions and individuals conducting nonproprietary research on transportation materials.
"The HTML is a national resource that welcomes the opportunity to work with institutions and individuals, such as automobile manufacturers, universities, or in this case, NASCAR teams, to solve transportation related materials problems, thus exposing our researchers to challenging real-world situations that increase their knowledge base," Wall said.
Engineers with Richard Childress Racing (RCR) of Welcome, North Carolina, which includes three cars on the Nextel Cup circuit and two more in the Busch series, said they have been able to improve performances of their cars during the first half of the 2004 season based in part on research conducted last fall at the HTML.
"We were able to examine our cars' components and improve the reliability of the performances of the engines based on work we performed in Oak Ridge over three days," said David Holden of RCR. "The High Temperature Materials Laboratory was the only place in the world that has the equipment that enabled us to conduct the research and attain the knowledge we came away with."
The HTML's mechanical characterization and analysis user center specializes in mechanical characterization of structural materials, including high-temperature materials. This center can conduct tension, compression, and micromechanical testing in controlled environments at elevated temperatures that may be able to increase a race car's performance as well as the durability of a family car.
Holden said the HTML's equipment and capabilities enabled the RCR team to find an answer on a particular engineering challenge different from what it originally anticipated.
"The equipment did not confirm the hypothesis we had taken into our research there," Holden said. "It resolved the issue in an entirely different scope from what we had expected, but one that has been beneficial to us so far during this racing season."
The RCR team hopes lessons learned at the HTML may be able to improve that standing by the end of the race season come November.
Holden, who worked with Pasto and Tom Watkins and Cam Hubbard of ORNL's Metals and Ceramics Division, said the experience with ORNL was beneficial to RCR and also instilled in him a sense of national pride.
"This may sound corny, but I felt a sense of patriotism in working with the impressive facilities and the people at the national laboratory," said Holden, who still periodically communicates with his HTML counterparts on different performance challenges. "To submit a program and work with some of the most knowledgeable scientists in the world — helping us to improve our competitive edge — is an experience that is very cool."