Advanced Composite Products Motorsports Team visits Team Dover
By Master Sgt. David Grant, 436th Airlift Wing Safety
/ Published December 05, 2017
DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. --
“Mission accomplishment; that’s what Safety is here for,” said Lt. Col. Ed Szczepanik, 436th Airlift Wing Chief of Safety.
This is the guidance set forth for the Flight, Occupational and Weapons Safety professionals assigned to the Wing Safety office in their day-to-day dealings with all the agencies around the wing. This involves identifying hazards and working with multiple on- and off-base agencies to mitigate hazards to enable safe working environments for the Airmen of the 436th AW.
Under this direction, the Flight Safety team coordinated a visit with the Advanced Composite Products Motorsports team to do some cross-talk and motivational discussions with Airmen of Dover AFB. Discussions involved the similarities of getting an 850-horsepower race car on the track and launching a C-5 and C-17 on a mission.
ACP is based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and is owned by Kerry Hitt. Other members of the team include Crew Chief Ray Kaufman; shop manager Rodney Cole, retired U.S. Navy; mechanic Lee Burch, U.S. Army; mechanic Mike Wahl, U.S. Army Airborne and Drill Sergeant; mechanic Alec Klose; and office manager Winnie Shafer, Pennsylvania Air National Guard.
“We check each other constantly,” said Burch.
That’s how the ACP team mechanic described the working relationship of the team on getting an 850-horsepower Cadillac CTS-V Trans Am race car into the winners circle. They operate in a time-constrained deadline to be on the track for the start of qualifying sessions and the main race. This can be difficult sometimes if the car has damage or a component breaks that is critical to the operation of the car. In this case, the team gets together and each member can accomplish the task if another member is bogged down in a repair.
Approximately 20 Airmen from the 436th and 736th Aircraft Maintenance Squadrons got up close to the machine and crew. Here, they were able to share ideas on how to handle unplanned situations and how to keep a calm demeanor to focus on getting the tasks done right the first time. The discussion highlighted how the tracking of components and tools for flight line maintenance is managed and critical in ensuring the tool is not left on the aircraft when it launches. The same can be said for tracking race car maintenance equipment.
“All items on the car are catalogued and measured. We can tell how long, and how much wear has occurred and if the part needs to be changed,” said Wahl.
In between each race, the team is tearing into the car, from the $24,000 sequential-shift transmission to the $50,000 race motor and even the $500 brakes which last one race, ensuring each part is checked and doubled-checked to ensure it is tightened to specifications.
Inside Dover’s Isochronal Inspection Dock, which is the Air Force’s only ISO Dock for the C-5, John Greim, ISO Dock controller, and Master Sgt. Jason Ball, C-5 Regional ISO Dock chief, led their team around the car and discussed the similarities in getting the car and the aircraft in top working order amid a time and parts constrained environment between missions. One big difference is the race team has five decades of experience in Kerry and two decades in his crew with a single new member just beginning the process of working in the racing community. Greim and Ball have Airmen with less than half a decade of experience in the Air Force, and much less experience in spinning wrenches on airplanes.
“I pace and panic every time Kerry goes out with the car. Those that know me know I worry and fret about everything and won’t calm down until it’s [race car] back in the pits after the race,” said Cole.
The intensity of a race goes beyond the competition on track. It begins to make you question if this vehicle, that literally shakes itself apart, will hold and perform as you expect. The intensity of watching the car you’ve spent hundreds of hours on in maintaining and seeing the driver being able to go a single mile-per-hour faster than others around a track helps validate all the work and education being spent on this task.
As the race team walked into the massive Super Galaxy, the amount of work being accomplished per flying hour was evident. And the amount of expected damage from taking this aircraft around the globe a couple times was evident. This is where the dedication of the Dover Airmen to their craft of perfecting the Galaxy was shining. With the wizened leaders inward hats directing the critical tasks and inspections, each control surface, moveable door, landing gear, engine item, and more was verified, measured, and cataloged.
“To be a good mechanic, you’ve got to want to find the answer to whatever problem you’re faced with,” said Kaufman.
Finding the source of what can hinder a race car from being faster can also be a challenge. You can find a little more downforce in the front to keep the car going around corners, but at the expense of top speed down a straight piece of track. The overall goal is a lower lap time meaning the objective of being faster per lap was accomplished.
But when the unfortunate happens, the crew has to pull together to fix the damage. This can be when a car flips and the roll cage survives, but the body mounts did not and new mounts need to be built and welded to the car, at night, outside, just to make the race the next day. This can also mean swapping out a $15,000 rear axle when a $5 bearing seizes during a practice session and the team still has to get the car to qualify for the race.
“We’re a team; we fail or succeed together,” said Hitt.