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by Ed Poplawski • See Part 1: The Dyno Years
On a hot sweaty day in July, 1990 I was under a 3.3L engine, checking the bearings, when an old friend and ex race dyno guy and drag racer, Ted Flack, came into my test cell and asked if I wanted to go upstairs and work for him at a nice, clean, cool desk. Ted was the Manager of the Prototype Engine Build and Procurement area. He wanted me to handle the procurement of all prototype engine parts for our future engines. I couldn’t say “YES” fast enough, and I started my second career at Chrysler the following Monday. This job would continue until May 31, 2007 (17 years) when I retired.
On Labor Day weekend 1992, we moved from the Engineering Center in Highland Park, Michigan to the new Chrysler Technical Center (CTC) in Auburn Hills, Michigan. What a palace!
The first program I worked on was the new 3.5L engine for the LH car. This was to be followed by the 3.2L, and the 2.7L engine. When I speak of prototype engines I am referring to the very first engines built of a new engine program. All the parts were procured from specialized shops and not from production suppliers, as the quantities were very low. For example, the first phase and the second phase might only be 25 or 50 engines, which was followed by the final phase of around 200 engines. These engines were used strictly for dyno testing and in-car testing to verify the design, performance, and endurance of the particular engine.
This part of the program lasted around one year, until all the bugs are worked out, and this gives the production plants time to install the new equipment to produce these engines. Then we also use some of the very first production engines built on the line for final validation before the engine goes into high volume production.
Around 1996 a new racing series was started in the United States called “Touring Car Racing.” This series is and was very popular in Europe and involved sedan racing on road courses. Management decided to get involved in this and we had two cars built in house (Dodge Stratus) and we did the engine development in house also using our 2.0L engine. I was responsible for procuring all the parts needed to do this. This series lasted only about two years and really never caught on here. Dodge won the championship in 1997 with David Donohue driving.
[In response to our question about differences from the standard production 2.0:] The major changes are pretty obvious by looking at the picture. The block had major changes to it like a thicker deck (10mm), material was changed to compacted graphite, and the bedplate to nodular iron, and the bores were larger too. There was a dry sump oil system added, a new intake manifold which consisted of an aluminum throttle body assembly with individual injector stacks, and larger pistons. Dick Winkles was the Development Engineer and John Edwards was the engine builder.
The following year (1995) Dodge got involved in the new NASCAR Craftsman Truck Racing series and this was the beginning of our return to full time NASCAR racing in 2001. In the summer of 1999 the Race Engine Group was resurrected with Ted as the Manager, I did Procurement of all parts, Dave Eovaldi was brought on for camshaft and valve train development, Neil Loughlin for cylinder block and structure development, Pat Baer did intake manifold and cylinder head design and development, Dave James was our Chief designer, and Rudy Sayn did whatever else there was to do to get an engine designed.
We had a design finalized by December 1999 and we had our first engine running in May 2000 down at Everham’s race shop. This engine is now on display at the Chrysler Museum (the dedication photo is above). This engine was the R5/P7, R5 designating the block design and P7 the head design.
Eventually, besides handling all the engine parts, I was responsible for many of the body parts and panels, fasteners, contracts for additional support for the teams, and other miscellaneous parts needed to go full time racing. Right before I retired we were working on the next version of our 355 NASCAR race engine which was designated the R6/P8. We had a warehouse down in Charlotte, North Carolina to store all these parts. Had the chance to go to some of the races, meet the drivers, and in general had a great time (and they paid you for this too!).
Sometime around 2004 or 2005, I also got involved with the Viper Competition Coupe program and worked on that and the NASCAR program until I retired on May 31, 2007. I worked 41 years, 2 months, and 7 days at Chrysler and enjoyed every minute of it. What a ride it was! It did not get any better than this!
How hard was it to shift perspective when you went into procurement? Were there any major surprises or revelations?
As a dyno operator I would use a lot of these prototype engine parts in our engine testing not having any clue on how they were designed or made. In procurement I had to learn how to find a vendor to make a part, learn all about the methods that were used to make a part (casting, machining, designing, forging, stamping, materials, etc), determine timing for delivery, process the requisitions to buy the part, work with the buyer to get a Purchase Order, and visit the supplier to see how things were going.
Being responsible for about 500 parts and making sure parts were in the warehouse for the teams to use on a weekly race basis was quite demanding. There were 10 teams with at least 5 cars per team. As far as revelations go I was truly shocked to see all the work that went into getting these parts and the problems that can come up and then making sure I had a backup plan in case something went wrong.
Were there any major obstacles in procuring the parts you needed for the various racing series?
The most pressure was at the beginning in 1999 and 2000 to get the initial designs done and get teams parts so that they had all of 2000 to build cars and engines and test them before Daytona in February 2001. The engine was a brand new design, no carry over parts whatsoever except for the distributor hold down clamp. There were some casting issues with the blocks and the heads but those were worked out pretty quickly
What was Ted Flack like to work with? Were other people in the procurement and race engine group also current or former racers?
Ted Flack was as good as it gets for a manager. He told all of us that it was his job to make sure we could get our job done. If we had a problem that we couldn't solve he would go and knock down doors or barriers to help us accomplish our goals. Our group was a team and we all worked together to get the job done. Being an ex-racer he understood how important timing and teamwork was and he was able to instill that ethic in us.
As far as the other people in the engine group he was the only one who was an ex-racer. Everyone else had lots of experience with engines in various forms but there were no racers.
What were your major obstacles in NASCAR engine development (as a group)?
I think the only real major obstacle the group had was getting the trust of the racing teams. They had been working with other manufacturers and people for years and had built up a good working relationship with them and then we come along and we are the new kid on the block. Granted we all had engine experience but we had not worked in a racing environment together so we had to prove ourselves to them. I think it says a lot that all 10 cars qualified for the Daytona 500 in 2001.
SEE PART I: Ed Poplawski’s career in engine testing, including the slant six, 2.2 turbos, and Ball Stud Hemi.
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