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How It’s Made: NASCAR Hoods

MEET JAY BRASSARD – HOOD FABRICATOR

We all know the importance of the parts under the hood of a racecar, but in NASCAR the hood itself plays several very important roles.

*Editor’s Note: This article was originally composed during the 2011 NASCAR season. Since then, NASCAR has switched to carbon fiber hoods and decklids in competition. Read more about the new hoods here. This article is still provides a great look into the JGR Fabrication shop. We hope you enjoy it!

Aerodynamically speaking, the hood must fit seamlessly onto the body of our Toyota Camry. When you’re traveling at 180-200 mph, even the smallest lip can affect the car’s ability to cut through the air. Beyond the edges of the hood, per NASCAR rules the hood must maintain its original shape and angles under extreme forces. At times the air traveling beneath the car will try to suck the hood down towards the track, creating a large dent in the middle of the hood. This buckling can cause wind resistance to be reduced – an advantage that NASCAR does not permit. To counteract this, several support bars are built into our hoods.

It’s also very important for all of our hoods to be identical. With all of the engineering and fine-tuning that is done to improve performance on the track, the slightest variation in one part of the car could potentially throw-off an entire setup.

Not only do we need conformity in shape, but also in weight. All NASCAR cars can weigh no less than 3,400 pounds. When the weight of a certain part of the car is reduced (such as the hood) it doesn’t reduce the overall weight of the car, but it does allow us to repurpose the weight more strategically in other areas of the car. Think about it – a hood can add top-weight to a car and when it comes to cornering, the closer the weight is to the road, the better.

The Hood-Guy

The Joe Gibbs Racing shop is full of master fabricators. Jay Brassard is one of those fabricators. He is responsible for shaping, constructing, and fine-tuning every hood that sits upon our NASCAR racecars. (He also builds decklids, rocker panels, dashboards, and many other parts, but we’ll stick with hoods for this story.)

Jay is in his fifth year at JGR, but has been racing his whole life, starting in the early days in New England. He has been fabricating for race teams for almost thirty years.

“My best work is the work that goes unnoticed,” Jay says. “When the hoods do their job at the track, the boys at the track don’t have to think about the hood, they can focus on the important stuff like car setups. When something goes wrong, people notice right away.”

When Jay first started at JGR, there wasn’t one person solely in charge of hoods. A year later, there was a need to streamline the production and development of our hoods, and manager Terry Saunier a.k.a. “Frenchy” tabbed Jay as the right man for the job. Since then, Frenchy, Jay, Paul Charcut (a 17+ year veteran of JGR), and others have developed a system that allows Jay to crank out over 80 hoods in a year. They have also shaved 5 pounds off of the overall weight of each finalized hood – finding an extra 5 pounds to play with is a big deal with these cars!

Jay’s workstation is home to a welder, table, tool chest, several different kinds of metal shaping tools, and the life-blood of the operation – an air compressor. The name of the hood-building game is efficiency and precision. In addition to his template jig, Jay has hundreds off different kinds of tools such as drills, grinders, wrenches, grips, benders, vices, etc. Some of these tools were custom made by Jay to do specialized jobs.

Jay will be the first to tell you that good teamwork is the key to his success and success on the track. Welding and shaping metal must be done well, but without good communication, good morale, and a respect for the team and one another, the wins won’t come. “We are like a big family here. Every weekend there are 400 people cheering for all three JGR cars, watching their hard work go around the track.”

The Anatomy of a Hood

NASCAR hoods are made of steel and come to us straight from Toyota Racing Development as a raw “stamping”. This stamping includes the basic form and contour of a Toyota Camry street vehicle. It is attached to the car by hinged brackets near the windshield and is held shut by four hood-pins. Additionally, the hood contains support braces and is also attached to the frame of the car by two tethers that keep the hood from leaving the car in an accident.

Each hood is assigned a unique number. Jay keeps a notebook that lists every hood he has made and the car it has been associated with. He also notes whether or not a hood has been damaged in a certain race. Because of a hood’s low weight, Jay inspects certain areas of the hood that he knows are prone to damage and weakening. A hood goes through countless openings and closings throughout a race weekend in addition to the extreme vibrations and air pressure it faces on the track. The average hood will last three races before it needs a thorough inspection.

10 Steps: Making a NASCAR Hood

1. When we receive the raw hood stamping at our shop, Jay inspects it and begins shaving some of the excess metal from the edges of the molding.

2. The hood is placed on a custom template jig and the edges are folded under to create strength along the edges of the hood.

3. Next, Jay cuts and shapes the tubing and rails that will act as support for the overall structure of the hood. There is somewhere around 12 feet of tubing in one hood. The design and placement of the tubing varies depending on the type of track the hood will visit. Superspeedways and tracks 1.5 miles or more need more support because of the large amounts of wind turbulence and pressure on the hood. The edges of the support tubing are filled with an epoxy that will dry overnight.

4. While still on the template jig, holes are drilled for the hood pins and tether plate, and hinge brackets are positioned and installed.

5. Jay also builds the ledge that will be welded to the cars fenders and nose. The edges of the hood will lie on this ledge. This enables Jay to create a flush fit when the hood makes it to the car. This ledge will actually be attached to the hood itself by Jay.

6. Additionally, Jay attaches a bar that will be welded to the frame rails. The hood pin bungs (pictured) are attached to this bar. The hood posts will screw into this bung and poke through the hole in the hood. Then, a hood pin will be inserted into the hole at the top of the post which keeps the hood closed. There are four hood pins for every NASCAR hood.

7. Jay welds tiny tacks at different points along the edge of the hood. These tacks keep the hood attached to the ledge and bar mentioned in steps 5 and 6. This entire package is called the hood assembly.

8. Jay delivers the hood assembly to fabricators who work on the car body.

9. Finally, the hood assembly will be welded to the fenders and nose and all hinges will be connected and aligned. Fabricators will smooth the welded areas and cut the tack welds, enabling the hood to open and close normally.

10. The fully functional hood will then head to the paint booth with the rest of the car where it will be painted and decaled with the appropriate sponsor logos. Next stop – the race track! After races, the hood assembly is inspected for damage, especially around the hood pin bungs and the brackets near the windshield. If a hood is damaged in an accident or is weakened beyond repair it is retired and will often end up in the JGR gift shop.

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