Auto123.com recently visited the Michael Waltrip Racing shop in Cornelius, NC for a non-exclusive tour. Any NASCAR fan can show up at the race shop, pay a small fee, and take a tour of the factory and see the race cars being built.
Michael Waltrip’s 160,000-sq ft headquarters (also known as Raceworld USA) are located inside an old theatre that has been completely redesigned. The shop contains one last theatre room where 135 people can sit and watch videos on a giant screen and where press conferences are staged.
“There are two machine shops working on two shifts, from 6 am to 3 pm, and then 3 pm to 11 pm,” explained Chris ‘Sid’ Sadlowski who works at the marketing department of MWR and who was our guide.
“More parts are produced in-house. We have several computerized CNC machines that can handle several metals. The second shop relies more on hand-made parts that still require the human touch. We also have a huge jet edge machine that uses water and fine grit from Australia to cut metal. It can go through 14 inches of titanium!”
Visitors can watch all of this from the mezzanine that runs through the race shop. A few videos show what the personnel is doing, and fans can see and touch actual parts such as brake discs, spindles, coil springs and shocks.
Then there is the shock absorbers department and the coil spring room where hundreds of parts are listed, tested and carefully stored.
The gears and transmissions department is where gearboxes and dozens of differentials are rebuilt and tuned for the various tracks. The complete rear axles are assembled here, ready to be installed in the race cars.
“In the gift shop, we sell our old gear and bearings that have been discarded to the fans. Their prices range from $5 to $15. These are hot items!” Sadlowski said. “Recycling is crucial here. We try to re-use parts if it’s possible and safe, and we have recycling bins for plastics, metals, paper and other materials.”
The walls of the mezzanine are covered with memorabilia from Michael Waltrip’s career, complete with race suits, helmets, guitars, framed photos and posters, and a huge trophy case.
The main floor of the shop is where the race cars are assembled. The floor is divided among race teams – David Reutimann #00, Ryan Truex Jr #56 Sprint Cup teams along with the #47 cars of Bobby Labonte entered by JTD Daugherty Racing, Travis Pastrana’s Nationwide teams and Brett Moffitt’s team that races in the K&N Pro Series East.
The cars are later sent to the paint room. “We apply a base coat on the cars, then the basic color. Next, we apply the decals and spay a clear coat,” Sadlowski pointed out.
He added: “These guys work double shifts all year long. They work on new cars and also cars that have been repaired. Depending on the race and the demographics, sponsors may change. For example, Bobby Labonte has got seven sponsors and they alternate locations on his car. That's a lot of work.”
Interestingly, the tubular chassis that represent the 'heart' of the cars are not assembled in the main building but rather in a small, independent facility.
“It used to be a skate park. This is where the tubes are cut and welded together to make the core of the race cars. Fans can't come in here. Access is very restricted,” Sadlowski told us.
Although we had the chance to visit this department, you won’t see any pictures since cameras were strictly prohibited. Sorry!
Once the cars are fully assembled, they are properly tuned using one of numerous set-up scales and then painstakingly checked for compliance to the NASCAR technical regulations with pull-down rigs that are exact replicas of those used at the track by NASCAR officials.
The Sprint Cup program with three drivers requires MWR to produce about 45 cars during a season.
“There are two things you won’t see here: an engine department and a wind tunnel,” Sadlowski continued. “We receive our engines directly from Toyota Racing Development in California. We have Toyota Racing people here who are in charge of prepping the motors, installing them in the cars and later removing them. Additionally, we subcontract our aerodynamic program to a private wind tunnel.”
There’s also a gym so that drivers and mechanics can easily train at their convenience.
The offices, conference rooms, engineering department, finance, human resources and administration offices are located on the second floor.
So, if you ever plan to go down in North Carolina, we strongly recommend you to visit Michael Waltrip Racing's headquarters. They are located at 20310 Chartwell Center Drive in Cornelius, about 30 minutes north of Charlotte. The place is hard to miss with numerous MWR signs posted along Highway 77!