Frank Weiss Racing
Turning Corners to Corner the Market - Frank Weiss Racing Components Runs CNCs to Catch the Checkered Flag
Racing used to be a sport ruled by good ol’ boys with big right feet and nerves of steel. Today’s star drivers, however, are more likely just another member of a team of specialists working to get their car across the finish line first. Gone are the days when winning was purely the result of driver skill and a generous dose of bravado. To be sure, driver skill still wins races. But as cars become increasingly sophisticated, having the best vehicle and the best parts are often equally important. Race teams use the latest technology to eke out every possible bit of performance and gain the competitive edge. But quality parts are worthless if they aren’t ready on time.
Automobile racing has always generated a demand for quality, close-tolerance parts. The recent explosion in the popularity of motor-sports has only increased that demand. Today there are more races and more teams competing than ever. Intense schedules and extensive testing programs have put a severe strain on the in-house machining resources of many teams, so they often turn to outside suppliers to supplement their internal resources. These suppliers are as performance driven as the drivers to finish their task on time and in front of the rest of the pack. In fact, people in the racing game have a saying: If it’s not on the truck when the truck leaves, they don’t need it. In other words, if a supplier can’t deliver the parts on time, the customer doesn’t need those parts ... at least not from that supplier!
Life On Gasoline Alley
Frank Weiss Racing Components (FWRC) has produced specialised parts for the racing industry since 1980. Frank Weiss, president and founder, began fabricating parts for Indy car teams after a debilitating accident at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway ended his own racing career. “I started this business 18 years ago with a little conventional lathe and mill,” says Frank Weiss. As the business grew, Frank and his son Wade added digital read-outs, sliding head attachments and other tooling, enabling them to make more complex parts. FWRC still spends most of its time producing parts for the automotive racing market. Of course, with a street address of 140 N. Gasoline Alley in Indianapolis, it only seems fitting that high-performance tooling be the nature of their trade. Initial contracts were in the market they were most familiar with – Indy cars.
The business has since grown to include customers from a variety of racing series, including the Indy Racing League (IRL), Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART), the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), now known as the Professional Sportscar Racing, Inc. (Sportscar), and even offshore racing boats. Today, FWRC is an integral part of the research & development team helping expand the envelope of today’s race cars and teams. Frank’s operation does this by making sure his shop team can produce the parts to the exact specifications the designers require. And he depends on Haas CNC machines to give him this ability with the consistency the sport demands. It’s generally accepted that a good reputation brings good business, and with Frank Weiss Racing, this meant growth. No longer able to meet demand as just a “father & son” shop, Frank expanded his facility to 8,000 square feet, and expanded his payroll to include 11 machinists and support personnel.
A Knee To Grow On
In 1991, FWRC teamed with Brayton Engineering, an engine builder in Cold Water, Michigan, to produce a seven- butterfly injection system for the Buick racing engine. Frank realised that the quality and quantity requirements for the project would require CNC capabilities, so he purchased his first piece of CNC equipment: a knee mill retrofit with a Bandit control. He ran all of the prototype components for the Buick injection system on the retrofit.
After successful testing, there was a great demand for parts. “As soon as that happened, we knew we wouldn’t be able to meet production demands with our retrofit knee mill,” reasoned Frank. “So my son and I started looking for an American-made machining centre. The more we looked, the more the Haas name came up.” Frank contacted Technical Equipment (the local Haas distributor) and described the type of machine he was looking for.
Haas made a machine that fit the bill perfectly.
Dealer Runs Parts
“We got in touch with Technical Equipment and they took us down to Cincinnati and ran a Haas for us. They were good enough to take some of the parts we were making on the Bandit and show us what the Haas could do,” explained Frank. “Consequently, we bought our first Haas, a VF-1, in 1992. The machine exceeded all of our expectations and was very reasonably priced.”
When the first VF-1 was delivered, Frank and his son were too busy to take time off to go to the programming classes in Cincinnati, so they sent Wade’s wife down to the school to learn the system. “She went down to that school in Cincinnati, came back and programmed all of those injector parts and ran them,” beamed the proud father-in-law. “She can go out into the shop and program any one of these Haas machines.”
Another Haas quality favoured by Frank is the inherent cleanliness of the machine. “My shop is like a hospital room,” says Frank. “The industry basically calls for that, and I do too. We spend a lot of time keeping a nice shop... no clutter and there isn’t any oil or grease on the floor. They’ve [the Haas machines] got a good enclosure and they’re really clean and quiet.”
“That thing hasn’t shut off since we bought it,” beams Frank. “We’ve been really happy with it and haven’t had any trouble. We put a 4th axis on it after about a year or so and turn a lot of jobs on it. In fact, anything that has to have work done on more than one side, we fixture it up so we can do it on the 4th axis.” Frank also credits the control as being very powerful while remaining user-friendly.
“These things are easy to set up and they’re quick to use. That’s what this industry demands.” Because of the high-precision requirements of racing parts, Frank has found his Haas machines to be invaluable in delivering accurate parts within a competitive time frame. “There was one real complex fitting I built for Cosworth V8 racing engines that I had to do by hand,” says Frank. “I could do two of those a day on my old mill. When I machined them on my VF-1, I was doing 55 a day!” FWRC has since added two VF-2s, a VF-3 and a VF-4.
Size and Performance Count
The expansion of FWRC’s machining capabilities have allowed them to produce larger parts, such as wing plates and skid plates for race car bottoms. “Some of the suspension point pickup beams are small pieces, but they’re long. To go down a 30" to 40" piece pocket milling without having to relocate the part to do the other half is a pretty handy deal.” Frank says that the parts made on his Haas machines just couldn’t be done on a conventional mill. “Ninety percent of my trick pickup points and suspension units require concave/convex surface machining. I couldn’t do that on a conventional machine– period. I’ve still got four of my original 12 conventional machines, but we only do the occasional secondary operation on them. They’ll go for months on end without even making a chip. We even do most of our tooling and fixturing right in the Haas.”
Since FWRC purchased their first Haas six years ago, business has continued to grow. With the added capabilities, such as 4th-axis machining and three-dimensional surfacing, they have been able to build more complex parts than ever. In 1997 FWRC purchased a new CAD/CAM system to speed the design and programming of the more complex parts. “We were pleased with the compatibility between the Haas and the CAM programs we chose. Haas is widely accepted and recognized in the software community, and post-processors are readily available.” Because of the high-precision requirements of racing parts, Frank has found his Haas machines invaluable for delivering safe, accurate products. “We do a lot of pocket milling and mirror imaging,” he says. “And these things are fantastic for doing that.
The racing industry is really weight conscious, so you’ve got a lot of beamed and pocketed parts to cut down on the weight.” As it is, Frank says it’s common for his parts to run in the half-thousandth accuracy range all of the time. “We’ve done several hundred hubs for Indy cars, and they’re a real tricky piece,” he says. “It’s something you have to make sure is just right, because if you lose one, you’ve lost a car!” Hubs require extra care. Frank says the shapes and internal work on the bores are really hard. “The outer profiles are not too bad,” he explains. “They have a big roller bearing that runs on one surface and the other end runs on a ball bearing. To make them light you’ve got to go in and cut the inside shape similar to the outside shape. So there’s a lot of deep work. They’re pretty tricky!”
FWRC has teamed once again with Brayton Engineering to produce an oil pump for the IRL Aurora engines. The entire assembly involves more than 50 machined parts and won the Excellence in Design Engineering Award for 1997. The pump has been dyno- and race-tested, and has shown significant increases in horse-power and reliability. The machining capabilities of the Haas make it possible to produce the components from billet instead of castings. This eliminates the problem of chasing core shift, and makes it possible to use a greater variety of materials to meet the individual requirements of each component.
The IRL pump is just one example of the many assemblies FWRC has produced with Haas machines. The ability to produce high-quality, lightweight billet components is vital to the racing industry. The time frame from design to prototype to production is so short that often forged or cast parts cannot be utilized. The capabilities of the Haas make it possible to machine a billet part that is stronger yet just as light as a comparable casting. FWRC has been teamed with winners since its inception. They’ve had parts on several cars that have sat on the pole or won great races like the Daytona 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and Le Mans. In fact, FWRC parts have been on the last six winners of the Indianapolis 500.
They’ve been able to work with teams that have won IRL, CART, NASCAR and the World Sports Car championships. They’ve been teamed up with winners in the racing industry, and they teamed up with a winner with Haas machines. It’s all part of the racing component business – you have to be able to produce consistently accurate parts on time and “get them on the truck,” or you’ll never be a part of the winning team.