How Is a NASCAR Race Car Built? Behind the Scenes at Richard Childress Racing
Visiting Richard Childress Racing for a behind-the-scenes tour to see how the team puts together a Cup or Xfinity car from chassis to race-ready!
We're not going to lie, working here has its perks, and one of them is getting to tour really cool places. To gear up for the new MotorTrend docuseries, NASCAR 2020: Under Pressure, MotorTrend Group was invited to check out Richard Childress Racing (RCR) and see how the racing team goes from chassis to a fully kitted-out car ready to hit the track. Richard Childress is a NASCAR success story in and of itself. Childress himself did odd jobs and, for just $20, bought his first race car, a 1947 Plymouth that was previously a taxi and started racing in 1965. He was the driver, head mechanic, engine builder, and even drove the rollback transporting the car.
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Every dollar Childress earned went into his car and racing operation. In 1969, he founded RCR, and the rest is history, including his association with the legendary Dale Earnhardt Sr. We guess that twenty-dollar '47 Plymouth was a pretty good investment.
RCR's Jerry Hailey started us off with a visit to the chassis area. No photos in the chassis-build area, but there's a lot of welding going on as RCR stitches together new chassis to replace damaged or worn-out ones.
After a race, the cars are all stripped back down to the chassis. RCR crew does, however, try to leave the roof section in place if possible. All used chassis are cleaned, checked for cracks, and repainted before being rebodied.
There are two types of cars built at the RCR facilities: Cup cars and Xfinity cars. Cup cars are metal-skinned with composite parts such as the nose and tail, while Xfinity cars are fully composite-skinned. We would show you how they hang the body parts, but it's secret squirrel stuff and they slapped the cameras out of our hands. Actually, they just asked nicely, but it involves some very high-tech GPS science stuff.
Once the panels are on the chassis, the crew works on installing the rest of the bits, such as aero components and such. Here they are working on an Xfinity car, chassis 670.
Metal-bodied Cup cars are then sent to RCR's paint facility.
Here, the cars are metal-massaged and given a coating of primer to help the vinyl wrap adhere better.
Once out of paint, the cars head over to the main assembly floor to get everything from the drivetrain to their racing colors.
Xfinity cars skip the paint process and go straight to the assembly floor.
The composite bodies have anti-tamper hexagons molded into key aerodynamic areas of the car.
These can be found on the leading edges as well as the A-, B-, and C-pillars. If any team tries to reshape these areas, the hexagons will deform and they'll be busted.
The hexagons are on all the key aero areas and will show up even after the car is wrapped.
The assembly floor is where cars get their drivetrains, but again, while the engines are fairly standardized, all the teams have their own little tricks that they want to keep secret, so in the interest of being invited back someday, we'll just skip over this part of the process.
Engine, trans, rear, exhaust, and brakes are all added to the chassis along with seats and a ton of safety gear when the car is one of these plates. After the race, the car will be completely stripped down and the process will start over. Did we mention that racing is an expensive sport?
While the car is being built, the RCR Graphics Center, run by Nick Woodward, is hard at work designing the wrap for the car. Every race has its own wrap, and wraps are never used twice since sponsors—and other factors—change. This wrap was a for the March 2020 Homestead race that was postponed due to the pandemic.
After the wraps are designed, the graphics department prints the vinyl wraps on huge, and very expensive, Roland VG2-640 printers/cutters.
In most cases, the wrap is then given a clear, sometimes matte, laminated cover film. This protects the graphics. If you've ever seen what one of these cars looks like after a 500-mile race, you understand the abuse the body takes, and this clear film helps it hold up better.
Once printed and laminated, the wraps are checked for any issues before being sent over the assembly shop.
They are also compared to the reference sheet. See the L-shaped mark? That's one of several reference marks used by the team installing the wrap. This one will index to the body just behind the front right wheel.
All of the sponsors and designs are built into the wrap, so there are very few stickers involved in the process. For RCR, Chevrolet provides stickers for headlights, taillights, and ZL1 grille sections.
Once they're on the car, you would hard-pressed to notice that these are just stickers.
Over on the assembly floor, a dedicated team of installers applies the wrap to the car. Once the main wrap is in place, they carefully trim it and install the various stickers we mentioned earlier.
A sharp eye, a sharp razor, a squeegee, some heat, and a lot of practice is needed to apply a flat slab of vinyl to a 3-D opposite-of-flat car.
A torch is used to shrink up the vinyl and get it to conform around details such as these bolt heads and the anti-cheat hex markings on the Xfinity cars. A whole car can be wrapped by two people in four hours.
While the team is wrapping, the assembly process continues on the rest of the car.
Once done being wrapped, the car is moved over where all the last-minute bits are checked and rechecked. The taillights and exhaust tips on this No. 21 Xfinity car look pretty convincing.
While fresh cars are being built, there are other teams tearing down cars that have already raced. This battered Cheddars number 8 car was in the process of being stripped down so it can race again at a later date. Historically important cars are retired and sent over to the RCR Museum. But that's another story for another day.
One thing that surprised us was that the Graphics Center at RCR designs and prints wraps for other teams, as well. After all, smaller teams can't afford the very expensive equipment and skilled manpower it takes to produce the wraps. Even more surprising is that they also do designs and installs for Joe Public! Yep, want them to wrap your golf cart? You're in luck.
They even wrap full street cars. Have an old Chevelle you don't feel like painting? Give them a call. They can do everything from design to installation. They also do clear-bra applications. In fact, XPEL clear-bra protection is added to the race cars to protect the forward-facing surfaces that see the most abuse. We've used XPEL clear bra on past project cars, and trust us, if you have nice paint and actually drive your car, it's worth every penny.
The story was that this car half was over at the museum for a wheel-changing competition game. When it was retired from that, the wrapping department grabbed it, and now it's used to practice installing vinyl wrap on and to test out new materials to see how they go on and, equally as important, come off.
The end result of all this work is a complete car ready to be loaded onto a transport and hauled to its race. Of course, this is a retired car from a few years ago, but it was perfectly posed so we couldn't resist. The next time you see a NASCAR Cup or Xfinity car racing around your favorite track, you'll appreciate the amount of work it takes to get one of these machines together and ready to roar.