Welding & Cutting Go to School

Richard Petty's Race Car School

Ever wonder what it feels like to race around the oval track at speeds of 145 mph and more in a Winston Cup stock car? Every year, thousands of "ordinary" people get to savor this extraordinary thrill at the Richard Petty Driving Experience (RDPE). Sponsored by NASCAR King Richard Petty, the Driving Experience offers a variety of race car driving instruction programs at the Motor Speedways in Charlotte, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Disney World in Orlando.

The ESAB Race Car
ESAB Marketing Manager Bob Bitzky was the first to drive the new ESAB stock car at the Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Keeping these Winston Cup cars safe, readily available and in top shape for hordes of students at the Driving Experience is as demanding as keeping the Petty team cars on the NASCAR circuit. It requires a lot of welding and cutting.

Recently we spoke with Charlie Langenstein, championship mechanic, award winning crew chief and now the General Manager for the Fabrication Department at the Richard Petty Driving Experience. Mr. Langenstein talked about the wide variety of equipment his crew uses for different operations and explained how crucial welding and cutting are to keep his operation running smoothly.

"Perhaps the most important area in our shop is the oxy-fuel gas weld station," says Langenstein. He adds, "You might think a fabrication department that builds race cars wouldn't need to cut things apart - wrong!" Langenstein's fabrication crew uses an ESAB PREST-O-LITE Precision Master Outfit, plus a variety of ESAB nozzles and tips, to cut off old suspension parts and pieces so they can be replaced with new, updated parts and accessories. Their Precision Master outfit is used to cut brackets and fixtures on everything from engines and chassis to exhaust and suspension systems. In addition, they use it for heating. "We heat up parts to camber the rear end housing, which makes the car handle better on the track," says Langenstein. "And, we heat up our rear cases and trans cases to change the gear ratio and shafts." He points out that the oxy-fuel equipment has to be precise because a lot of these cases are made of a special alloy that can be easily damaged.

The RPDE Fabrication Department uses an ESAB Migmaster 250 to build the complete car including the chassis, roll cage assembly and most of the suspension parts, as well as shop and track support equipment. "All of our fixtures and jigs are built with the Migmaster 250." says Langenstein. "And the jigs we build have to be right to be able to build as many race cars as we do. Each part is hand fitted and jig welded, so we keep this machine rather busy every day." The 15-man crew in the fabrication shop also uses ESAB's Migmaster 180 machine for Mig welding. And, they use ESAB filler metals exclusively.

Arc welding is used on steel suspension parts and aluminum components such as oil pans, tanks and surge tanks, and the crew uses an ESAB Heliarc 252 power source. The 252 can be used for Tig and Stick welding. "A flip of a few switches and a change of tungsten, and we can weld steel and aluminum all day long - without problems," Langenstein claims.

About 40% of the shop's work involves cutting fixtures, brackets and mounts, for which Langenstein's crew uses an ESAB PCM-1000i Plasmarc cutting package. They also use this plasma cutting machine to repair damaged cars and update the chassis.

Summing up the importance of the work his crew does at the Richard Petty Driving Experience Fabrication Shop, Charlie Langenstein says they help ensure safety and reliability. Given the popularity of this program (last year, Charlotte Motor Speedway alone had 5000 students), the crew works constantly to keep the cars running and avoid down time. And, says Langenstein, "the quality of our welds is crucial because it contributes to the safety of our customers." He adds, "Richard Petty expects quality. He didn't win 200 NASCAR races and seven Winston Cup Championships by doing things half rate."

Richard Petty Driving Experience

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