He's a seven-time champion race car driver, works on the car driven by "the other Junior" at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., and NASCAR fans have never heard of him. But Walter Giles doesn't mind. As chief race engineer for the No. 1 car driven by Martin Truex Jr., Giles enjoys the satisfaction of working on a team that he believes is on its way to a championship of its own.
"I've worked for big teams and small teams over the years and had my own team for many years before I came here, but what I immediately identified on the No. 1 team is the family spirit that is apparent," Giles said. "I think that's the reason they've had so much success in the past. They all stand behind each other and they're a family-oriented group. They do everything together and that seems to be the difference in what I've seen compared to other teams. They've got a common goal, and everyone here is 100 percent confident that we can go all the way this year."
The native of Australia relocated to the United States in 1997 after winning more than 200 races and seven championships in various racing series.
"I had a fairly successful career," Giles said. "I won a lot of races and I used to have my own race car manufacturing business where I supplied a lot of other teams with cars and setup help. I'm going into my 32nd year in racing right now, so I've seen pretty much everything there is to see.
"When I was racing in Australia, I got to know quite a lot of U.S. competitors. I got a lot of job offers back in the early to mid-'90s from American teams and didn't take them seriously. But when I retired as a driver in 1997, I decided to give it a try for a year to see if I liked it. Ten years later, I'm still here.
"My first job was with Richard Jackson Motorsports as an engineer on the No. 1 car in 1998. I also worked in IndyCar for Richie Hearn and the Budweiser team. I joined Butch Mock Motorsports for a while before working with the No. 0 team. After that, I came to work at DEI. It's kind of ironic that my first job in racing in the U.S. was on the No. 1 car, and I plan for my last job in racing to be on the No. 1 car."
Giles is responsible for all the communication between crew chief Kevin "Bono" Manion and the team. He meets with Manion frequently throughout the week to discuss setups, wind tunnel data, and car geometry, comparing team history data for the racetrack and the car to ensure an optimal setup.
"We do a lot of checking of measurements and we pull down all the cars weekly with a chassis pull-down simulation rig," Giles said. "I've also got a lot of long-term projects that I supervise on a weekly basis. We have a junior engineer back at the shop who continues with those programs while we're at the racetrack. They can be anything from doing a matrix of the comparisons of different cars to pulling down different packages of suspension geometry on the pull-down simulation rig and preparing long term setups for different racetracks."
Giles said that the introduction of the Car of Tomorrow has changed his job dramatically.
"We've got a whole different set of circumstances now, so that requires a totally different approach to the way we've done things in the past," Giles said. "The aero side of things is starting to take a bit more of a backseat to the geometry and dimension side of the equation of the race setup these days. Whereas in the past we had a lot of freedom with the aerodynamics, now that's for the most part been taken away from us."
But that isn't necessarily a bad thing, Giles said.
"In NASCAR's defense, it's been a very positive change. It's actually helped us in a lot of ways to just refocus on different areas of the car. We don't have to spend as much time on aero as we used to, and that frees up the engineering side of the company to examine and develop other areas of the car. So that's been a positive in a lot of ways and when we get into the 2008 season, it's going to cut down a lot on the number of cars we used to have, the number of varieties of body style and locations, so it's going to make our job a little easier. But it will shift the focus to different areas.
"We also have a lot of engine development going on here at the moment with our affiliation with Richard Childress Racing. That requires a little more engineering involvement in the type of accessories that we use on the cars as far as engines go, and also we're able now to draw on their experience as well as ours to get the optimum package for the engine side of things. So that's another big positive that's coming our way in the next few months."
But his work doesn't stop at the shop.
"At the racetrack, I'm Kevin's adviser throughout the course of the weekend," Giles said. "We work really closely together and that's been one of the finer points of my association with Kevin, how much he communicates with everyone on the team and specifically how involved the two of us are. We rely on each other to solve problems as they come up during the weekend.
"Kevin is a really humble crew chief. He's the first one to ask another person's opinion. He's happy to get someone else's advice, and that's why he's such a successful crew chief. He doesn't pretend to have all the answers and he's a very good guy to work with. He might not always take the advice, and no one expects that, but he'll ask, and then he'll make an educated decision based on the input of the people around him. That's been one of his strong points that I've seen with him. He always makes his decisions based on everybody's input and it's worked very well for us."
Manion said Giles brings a winning combination of driving experience, formal education, and communication skills to the team.
"An engineer usually has more education school-wise than most crew chiefs, so he brings a different thought process to discussions," Manion said. "Walter's years of driving experience make him one of the unsung heroes of our sport because he can relate a lot of his background and driving to Martin's comments. He knows exactly what Martin's feeling because of his experience as a driver.
"I always tell people you've got to enjoy what you do, and when you work for a race team, you've got to enjoy the people you work with. If not, you'll drive yourself absolutely crazy. With Walter and my working relationship, we share an office together where we're basically back to back. It's good to bounce things off of each other all day long, silly questions, stupid questions. There really are no stupid questions.
"Walter's a guy that's been around a long time, and with me being fairly young, I feel like I can ask Walter anything and always get a straight answer and something that makes sense."