Petty planning to donate old cars to engineering programs

HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- Sunday's Ford 400 marks the final time Nextel Cup Series teams will run the standard-model racecar, so theoretically those machines become obsolete the moment the checkered flag falls.

Again, theoretically.

While most teams plan to sell those cars to ARCA teams for 20 cents on the dollar, or reallocate them to Busch East or NASCAR West driver development programs, Petty Enterprises will take a unique reinvestment approach focused on grooming future racing engineers.

"We're going to take some of the old cars and donate them to universities [that have] good engineering programs, and hopefully we can get some return back on from the engineering side," said Robbie Loomis, Petty Enterprises GM.

The idea was hatched on a flight home from a race. Loomis was discussing with Richard and Kyle Petty how they'd discard all of those old cars, and the thought of donation was broached.

"There's just not a big outlet to sell them to ARCA teams and things like that," Loomis said. "We'll sell some to those teams, but we feel like the biggest benefit would be for the whole community, for the racing world, is to tie into some colleges and universities with great engineering programs."

Among those schools, Loomis said, is Virginia Tech, with which he said Dodge Motorsports has already forged a partnership. Loomis said Dodge's technical team is setting up a test facility at Virginia International Raceway that will include an 8-post shock dynamometer for suspension simulation work.

"It's right there at the racetrack," he said. "So we're trying to grow it, and for now it worked out because of the school and the location.

"Virginia Tech has a great engineering program. You see what they're doing with Dodge -- there's a lot of things to gain there in the future. In this sport we need an area where we can groom and shape engineers to really fit the racing model.

"There always seems to be a disconnect between the book engineer and the actual applicable engineer at the racetrack. So hopefully we can bring that together for the future."

The biggest gain should be in chassis engineering, as it would give students a real-world, hands-on look at NASCAR chassis engineering. While body work on the old cars doesn't truly transfer to the COT, Loomis said chassis engineering does.

"There's a couple of schools in North Carolina we'll give to that have great engineering programs, and Virginia Tech, again, because of the ties with Dodge," he said.

"And I'm sure there will be a few others calling now."

Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.