Talking Titanium with NHRA Top Fuel Crew Chief Jim Oberhofer
TMS: Racecars are constantly trying to get stronger, quicker, and faster. How, in the last, 5, 10, and 15 years has titanium come into play?
Jim O: “Well, it's really come into play a lot. And a lot of it is because as these cars go quicker and faster, and then the NHRA implements more safety rules, what it does is it adds more weight to the racecar. So, what you want to do is you want to get material on the cars, that is lighter, but you also want it to be strong. And titanium absolutely fits the mold for all of that. There are so many things that you could make out of titanium on these race cars. Whether it's nuts and bolts, or it's tubing or clutch parts. Things like that, that if they were built out of steel, they would just be too heavy. If they were built out of aluminum, the strength might not be there."
TMS: How much weight are we talking about, like cumulatively saving, and then kind of how does that weight factor into performance?
Jim O: “So I remember, some years ago, we changed all the nuts and bolts on our car one time, from steel to titanium. Not the bolts that we wanted to take steel strength away from, but we took almost five pounds off the car just by changing those bolts. And so that was a big eye-opener for us. And these cars, as we've seen in the Top Fuel class, the competitiveness of these cars is amazing. You have 12 cars that go to all the races like we did in 2022. And any one of those cars could drop a 3.60 on you at any time. And you're looking for every advantage you can get. And in the old days, I would say we didn't focus on weight as much as we did. But now, we're really focusing on it. And then what we're really focusing on is making sure that we can put the weight where we want it. And that's where the titanium really comes into play for us."
TMS: What has it been like working with TMS Titanium?
Jim O: “In the world we live in today, we've seen people have problems getting material and stuff. And TMS, surprisingly, they have stayed up, on getting orders filled, things like that. I don't feel like when I call up Todd Harrison, "Hey, I need this, chunk of titanium or I need this to do this." It's never like, "Well, it's probably gonna be six months before you get it." He's on it. And the great thing about Todd, is, he has such a great relationship with all the race teams out here. And he also has a very good understanding of what we need. And that makes the difference. Because sometimes if you call somebody else up, they really don't understand why we're using the part, what we're trying to do with it. But with Todd, he absolutely gets it."
TMS: And do you guys use different grades with titanium on the cars, or is there one specific grade that you guys use?
Jim O: “I know that there's different grades for different applications. And I know over the years, I've talked with Todd "Okay, we're trying to do this with this, how should we go about this" and he always knows, this is the type you want to use and this is the thickness you want to use. And he takes the guesswork out of the process. I'm not the titanium expert, he is."