Louis Duncan had one of the most exciting jobs in the American auto
industry in 1980, when he was helping to design cars of the future
for Ford Motor Co.
As an engineer of aerodynamics, he did research and development
on the exterior design of cars such as the revolutionary 1983
Thunderbird. His research included working with a wind tunnel in
developing the surface of an autobody for better fuel efficiency and
As a result, Duncan worked with Bill Elliott, who was racing a
Ford Thunderbird in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing
competition. He tested Elliott's car for modifications that
stabilize the front, increase downward wind pressure on the rear
wheels and reduce aerodynamic drag for more speed.
Out of that experience, Louis and his wife, Orvillene, have
developed Automotive Aerodynamics Inc., a fascinating small Norman
firm that now works with 22 auto racing teams. That includes 11 in
stock cars, three in the National Hot Rod Association and eight in
the International Motor Sports Association (sports cars).
While the Duncans are little known in Norman, or in Oklahoma for
that matter, they are highly regarded for their expertise by
international racing stars such as the legendary A.J. Foyt, Buddy
Baker, Phil Parsons, Jim Downing, Irv Hoerr, Cale Yarbrough and Lake
"I do the engineering,'' said Louis Duncan, a University of
Oklahoma graduate, "and Orvillene handles all of the business,
including the bookkeeping and billing. When I conduct a wind tunnel
test, she does all of the analysis of the data during the test.
"So we are a team. We each own 50 percent of the business, and
we each do about half the work.''
The Duncans operate Automotive Aerodynamics out of an office in
their Norman home. For wind tunnel tests, they travel together to
Marietta, Ga., where they lease a wind tunnel from Lockheed Corp.
for $1,560 per hour. Louis Duncan also does "overflow'' research
for Ford as a contractor.
"We are nearing our capacity for two people, but we don't have
any employees yet,'' said Louis Duncan. "In December, we conducted
seven tests in six days. Our business has grown by word of mouth -
referrals from one race team to another.''
For a typical full testing program, the Duncans charge $19,000.
It starts with a visit to the shop of a race team to see the race
car and recommend changes that should be made before the test.
"We prepare a test plan that incorporates the team's ideas and
mine," he said. Then comes a day of testing at the wind tunnel,
including about 25 different runs (in wind up to 200 miles per
hour). Computerized data is analysed by Orvillene during the test
for a preliminary report.
The final report includes a complete analysis of the data,
recommendations for track testing, trend analysis with graphs and
charts, plus photographs and a video tape of a test in which smoke
is used in the wind tunnel.
Then, Louis goes with the team to the track to see the car
perform and to apply the test data to actual racing conditions.
"There are about 25 different changes that can be made to modify
the aerodynamics of a car and still comply with NASCAR's strict
regulations,'' he said. They can involve more down force or
stabilization for steering or adding "spoilers'' on the rear for
downward pressure to avoid "fishtailing. …