Norman Couple Becoming Race Car Research 'Stars'

Article excerpt

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 other improvements.

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 Speed.

"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. …