Industrial Utility Efficiency    

Front Row Motorsports Takes the Checkered Flag with Clean, Dry Compressed Air

By every measure, Front Row Motorsports (FRM) is a stock car racing team to be reckoned with given its first-place finish in the 2021 Daytona 500 – which is in addition to other impressive wins in its relatively short racing history.

Key to FRM’s winning formula is a dedicated team of experienced professionals and a passion for achieving perfection in every aspect of the sport – including the quality work it puts into the cars it races in the NASCAR Cup Series and the trucks it enters in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.

“We have an employee base that’s really committed to trying to win on the racetrack and a committed owner who invests a lot of resources and his own time in the company,” said FRM New Business Manager Andrew Green, adding how the company’s philosophy led to the recent installation of a highly reliable compressed air system at its car and truck fabrication shop.

“We’re always looking forward to how we can better ourselves and get closer to the victory lane in everything we do.”

 Front Row Motorsports Car

Front Row Motorsports has earned a winning tradition with top-notch cars and trucks, including its No. 38 car.

 

Small Team Wins Big

Located in Mooresville, North Carolina, FRM employees 75 people who work to race two Ford Mustang cars, one of which is the No. 34 car for Michael McDowell and the No. 38 car for Anthony Alfredo. McDowell won the 2021 Daytona 500. In the truck series, the team fields the No. 38 Ford F-150 truck for Todd Gilliland.

FRM is considered a young and small company in the sport of stock car racing. The company, which is owned by Robert “Bob” Jenkins, began running full time in the Cup Series in 2009.

“In 12 years, we’ve really built the company into something to be proud of and something that continues to grow and continues to improve,” Green said. “There are big teams with as many as 500 employees and more resources. There are also teams that have tried for many years to win the Daytona 500 and never won it. But one of the things that makes us unique is that we are overachievers who put in our full effort into making the program as best as possible.”

The goal of winning, combined with growth, created the need for FRM to move into its current production facility in late 2018. It also drove the need to replace an existing compressed air system to help the team take the fabrication of vehicles to a higher level.

 

Building Precision Racing Machines

At FRM’s 35,000-square-foot race shop, team members work five days a week and more when needed to convert new-build and refurbished cars and trucks into precision racing machines engineered and customized to not only meet strict racing regulations, but to also give drivers every opportunity to win.

When it comes to new-build cars, FRM fabricates its own bodies from sheet metal and other materials, while its technical partner Roush-Fenway supplies the shop with prefabricated steel chassis. The bodies and chassis are separately prepared and painted with primer before being bonded together. After a car is assembled, the body is sanded and modified to meet exacting NASCAR guidelines. In a final step, the team hand-applies a vinyl wrap to the car to give it the final color, as well as a variety of graphics such as logos of vehicle sponsors.

FRM body

At FRM, the body of stock car is primed and ready for a vinyl wrap to give the car its final color and graphic treatment.

Preparation of the body and the chassis include a thorough cleaning process, which is followed by the application of an epoxy sealer. The components are then baked in a pressurized cure booth for a short period at 140°F (60°C) before being painted. Once the car body is fused to the chassis, the epoxy sealer is then applied only to the seams of the assembled car.

The preparation process for the body of a refurbished car is much the same as a new-build car. More often than not, FRM replaces the body of a car even if it receives only minor damage in a race. The process for trucks is the same, with a few variations on the theme. In all, the teams at FRM work on as many as 30 vehicles throughout the season. The cars and trucks are rotated in and out of the shop and compressed air is used in virtually every phase of production.

 

Intermittent Compressed Air Demand

When FRM moved into its current facility in Mooresville, it wasn’t long before the team decided the existing compressed air system needed serious attention. The 25-year-old rotary screw air compressor had simply outlived its useful life. Additionally, the team needed a system to meet the critical need for stable air at all times, despite the intermittent and typically large demand for air throughout any given day. 

FRM subsequently partnered with Chicago Pneumatic Compressors (www.cpcompressors.com) to select an air compressor best matched to its requirements. FRM then partnered with the Charlotte, North Carolina, branch of Universal Air & Gas Products Corporation (UAPC) to install the air compressor. UAPC (www.uapc.com) provides local compressed air service support for Chicago Pneumatic Compressors. 

The decision regarding the air compressor best suited for FRM included an assessment of the shop’s compressed air applications. Among the top priorities was a system capable of efficiently and cost-effectively providing an ample supply of stable, clean, and dry compressed air without fail, despite intermittent demand and virtually non-stop use by as many as 10 FRM team members at any given time. The system also needed to accommodate future growth in compressed air demand, and Chicago Pneumatic Compressors was able to supply a 30-horsepower (hp) unit that met and exceeded the team’s needs.

At the paint booths, FRM team members typically use conventional High-Volume Low-Pressure (HVLP) paint sprayers to prime the chassis and car bodies. Paint pressure pots (also called paint tanks) feed paint to the paint sprayers. The compressed air system supplies air to the paint pots at a steady 65 psi. The tanks regulate air output for the sprayers at 12 to 15 psi in order to deliver the precise amount of paint to a given chassis or car body.

FRM paint room

FRM team members use High-Volume Low-Pressure (HVLP) paint sprayers to prime its car bodies.

Another primary use of compressed air includes power for dual-action sanders. The team uses the sanders to sand paint and other materials, such as body putty. The sanders require a precise flow of air to provide both rotational and the orbital action necessary for careful edging, feathering, and finishing work. The shop also uses a host of three-inch, air-powered grinders for a variety of tasks, such as grinding seams of bonded body parts to ensure a seamless surface. Hand-held, variable-flow air guns are also used to dry off chassis after they’ve been cleaned. The range of applications at the shop is wide.

“We have air hoses in each of our two paint booths, which are in constant use, and there is an air tool running probably every minute of every day we’re at the shop,” said Doug Needham, FRM Paint and Body Manager.

 

Air Compressor Setup Matches Specific Needs

After evaluating FRM’s operation, Chicago Pneumatic Compressors recommended replacing the existing air compressor with a gear-drive, lubricated CBPg 29-D rotary screw air compressor rated to deliver up to 130 scfm at 125 psi.

Chicago Pneumatic CBPg 29-D rotary screw air compressor

A Chicago Pneumatic CPBg 29-D rotary screw air compressor satisfies FRM’s need for stable and clean, dry air.

Packaged in a sound-attenuated enclosure, the air compressor includes an integrated refrigerated dryer rated to provide 145 scfm of air at a pressure dew point of 39°F (4°C). Chicago Pneumatic Compressors also provided FRM with a base-mounted, 500-gallon dry receiver tank. Chicago Pneumatic Product Marketing Manager Daran Van Koevering said the large tank met FRM’s specific request for an efficient and stable supply of compressed air today and well into the future.

“In general, you can never really have too much air storage,” Van Koevering said, noting how efficiency equates to energy cost savings. “It keeps the air compressor starts and stops to a minimum. With an air compressor, the cost to run it far outweighs the initial air compressor itself. If there is anywhere you can cut those energy costs it will definitely help you get the most out of your investment.”

Additionally, the sizeable tank virtually eliminates the potential for pressure drop, said Eric Pressley, Service Lead at UAPC.

“What they didn’t want to happen is pressure drop, especially when painting,” Pressley said. “They wanted enough storage to ensure nothing happened during mid-paint because the paint has to be flawless.”

UAPC installed the air compressor on a concrete pad outside the facility and within a few feet of the paint shop. FRM subsequently built a small metal building around the air compressor with ample venting to protect it against the elements, while allowing for sufficient airflow.

The air compressor provides dry air to the stand-alone storage tank. From there, air is routed to an existing regenerative desiccant dryer located directly inside the facility. The dryer provides an even higher level of clean, dry air given the pressure dew point setting of - 80°F (-62.2°C) and Relative Humidity down to .01% RH. The tank-mounted dryer features a water-separator, as well as oil coalescing filters rated to capture particulates down to .01 micron and aerosols down to .008 parts per million (ppm). The dryer is also equipped with automatic condensate drain, as is the storage tank as an extra precaution.

The existing compressed air system also includes two-inch, galvanized steel piping loop with one-inch piping feeding air to 15 drops, including two dedicated to the paint booths. The system supplies air to the tools at 90 psi.

 

Winning is the Goal

At FRM, the production schedule is planned out months in advance. The reliability of the new air compressor provides the shop with confidence it will always deliver shiny, super-streamlined cars and trucks that are more than ready for race day.

“When we do a new build, for example, it’s very critical we dry the chassis off as quickly as possible with the handheld blowers,” said Needham. “I have never seen that application pull down the air compressor while we’re painting, and I have other guys running grinders and sanders. That’s why I’m very pleased with it.”

Losing air pressure, Needham said, would create a problem that needs to be avoided at all costs. As would oil, water or contaminants in compressed air.

“What we want is to start and finish without any problems,” he said, noting another example of how painters cannot stop painting once the process starts until the job is finished. “We don’t want anything to hold us up or make us go back and redo something. We cannot have moisture in our air tools whatsoever. We depend on clean, dry air just like we do for lunch each and every day.”

The new air compressor and FRM’s relationship with Chicago Pneumatic Compressors and UAPC, said Green, align with the team’s goals of winning.

“It’s about, ‘How can we put ourselves in the best position to win in NASCAR and compete for more milestones?’ That’s what we will continue to look to do,” said Green.

 

All photos courtesy of Front Row Motorsports.

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