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The Countdown Starts : Racing Team Works Around the Clock Preparing 'Missiles' for Grand Prix

April 11, 1985|DICK WAGNER | Times Staff Writer

COMPTON — Men who build racing cars against all odds--a feat in which they say 20 million things can go wrong and only victory can go right--have been pulling all-nighters at a building here in preparation for Sunday's Long Beach Grand Prix.

They are members of the Kraco Racing Team, who are refining and assembling the Indy cars for drivers Michael Andretti and Kevin Cogan.

But they don't call them cars anymore.

"They are aerodynamic missiles," said Ken Balch, the team's general manager. "Rocket ships."

These 200-mile-per-hour "missiles" sell for about $150,000. And that doesn't include the 700-plus horsepower turbocharged engines, which are another $50,000.

That seems like a lot for a vehicle that is only 14 feet long and less than 7 feet wide and seats--rather uncomfortably--only one.

"You're paying for technology," said Balch. "And for the 1,000 hours of testing in a wind tunnel.

"If you hit a wall at 170 miles per hour in one of these, you can walk away. In a regular car, if you hit another car at 50, you're in big trouble."

When the driver sinks into the cockpit, he is surrounded by a hard protective shell.

"When you see a crash, you'll see parts fly away, but the shell stays intact," Balch said. "They are designed so well that what you see people walk away from is incredible."

The multimillion-dollar, 18,000-square-foot Kraco building, with a blue and yellow checkerboard tile floor, includes a machine shop, metal and glass fabrication and chassis-development areas.

The engine testing room has bulletproof windows in case an engine blows and double walls to muffle the incredible noise from annoying people in the neighborhood.

Fat tires are stacked against a wall, 60 of them ready to be hauled to the track.

In an office, design engineers pore over blueprints in hopes of giving Kraco an edge it didn't have last year without an in-house engineering staff.

New Goal: Winning

The team, which changed its goal this year from being competitive to winning, has worked from 7 in the morning until 7 the next morning on several occasions.

"To win, a car has got to get better every day," Balch said.

Tension, however, is not in the air.

That will come in Long Beach at about 5 a.m. Sunday when the mechanics enter Kraco's huge truck, which is used to transport the race cars and serve as a communications center, machine shop and locker room.

"When they come in and put on their fire-retardant suits, it's like putting on your uniform before a big football game," said Balch, who will spend a sleepless Saturday night worrying about parts.

"You feel the tension build."

It will build for nine hours, and then the green flag will wave and the missiles will be launched.

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