Get it in and get it out safely. That could be the motto for the Welding Garage on Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). Here, Lincoln Electric and Indiana Oxygen partner to churn out new parts and repair damaged components, with high-stakes work running full tilt in the weeks leading up to the Indy 500. Jobs come in minute by minute for parts in all shapes and sizes made from who-knows-what alloy. Repaired parts exit just as quickly for race teams with no time to lose.
That’s not easy to do, given the variety of what Klingman and Swaim see. Suspension parts comprise the majority of components coming through the garage, made from 15CVD6, a European aerospace alloy similar to the 4130 chrome-molybdenum blend commonly used in North America. Exhaust systems, formerly stainless steel, are much lighter now given their Inconel 625 ingredient. The garage also sees aluminum radiator parts and pit boxes made from 6061-T6. Adjusters and other custom parts used by teams to ease car repair and component installation also undergo Welding Garage work. Did we mention sunglasses? The garage sees them, too.
Experienced garage crews have tips and tricks to determine part material. In addition, as new cars or components come online for Indy racing, the Welding Garage meets with designers and manufacturers to get material specs, then develops weld-repair procedures for those specs. That preparation means no surprises when parts must be fixed.
Though each Indy Racing League team has its own welders/fabricators and can use Welding Garage equipment, Klingman, whose dad worked in the Welding Garage since 1989, and 22-year garage veteran Swaim are always busy. If they are not performing welding themselves, they may be lending their considerable expertise to the various teams.
“Each year that goes by we meet more and more people, from drivers to team mechanics to team owners,” says Swaim. “We like to teach, so when they come in and want to learn how to weld, that is exciting.”
Safety Drives Welding Work at Indy
The Welding Garage sits on a seemingly lonely patch of Accessory Row in Gasoline Alley. That location traces back to 1941, when a spark from a welding torch caught fumes from a refueling operation in the adjoining garage. The resulting fire destroyed a number of the wood-built garages and delayed the race by hours. Flames spread as city fire crews, delayed by the heavy race-day traffic, couldn’t reach the blaze quickly. With so many people in one location, intermingled with fire and flammables, it’s a wonder that major disasters had not occurred earlier.
Decades later, in 1986, Gasoline Alley underwent a major renovation, with block buildings and concrete replacing wooden garages and cinder drives. It was decided to designate one location for all welding repair, the only area in Gasoline Alley to allow open flame -- the Welding Garage. For increased safety, it is isolated from the other garages.
From that point on, other track and car safety features would be added fast and furiously. Cars undergo constant redesign and modification to protect drivers. Increased downforce keeps the racers on the road while bulked up and cushioned cockpits along with improved personal protective gear and restraints shield drivers from major injury. The SAFER walls absorb impact forces with other barriers protecting fans from flying debris. And the list of safety upgrades goes on, with more always on the way. Faster and safer wins the day.