How Hammer Motorsports got Audi's Trust

How Hammer Motorsports Gained Audi's Trust
How Hammer Motorsports Gained Audi's Trust
How Hammer Motorsports Gained Audi's Trust

Tim Myers virtually sat with us in his Hammer Motorsports garage surrounded by the race cars, including the Audi RS3's, Audi R8 GT4, a Viper ACR-X, and an original 1966 Sedan Trans-Am Mustang, just one of four built by Ford Motorsports. Like ships, each of Hammer's cars bears a woman's name.

We see their latest Audi, Reagan, fully decked out in a fresh livery with real estate set aside for sponsors Chillout Systems and Lucas Oil. You get a sense that Hammer Motorsports are on the up, and as Tim settles in to speak with us, that quickly becomes clear.

Can you let us know about yourself, your motorsports history, and what your role is?

My name is Tim Myers, and I'm the co-owner of Hammer Motorsports. I've been racing since 1997, and I've won 132 races or something over those years. I got into racing in a pretty simple story. I was in the army, and I was completely broke. I made $592 a month and couldn't afford anything.

My stepfather is a lawyer in South Florida, and he started racing. I came back from the army on a leave of absence vacation, and he went to Atlanta to visit my grandfather. He and my mother said, "you should watch the race." And so I got a friend, and we pulled together our change to get a cheeseburger on the way up there and watched the race standing at turn one at Road Atlanta with my friend Marcus. I said, "Man, if I ever have any money I'm going to do this thing too." We didn't even have money for cheeseburgers on the way up, so it seemed a really far-out dream at the time. But as soon as I got into it in around 2000, I was making a decent amount of money.

I had a Mazda RX7 and spent a bunch of money modding that thing out. I've had a lot of help along the way. Mazda Motorsports was a big help. At one time, Honda was a big help. I had sponsorship from Ford Racing at one time, too.

How did Hammer Motorsports come to be?

I'd been racing for 23 years, and I was going to move to San Antonio, Texas, and get out of racing. I had a race shop in Daytona, and I met this guy in San Antonio who said, "Well get all your stuff out here and we'll start an endurance team." About four beers later, that became the best idea ever, so I came to Texas, and here we are.

We bought our first car, and after racing for 23 years, I had a lot of friends. I said, "Hey, any of you guys interested in going out and doing endurance racing with these cars?" I asked about 20 of my friends, and I had a big problem then because about 17 or 18 of them said yes!

So three weeks later, we acquired the second car, and now, well we were sold out all last season. We always had guys on a waiting list, so we went ahead and got the third car when we got the Lucas Oil sponsorship.

That's a good problem to have, I'd say?!

It is. And it's interesting as we don't run the race team as a for-profit business. We try to break even on it, basically. We usually come out a few thousand dollars ahead each on a race, and we just roll that money back into the team. We both have other business interests. We don't need to run a race team for business purposes, so that makes our team a little different.

Hammer is all about endurance. What sort of differences and challenges do you face compared to sprint racing?

So the TCR cars were made for sprint racing, and it's no secret that they do some endurance races overseas. 24 hours of Nurburgring comes to mind very quickly. But, largely, these cars were made for sprint racing, and that has been a tremendous challenge for us. We actually have an Audi engineer assigned to our team. We've been an interesting study for Audi, too, in that we're the only team in the whole world that are running these cars in these long endurance races.

I mean, we ran ten races last year. To put that in perspective, the next race we're going to is a Barber Motorsports Park. Friday is practice and qualifying. The cars will run between four and six hours. Then we have a 9-hour race on Saturday. So that's nine hours straight. And then we have a 7-hour race on Sunday. So, you know, call it 20 to 22 hours that we're running that car on a three-day weekend.

We don't get the opportunity to take those cars back to the shop. To go through everything in those cars and examine everything very closely. And the shelf life on a lot of those Audi parts is 16 hours. The axles, for example. They're supposed to last 16 hours, so we've been a really interesting case study for them in that we're able to run a set of axles the whole weekend; 20, 22, 24 hours, and we're beyond the shelf life.

The biggest things I would say are [the lifespan of] those components, and then getting the setups right for an endurance race. You're not trying to find the perfect lap. You're trying to find the perfect nine hours of laps. We have four different drivers that are running seats. You're trying to find a really nice balance on the car that all four guys can live with. It's hard to get all four guys to love the balance. But to get them to above average is important for that endurance racing.

The other thing is that we carry about 60 or 70 thousand dollars of spares on our trailer. From a spares standpoint, you have to carry a lot more than you would with a sprint team. I think axles alone, we probably have 26 sets of axles or something. We're constantly sending them out to get rebuilt. We send three or four sets after every weekend, so it's definitely a difference.

You're gone for such a long time for any single weekend of racing. How do you keep everybody there focused for such an extensive race?

We're really lucky, actually. We have a minimum of 12 crew members that we travel with. We pay them well. This is different from a lot of teams. A lot of teams just get their friends to come, and they have the drivers help out crewing. In our case, we've been traveling with the same guys for a year and a half. When we pull our rig into the paddock, I don't have to do anything. They already know everything. They unload everything, know how everything gets set up. We've got maps where everything goes. So it's not hard to keep those guys focused.

Most of those guys are either a professional crew in their past, or a number of them are racers themselves. So if they were well funded they'd be driving for us. Two guys, in particular, are very accomplished racers, and if they had the money to be paying for seats, we would have them drive for us every single race. So it's not hard to keep a guy like that focused because they understand what's at stake.

They all understand the danger involved. It is not the same as if you fix somebody's streetcar brakes and they don't work. Coming to a stop sign at 15 miles an hour, they'll bump the car in front of them. But if you make a mistake on our brake system, somebody can hit a wall at 150, 160, 190 miles an hour. The stakes are much much higher, so I think that plays into everybody staying focused.

What do you think sets Hammer apart from other teams?

I want to be fair about this. We've won one, we've got three seconds, and six thirds, so our podium rate is like 60 percent. It's very difficult to win one of these races. An interesting thing about our team is that we have led every single race. So we've been in the lead at every single race, so we're always in the hunt.

I think our crew is better than any other crew for a couple of reasons. We have enough guys, so if you come to one of these races, we have 12 or 13 guys. There's not another team there that's got more than five or six. Four of ours are mechanics, and they're real mechanics. They're guys that know that that's a 14mm socket just by looking at it.

Three of them have been working on TCR programs for five or six years combined, so they know the cars incredibly well. Two of the guys work full-time here in our shop, so they know the cars really well. So I think that sets us apart from some of these other crews. We're just not cutting corners, you know. We have real guys. We're paying them real money. I think they want to see us be successful, [and for] the drivers want to be successful.

What can a driver expect when they come and race for you for a weekend?

I think what the drivers expect is a professional experience. I don't know how much you know about TCR seats, but if I was going to rent a seat at a 24-hour race, a five-driver team seat would cost me 20, 25, 30 thousand dollars. In this racing that we're doing, the seat price is less than ten thousand. A sprint race in the United States, like a TCR race at Sebring, that's 25 or 30 thousand per seat. I'd pay 25 grand, and you'd pay 25 grand, and then between the two of us, we get to split it with 2x two and a half hours of driving.

So what they should expect when they come with us is an enormous amount of driving. A 4-driver car with us is going to drive four to five hours during the race. Then another hour, at least, on Friday. So you're talking about five to six hours of driving in a single weekend. That's a lot of time to be in the car. The drivers, I think, expect the cars are well prepared. They expect that the cars will be set up well. I think that it matters to them that it's a full arrive and drive experience. So then they don't have to do anything except drive.

What do you mean when you say arrive and drive?

If you agreed to drive with us, we give you the schedule. And we tell you when you should arrive at the racetrack, and you're not required to do anything when you're there. The drivers [are] just expected to drive. So the driver doesn't have to jack the car up, change tires, go get gas... They don't have to go to a driver's meeting, they don't have to set up food or set up tables. They don't have to do anything except get uber-focused on driving and looking at data.

That's where the bang for the buck comes into play. A lot of these guys, they've got their own race cars, their own trailers and trucks. They have to drive ten hours to a race, and then they have to get parked. They have to unload their things and go to take the car to tech, and get their tires mounted and balanced, and do brake pad changes, and fix things that go wrong. Our race weekend is just slightly more expensive than the money they would spend doing that themselves.

So it's just a really good experience for them, and it's relaxing. They get away from their office, or whatever and hang out with other drivers and the crew. It's a full arrive and drive, right down to us providing all the food – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They don't need to get a rental car. We always get a block of hotel rooms, so if you stay at the hotel, just Uber over from the airport to the hotel or the racetrack. Then we'll take you and bring you back every day.

Can you talk us through what it's like sitting in the cockpit of one of those Audi RS3's?

The cockpit's actually amazing. The driver controls in those TCR cars are quite extensive. We have the car set up for a DSG paddle-shift because it's rental-friendly. So that's the first thing you notice when you sit down. The second thing is you're overwhelmed by the number of buttons on the steering wheel. There is a push-to-talk radio button, then you've got a full course caution speed limiter, then you've got the button that actually flips through the screens, and there's a standing start button.

The drivers have an adjustable differential so they can make changes. There are three settings on it. The first one is primarily used for new tires, the second is as tires get worn in, and the third one is for rain. The rain differential setting is amazing in that car. It allows an 80% slip! At Sebring, we actually had a problem early in the race and went down by nine laps because of needing repairs. After pitting, we re-entered the race, and it started raining. We switched to rain differential, and we were 15 seconds a lap faster than the next fastest car. We came back and won that race by two laps!

All the controls are very close to the driver. The Chillout system is amazing for the drivers too. It allows them to focus on driving and not worry about being overheated. They're driving an hour and 40 minutes stints, so that's quite a long time to be in the car.

Our cars have full telemetry, which is amazing, and so at the pit box, we can see exactly where the car is on the racetrack. We can see all the gauges of the car so we can eliminate lies! When somebody says, "I wasn't really off the racetrack," we can say, "Oh yeah you were!" .

The biggest advantage the full telemetry provides us is that we can see how much fuel is left in the car. Before we had the telemetry, it was kind of painful. We had asked the driver 20 times during a stint, "I need a fuel reading!" They'd say 44.2, and we'd write that down. Then we'd ask on the very next lap, and we'd write down 36.4. Then we would be manually calculating fuel mileage to try to get an idea of when we thought they were going to have to be coming in the pit lane.

You mentioned the Chillout System. Can you explain that?

Chillout's an amazing company. So a cooler system has got water and ice in it. So you fill this thing with ice, and you put some water in it. As it melts it cools the driver. So that's kind of the old way of doing things. In endurance racing, that's a pain in the rear. When you pit, the teams are scooping hot water out of the cooler, and they've got a big cooler full of ice, and they're filling this ice chest up all day long.

Well with Chillout Systems has a self-contained unit that doesn't use water or ice. It uses a glycol-based liquid coolant. So it's a self-contained system that only weighs 11 pounds, and it just works. You can set the temperature from 35 degrees to 70 degrees. We have remotes on them so the driver can adjust the cooling amount. We've been working with them since really early on. We're on our third iteration of the system. They've made three updates and we keep updating to the latest system.

With an hour and a half of driving, the last thing you want to have is a driver overheating. In many cases, that driver gets out of the car, and he's gonna be back in less than four hours. Not only do you need to keep him cool while he's driving, but you don't want him to get out of the car and get jelly legs or hardly walk. You want them to go and relax for a couple of hours and get back in again, not be thinking, "Am I gonna be able to do another hour and a half?"

You've got six drivers committed to the full season ahead. You've already gone through how having committed engineers and crew helps. How is that consistency going to help you with the drivers?

That consistency is gonna be wonderful. Actually, this next race that we're going to, we have two cars we're doing as three-driver cars. In one of those three-driver cars, all three of those drivers are gonna run the whole season. Those three guys will probably stay together the whole year with that same car. I think that'll build trust between those three guys, and it'll probably build trust even to a point where they are able to say, "Hey, Jim, you're actually doing better than I am today. Why don't you drive a little extra?"

We're really close to having a seventh-person sign for the whole season, too. That's another reason why we acquired the third car. If you consider cars normally are four-driver cars, and we had two cars and six guys committed for the whole season... So six drivers, then myself and the co-owner. Both cars were sold out for the whole season!

The expenses get better the more cars that you have and you're able to transport. As an example, you can divide by three instead of two. The crew cost, to put this into perspective for you; my crew cost for the last race we went to was $18,000 for the weekend. So that's transportation like flying them, hotels, rental cars, feeding them, paying them. That's our biggest expense by far. It doesn't take a rocket [scientist] to figure out dividing $18,000 by three is much more attractive than $18,000 by two. We don't have to add six crew, we just added two more.

It also makes my job way easier, because I'm the one that has to secure the drivers. I spend a lot of time on that. So it's nice that I only have to find two people for two seats for a race because all the other ones already sold. It allows me to be focused on other things, so it's a tremendous advantage.

You're going to compete in the first-ever 24-hour race at Sebring, and you've got Audi support there. How good is that going to be, and how much help is it having the manufacturer supporting?

The manufacturer's support for that race is going to be amazing. They have a parts trailer they roll, and so at that 24-hour race, it's brutal on race cars. The bumps at Sebring... It's one thing to drive Sebring, but just the amount of damage that that racetrack does to a car! So that 24-hour race is going to be amazing.

I will make you a prediction right now that we will be incredibly competitive at the race, but we'll have difficulty podiuming. It wouldn't shock me if a very low-budget team that's a 15th place car, in terms of pace, wins that race because they just stay out of trouble. It's the one race that I think anybody could win.

Is there anything else you're excited about this year?

There's a new business venture that we're working on that's amazing. It's called Garages of the Americas. It is a garage-condo complex. Almost a year ago, we decided we should build one of those complexes somewhere near the Circuit of the Americas. So Garages of the America's is across the street from COTA, and it's going to be a two-garage condo complex.

One will be a 7,200 square foot Clubhouse with a country club atmosphere. We've had some famous people purchase units there already. Down from the Clubhouse, will be a model that my business partner and I will keep. Jesse James, of West Coast Choppers, bought the model between the two of those, so that's kind of exciting information to share.

It's literally right across the street from COTA, so it'll be amazing for people to go do track days. They'll be able to go to the Clubhouse to shower and put on dry clothes. Not get in their Porsche GT3 and drive back to Houston covered in 90-degree Texas heat! At the F1 weekend, they could go there, stay the night, then wake up and go to the race!