Dale Earnhardt Inc., Clemson enter research partnership

GREENVILLE -- Clemson University on Tuesday added a racing legend to its research partners at the International Center for Automotive Research, as Dale Earnhardt Inc. designated Clemson as a primary source of new talent for its growing NASCAR team.

DEI chief executive officer Teresa Earnhardt said her company and Clemson had been in talks for more than 18 months about a partnership that could give Clemson faculty and students access to some of DEI's approximately $60 million a year research and development budget for its four-car racing team.

A $13,000-per-year undergraduate scholarship in engineering also would be awarded.

"Years from now, this will be viewed as a model for collaboration between a motorsports company and a research university," she said.

The partnership also serves as the latest move in research campus development in the state as universities like Clemson, USC and the Medical University of South Carolina attempt to recruit South Carolina's best and brightest.

DEI president Max Siegel said he was not ready to talk about the details or scope of research with Clemson. But he said research could include tires, aerodynamics, weight or "whatever it takes to make a car go faster."

Part of larger plan for DEI

Seigel said DEI's recent mergers have grown its racing team to four cars on the NASCAR circuit, each with an operating budget of $20 million to $25 million a year. As much as $15 million a year may be earmarked for research and development to improve each car's competitive edge.

The DEI organization has grown to more than 500 people, Seigel said, and "it's critically important to tap into a great talent pool."

"This will ensure our future as the world's No. 1 racing organization," Seigel said.

From its conception, Clemson has coveted a central role in the future of motorsports for its ICAR campus on Interstate 85 in Greenville.

Clemson trustees Joe Swann and Bill Amick have been involved in NASCAR racing. And early discussions about the ICAR campus included a wind tunnel to help auto racing teams test new concepts.

CU-ICAR took a different direction when BMW Manufacturing committed approximately $50 million to the Greenville campus for its own research needs, which did not include a wind tunnel. But Clemson officials never gave up their dream of becoming a major player in the multibillion-dollar motorsports industry.

"Motorsports is a huge economic driver in our state," Clemson President James Barker said, noting the General Assembly has charged Clemson, the University of South Carolina and the Medical University of South Carolina with jump-starting economic development across the state.

Dick Baker, executive director of the Dale Earnhardt Foundation, said Clemson was competing with several other institutions, including N.C. State University and UNC-Charlotte, for DEI's commitment.

"It was a matter of which institution brought the most to the table," Baker said. "And Clemson was head and shoulders above the rest."

While they would not specify the scope of future cooperation, Barker said, "I'd be honored to have a Dale Earnhardt building on the ICAR campus."

The Clemson president and his aides emphasized the "open-ended, unlimited" nature of the partnership. Clemson faculty members have worked with racing teams on specific engineering issues, but Barker said this partnership would be different because of its "integration across the spectrum" of racing sciences.

Jim Laylek, director of Clemson's Computational Center for Mobility Systems at CU-ICAR, said he's already been in talks with DEI designers about using Clemson's new supercomputer for design, aerodynamic and engineering research.

As for racing talent, Seigel said his company is "close to signing another driver" to replace Dale Earnhardt Jr., who left the team recently. But he sidestepped a question about whether the new driver would be Kyle Bush.