July 20, 2009
TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- David Handy is enjoying a second career in motorsports late in life, thanks to the foundation he received as a student at Indiana State University and the wise advice of an Indiana State alumnus.
Handy, an Indianapolis native now working at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, NC, plays an integral role with NASCAR and its eight racing series. As chief tire engineer, he helps keep the drivers going around the track - monitoring 27 different tire setups for the series' 32 race tracks.
Like the tires he's in charge of, his career is an evolution - - with its beginnings at Indianapolis' Arsenal Technical High School in the spring of 1965. It would be there that Handy began his journey into adulthood with the assistance of a man who would become a life-long friend.
Michael Simmons - tall, affable and straight out of college - taught biology at Tech. Handy didn't have him for class but their paths crossed with the help of a guidance counselor, who urged the student to talk to Simmons about Indiana State, where the teacher graduated in 1964.
Tech, at that time with an enrollment of roughly 5,000 students is located on the site of a civil war fort, complete with iron gates.
"We were at the gates of Tech High School and this 1964 Pontiac came rolling in shaking the ground with a name on the fender of Desert Rose," Handy recalled. "It was a big car built for drag racing. I asked the guys who that was and they said ‘he teaches biology.' Turns out, it was Michael."
Handy talked with Simmons about his alma mater and received some solid advice from the proud alumnus.
"Go over there and visit. I'm not going to tell you to go there. You need to see things for yourself," Handy recalled.
Handy made the trip to Terre Haute and became a Sycamore in the fall of 1966. In addition to attending classes, Handy participated in a co-op program, working at International Harvester.
"That was a key part of my education," he said. "The money I earned working on co-op assignment paid for college."
Handy's co-op experience also paved the way for a full-time position with the manufacturer after graduation. At International Harvester he worked in skilled trades management primarily in Indianapolis, the Quad Cities and Springfield Ohio.
In fact, Handy and Simmons' paths crossed again - they were roommates during one of Handy's co-op stints.
"We became buddies. We've both always been interested in cars," Handy said. "There's always been a tie there."
In addition to working with Simmons when he was racing sportscars, Handy and Simmons took a road trip to Atlanta in 1969 to watch the Sports Car Club of America national championships.
Handy moved to South Carolina to work for Michelin Tire, supervising the machining group for prototype tire molds. During his 23 years with the tire maker, Handy worked in four or five divisions of the corporation. He was part of a three-person team who tested the use of silica in tires to save fuel for over the road trucks.
"We actually earned corporate recognition for our work in that area," he said.
While at Michelin Handy also worked with Ford Motor Co. to develop concept tires for several high profile concept vehicles, including the 2005 Mustang, working on the Ford engineering development team for six years.
That project involved extensive travel between Detroit and Greenville, SC; about twice a month going back and forth over tire designs.
Then, in March 2005, Handy retired from Michelin. And that's where his motorsports career began.
NASCAR had called, back in 2004, asking him to relocate to Charlotte from his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich.
Handy, looking for advice, called Simmons.
"I was back in career counseling mode," Simmons chuckled.
His advice was simple, yet comical.
"Pause 15 seconds and then say yes," Simmons recalled.
Handy did just that and at age 57 began working with NASCAR and Goodyear Tires.
"My experience at Indiana State, coupled with working in industry and previous racing experience made it easier to go to work at NASCAR," Handy said.
"It might be more difficult for someone younger to do what I do," Handy added. "The experience helps."
Tire testing is an important component that Handy oversees. "We work hard to make sure the cars are all equal and that the tires can give us a safe, competitive race," Handy said.
When Goodyear does NASCAR tire testing, representatives from all four car manufacturers are present. Consistency and communication are the keys to a successful test.
"In testing it's very important to have a good consistent driver who can provide detailed feedback on how the car handled," Handy concluded.
According to Handy, NASCAR doesn't test at each track every year. And testing still doesn't guarantee that a tire will work on a selected track. Enter Mother Nature and the effects of time.
"Just because we used the tire at a track last year, we may need to change tires this year due to track aging," he added.
Even though he came into the sport late in life, Handy's advice to students looking for a career in motorsport is simple.
"Take advantage of every opportunity to learn about cars and racing. If that means sleeping in a car trailer or out under the stars, so be it," he concluded.
Handy is happy he made the move to NASCAR.
"I just want to be involved with developing a better product and be a part of good, safe racing," he said.
The environment in which he works is also different.
"NASCAR is a skill set business. It's a family business and we are supportive of each other."
"When tires do not affect the outcome of the race, I have done my job," Handy proudly concludes.
The 61-year-old is content with his work with NASCAR and the schedule he keeps. The racing body doesn't have a retirement policy, so he's thinking several more years.
"I haven't kicked it in neutral and I don't intend to," Handy said. "I enjoy working for NASCAR and going to the track."
Contact and writer: Paula Meyer, ISU Communications & Marketing, (812) 237-3783 or firstname.lastname@example.org
David Handy is enjoying a second career in motorsports late in life, thanks to the foundation he received as a student at Indiana State University and the wise advice of an Indiana State alumnus.