The Virginia Institute for Performance and Engineering Research (VIPER) was the recipient of two retired No. 43 Nextel Cup race cars from Petty Enterprises for research tools. The cars were donated by Richard Petty and son Kyle to VIPER for use by mechanical engineering graduate students pursuing degrees at VIPER. The facility is located at Virginia International Raceway (VIR) in Halifax County, VA.


The Petty’s decision was prompted by Nextel Cup’s move to the “Car of Tomorrow” in 2008 necessitating the retirement of standard-model race cars following the final for 400 Nextel Cup Series race in November 2007. As a result, most of the Cup cars were relegated to driver-development programs or were sold to Automobile Racing Club of America teams for pennies on the dollar. However, Petty Enterprises chose to donate some of their cars to engineering programs designed to produce future racing engineers.

Petty Enterprises General Manager Robbie Loomis noted in an article that the first donation would be to Virginia Tech for use at VIPER, primarily due to the research already underway there with a well-known motorsports team. Loomis stated, “In this sport we need an area where we can groom and shape engineers to really fit the racing model. There always seems to be a disconnect between the book engineer and the actual applications engineer at the racetrack. So we hope we can bring that together for the future.”

VIPER Director Steve Southward indicated “we are thrilled to have the race cars in the lab for hands-on experience. Working with these cars on our eight-post shaker rig allows our students to put what they learned about chassis engineering in class into practice in a way that leads to real know-how.” The eight post shaker rig owned by the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) of Halifax County tests vehicular suspension systems and is the only one of its kind in North America for commercial testing.

The VIPER program in mechanical engineering has attracted thirteen graduate students to its Southside location since the program began in fall 2005. There is also a graduate student connection between the institute and Petty Enterprises. Two former Virginia Tech mechanical engineering students have worked for Petty Enterprises in the past, according to Team Manager Jerry Freeze. Freeze said he hopes that Petty Enterprises “will be able to benefit from more talent [from Virginia Tech] in the future.” VIPER is a partnership between IALR, VA Tech, ODU, VIR and IDA of Halifax County, Virginia.

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