From Dillon To Darlington: Cody McKenzie’s NASCAR Engineering Journey

By Landry Collins

Cody McKenzie appeared right at home last Saturday, May 11th, at Darlington Raceway, gearing up for one of NASCAR’s most challenging tracks. Despite the reputation of the track as “Too Tough to Tame,” Cody seemed unfazed when I caught up with him before the race. He had a laid-back demeanor, completely at ease.
Being raised in Dillon, Cody graduated from Dillon Christian School in 2012. He could also be found on the track at Dillon Motor Speedway when he was living here. He then pursued a B.S. in Physics from Francis Marion University, which he completed in 2016, followed by an M.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Clemson University in 2017. During the summer of 2016, he interned as an engineer at Chip Ganassi Racing. Subsequently, in September 2018, he assumed the role of simulation engineer at Richard Childress Racing.
RCR boasts a fleet of four cars in NASCAR, including the #3 and #8 in the Cup Series, and the #2 and #21 in the Xfinity Series. Cody served as the simulation engineer until November 2021 when he transitioned to become the Engineer for Big Machine Racing. Big Machine Racing fields the #48 car in the Xfinity Series.
For those unfamiliar with the role, one might ask, “What does a race engineer do?” I, for one, had little insight into it until Cody graciously invited me into the race hauler to talk and catch up. Amidst catching up, Cody dove into explaining his job. While the technical intricacies mainly went over my head, he outlined that his primary responsibility lies in optimizing the car’s setup. Without his expertise, the car simply wouldn’t perform as intended.
Cody elaborated on how NASCAR’s reduced track time before races has elevated the reliance on computer simulations. If a simulation adjustment yields favorable results, the team translates it into the actual car setup. However, Cody emphasized that there’s no one-size-fits-all formula for setting up a race car; it’s a blend of artistry and science. To me, it sounds like a meticulous craft honed through science, and Cody emerges as a proficient artist in this arena.
Thus far this season, the #48 Big Machine Chevrolet, piloted by Parker Kligerman, has performed admirably, currently sitting ninth in points with four top-ten finishes and one top-five finish. Just this past weekend at Darlington, the team secured a commendable sixth-place finish in a competitive field of thirty-eight drivers.

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