Tuesday, January 25, 2011
"This is my Disneyland!"
JAN. 24 - Willard "Willy" Ivins retired from the Marine Corps in 2002. In the Corps, he was an explosives, landmines and bridge building expert, but one of his main hobbies was tinkering with motorcycles. For the next two years, he tried to find a job that would keep him as motivated as he was as a Marine. In 2004, a friend who'd recently started working as a machinist at Honda Performance Development (HPD) in Santa Clarita, Calif., suggested he apply for a job there.
During the job interview, Willard was quick to admit that he had no formal training or experience in the industry. "Despite this, they took a leap of faith and hired me. I have to think my military background played a part in their decision," he said.
In his first position, which lasted more than two years, he built cylinder heads. Then, he moved on to building oil and water pumps. During this time, he kept his eyes on a personal goal--to work on the final step of the assembly process--the engine itself. Two years later, after learning as much as he could from associates already doing this job, Willard realized this goal.
"This was a particular point of pride for me. I had to interview for the position, just like I did to get hired. It felt good that they had the faith in me to give me that level of responsibility.
"While this is now Willard's primary job, at the end of each race season, he, like most HPD associates, works in other areas of the facility--from the Machine Shop to the Quality Assurance Department.
As a builder of IndyCar engines, Willard explains that HPD associates, particularly the engine builders, enjoy a friendly rivalry during the racing season. Once the engines are assigned by the IndyCar Series, HPD knows which engine has been placed in each car--and thus who built it.
New Uses for Old Skills
In addition to his primary job as an engine builder, Willard is also a technical writer. He recently worked on the manual for the HPD L15A7 engine, which has been adopted by the Sports Car Club of America for use in its Formula F class.
Willard also describes himself as a "hopelessly addicted photographer" and has recently become part of a group at HPD that chronicles races and HPD events with photos and video.
One Bolt Makes a Bad Day
Willard recalls one of his early days working with cylinder heads when he did not properly tighten a bolt and the problem was discovered when the engine was on the Dyno. His then manager casually walked over with the misshapen bolt, held it up and placed it on his work station and just walked away. "I was sick to my stomach," he said. "I felt that I had let HPD and the process down. I received his message loud and clear even though he never said a word to me."
On another occasion, he remembers tossing and turning one night as he contemplated whether he had tightened some bolts. The next morning he told his manager about his concerns and they tore down the engine to verify that the bolts were tightened. They were, but his concern was enough for them to verify. "Our primary concern at HPD is the driver's safety. None of our drivers should ever have anything less than 100 percent confidence in our engines. When drivers climb into their cars, the only thoughts in their minds should be about how they will win the race, nothing else."
Willard sees many parallels between his former job as a Marine and his current one.
"It's just the mission that is different," he said. "In both places it is important that everyone understands the mission and pull together to make it happen. It's about getting the job done, whether it is about national security or winning championships, and anything short of that is unacceptable."
With the reintroduction of competition in the IndyCar series in 2012, Willard said: "We are already working on the next-generation IRL engine and will be ready for the competition when they show up. I believe competition will make HPD even stronger."
As HPD diversifies into other areas, including grassroots motorsports and Formula F, Willard pointed out that this has made the future look even brighter for HPD. "It keeps things fun!" he said. (Click below to hear why he thinks HPD is his Disneyland.)
And, as for the associate who told him about the job in the first place, Mark Burnett, he too is still at HPD, no longer a machinist but instead in the Procurement department. "I feel fortunate and blessed to be at HPD, and I take the opportunity to thank Mark several times throughout the year," Willard said with a chuckle.
Click below to learn how when Willard walks his dog a two-minute conversation can turn into an hour...