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JUN 14, 2022 | Ford Performance Staff

VERSATILITY A HALLMARK FOR FORD PERFORMANCE’S DAVE CIMBA

Dave Cimba

CONCORD, N.C. - The Ford Performance Technical Center in Concord, North Carolina is a 33,000 square foot facility that has been transformed from a vacant shell to a bustling hub of motorsports and production car development since opening in May of 2014.

In that time, the footprint inside has grown from one full-motion platform simulator to two – with a third one on the way later this year; a scale model shop where teams meticulously build the latest iteration of race cars that will be competing around the globe in series such as NASCAR, IMSA, WRC, NHRA, and Australia Supercars; and additional conference rooms for engineering teams to work together in the never-ending battle to find speed.

Through all of these improvements there has been one constant, one person who has seen it all -- vehicle dynamics engineer Dave Cimba.  He was the first person to take up residency as a full-time employee in the building and helped in overseeing its transformation into the state-of-the-art facility it’s become.

“It was interesting,” said Cimba, who began his association with Ford in 2005 before being hired full-time in 2013.  “When we were finally able to come into this place it was basically a construction zone.  There was insulation coming through the ceiling and all we had were hot spots to use for the internet at the start, so it was rough.”

It wasn’t uncommon in those early days for Cimba to work with nothing but a folding chair and table for support.  However, just like everything else he has touched during his career with Ford, he made it better.

It started when former Ford engineer and now NASCAR Senior Vice President for Innovation John Probst hired him as a contract worker to help conduct tire tests and provide modeling data to NASCAR teams.  

Dave Cimba and team at victory lane

From there he began dabbling in the simulation world and was embedded for varying lengths of time with many Ford NASCAR teams, including Robert Yates Racing, Robby Gordon Motorsports and the Wood Brothers. 

When Ford decided to bring Mustang to the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he was tasked with getting the car ready for competition on a limited basis in 2010 before racing full-time in 2011.

And when Stewart-Haas Racing decided to join Ford following the 2016 season, he was asked to lead the transition so the team could hit the ground running, which they did as Kurt Busch won the Daytona 500 in their debut race.

Are you starting to get the picture?  When something needs to get done, Cimba is the man usually tasked with the job.

“It’s his versatility in all areas of racing that makes him so valuable.  Whatever you put him on he becomes an expert in that area,” said Pat DiMarco, Ford Performance’s long-time NASCAR manager.  “Along with that versatility comes his drive to succeed and dedication to the team and projects he’s working on.  That’s why he’s done so many different things at different times.  You always look to your best people and Dave has always produced results.” 

That was never more evident than when he worked with Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports to develop Mustang into a dominant car that won 13 races and led Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to the driver’s championship, helped Carl Edwards claim the owner’s title for Jack Roush, and clinched the manufacturer’s crown for Ford in 2011.

After Stenhouse won a second consecutive championship in 2012, Cimba was hired full-time by Ford and with that came another new challenge that continues to evolve today – simulation.

“When I first started with simulation it was just numbers and squiggly lines on a computer screen.  We all ran simulation.  All of the team engineers had it, but it was very much on computer and more abstract than now, where we can actually put that model in and let the drivers and the teams run it,” recalled Cimba.  “That’s probably been the most interesting thing as we continue on and we’ve gotten simulators.  In 2009, we could make data overlay with the track.  We have all of that captured, and then you take that forward a couple of years and put that model in the simulator for the first time and the driver is saying there are differences.  All of your data looks the same as it did on the computer screen, but that’s when you start digging into things you never thought about before.”

Dave Cimba on the computer

It's that ability to pay attention to the latest trends and learn on the fly that got him into racing in the first place.  While growing up in Johnstown, PA, an eastern suburb of Pittsburgh, Cimba watched his father, Frank, a mechanic by trade who used that knowledge to compete in weekend drag races at places like Keystone Raceway Park with his 1970 Chevy Nova.

“We have this joke in our family that my father has two sons.  There’s me and then the race car that he got nine years before I was born,” laughed Cimba, whose claim to fame was getting behind the wheel of his Olds Calais street car and winning $500 in a one night showdown against many of his dad’s competitors.  “He’s still got that Nova today, but I would work on it to get everything ready because he was so busy and then we’d go to the track on weekends and race.”

That experience helped push Cimba into engineering at Kettering University in Flint, MI, where a bulk of the student body was interested in, you guessed it, cars.  He did a little drag racing there as well, but gained an interest in stock car ovals thanks to some friends who had a car and raced on weekends

“When I graduated from Kettering in 2002 it was right after 911 and it was tough to find a job at the time,” said Cimba, who is married to wife Audrey and has a six-year-old son, Luke.  “It just seemed like a good opportunity to go to grad school.  I always watched NASCAR from afar when it was on TNN, and they would talk about engineers in NASCAR.  They would show a table of engineers sitting at a test in Daytona and it became intriguing to me.” 

So, with a career path in mind and a mechanical engineering degree in hand, Cimba went to Clemson University in South Carolina, and immersed himself in engineering and motorsports.  

In two years on campus, he got involved with a team of fellow students to build a race car from the ground up as part of a year-long competition sponsored by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). Cimba did the engine, wiring, chassis building and whatever else was required, eventually culminating in a 10th-place overall finish his final year.

Working in that type of team environment followed him to Ford and has become a hallmark of Cimba’s tenure.

“Dave is a leader within his own group because he has been around for so long.  People look up to him,” said DiMarco.  “When someone has problems or wants to know the history about something, Dave is somebody that they look up to and go to for answers.”

Dave Cimba and team at victory lane 

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