"I got down to Chevy engineering and had a chance to work in the dyno cells and I was just fascinated by engines. When I was graduating, Herb had this idea that we should get more young engineers in the group. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I took it."
Doug Duchardt, former director of GM Racing and now a vice president with Hendrick Motorsports, met Covey in 1986. Duchardt said that Covey has a unique dedication to figuring out what a race engine should be doing on the track.
"The guy has a complete passion for racing," said Doug Duchardt. "The best thing about Jim and the way he works with engines is that he is very sensitive and aware to the needs of a racer-that is, what an engine actually does on the track, not just in the lab. One of the strengths of the GM Racing engine program is the personal relationships he has with the engine people in the NASCAR garage. That's been a great benefit to GM and will continue to be, long term. He's got dedication and a passion that exceeds most in this sport."
Covey began working full-time for GM in its racing group in 1987 and has been a part of the fabric of the organisation ever since. Since then, it's been clear which engine Covey names as his favourite: the Small-Block V-8 that GM created way back in 1955.
"It was an ingenious design, there's no doubt about it," said Covey, almost wistfully. "It's an incredibly versatile package; if you look at some of the other series where you only run at 5 litres as in Trans-Am, yet some of the off-road truck stuff was up to 430 cubic inches. 50 years later we're looking to advance it and we've changed cylinder heads and things like that, but the basic architecture has not changed that much. It's an amazing thing that guys back 50 years could sit down and come up with something that is still used and relevant today. It's really incredible."
Covey's job today means that he's constantly trying to improve on that original V-8 design and conducts monthly meetings with all of Chevy's key partner teams in the NASCAR group. Those are issues of today, but he has to keep a watchful eye on the future.
"A major part of our job is focusing on future engine designs," said Covey. "It's something you can't be complacent on. The SB2 that we race today was introduced to NASCAR in 1996 and wasn't approved until 1998. Ever since then we've been working on other engine packages. Unfortunately we've submitted a few that haven't been approved. But we want to take advantage-if given the opportunity-to submit a new engine, so we've got to have one prepared."
You can bet that Covey has one prepared