“LaunchPoint,” a new series on Cox7, spotlights the technology of manufacturing and the people who make manufacturing work.
This week’s episode continues the journey of Sean Bellemeur, as he works to move forward his racing career as well as his day job: teaching manufacturing.
In the last episode, we met Sean, who was born into a family of speed junkies. He followed his father’s footsteps and became a professional drag race car driver in the National Hot Rod Association. While his hobby includes a 3,500 horsepower race car, which accelerates from 0 to 250 mph in 5.6 seconds, work and pleasure merges for him at CAD/CAM Consulting, a company owned by a member of his racing team, Tom Shelar.
At CAD/CAM Consulting, Sean works as a manufacturing teacher, running the training classes of the MasterCAM software. Although this job was initially a way to support his racing hobby, it soon opened his eyes to a world of immense opportunity as he realized the limitless potential of manufacturing.
While working to help his students redefine the future of manufacturing with the MasterCAM software, his own future was tested during an elimination round on a drag strip in Bakersfield, California. It was a foggy night, promising some difficult traction issues, but Sean and his competitor both continued the run, even as Sean’s visor fogged up, making it close to impossible for him to see. As they took off, the run went well for 400 feet, until suddenly the car took a drastic run to the right. In an attempt to correct of the car, Sean took his foot off the gas and in that instant lost control of the car.
Sean’s team members watched in horror as the car, 225 inches long and 2,000 lbs, spun out of control at 200 mph. “I tried to correct as much as I could,” Sean says. “But at that point I realized that the car was going to do whatever it wanted. I was just thinking, thank God Mom went back to the hotel.”
Sean’s worrying about his mom in the midst of this possibly very serious accident was not surprising. Nancy Bellemeur had been diagnosed with lung cancer, and while she had been fighting it courageously, attending every race of Sean’s was very difficult. By going back to the hotel earlier that night, she wouldn’t be there to support Sean if this run turned into an accident.
Back in the car, Sean forced himself to relax, as he was taught in the case of an accident, taking his hands off the wheel and even closing his eyes. He prepared himself as he felt the car roll up on it side. To Sean’s and everyone else’s surprise, the car slowly came back down from that single wheel and Sean immediately took action, trying to get back in control. He successfully released the parachutes and it ended up being a safe run. Out of control and at that speed and weight, “I have no idea why the car didn’t roll,” Tom Shelar says.
Sean was very lucky that night, and while some might apply the brakes after such an event, Sean did the opposite. He wanted to keep pushing the limits on the speed capabilities of his car, as well as push himself as an instructor.
The insights Sean developed in his work with MasterCAM were soon passed onto a customer, Darrell Reid of REID Machine, through his training class. But REID Machine was more than just a customer to Sean; they built the rocker arms that were a crucial part of the engine of his race car. At the time, Darrell was using an older version of the MasterCAM software at his shop, but Sean’s course introduced him to the new software, and both Sean and Darrell soon recognized the new possibilities it could bring to the production and function of the company’s rotor arms. REID Machine now uses the new software that Sean taught Darrell about, allowing its manufacturing business to advance and expand into new areas not possible before.
Eventually, after 10 strong years of fighting her cancer, Nancy Bellemeur was in her final days. Her last request of Sean was that she wanted to take a ride with him on the drag strip. After cremation, some of her ashes would be put into the car’s parachutes, and released into the air on the strip when the parachutes were pulled. Nancy was very clear that she didn’t want it to be simple; she wanted the full Funny Car experience, with shake, thunder, and a big smoky burnout. Sadly, she died the next day, with the knowledge that she would finally ride with her son on the drag strip.
Sean waited eight months until November to race with his mom at the Pomona drag strip, the strip he grew up on. Just like his mom asked, he did a long burnout and the car took off like a rocket. However, right as he hit high gear, the engine expired. There was a massive explosion that blew out the windows, started a fire and even split the body in half. He felt he had a responsibility to release his mom’s ashes through the parachutes the way she wanted, but he also needed to stop the car for fear of a bigger explosion.
After the run when the fire and safety guys were checking him out, all he could do was laugh. “My mom warned me of this,” he said. “She wanted the full funny car experience, here it is! The car is even on fire!”
Although the loss of his mom left a big hole, Sean continues to push on with the family he built around himself on the race track with his team, as well as at CAD/CAM. He continues to move forward with the constantly advancing MasterCAM software, building and teaching others how to build everything from frivolous things like paint ball guns to life changing things like a pace-maker.