Volume III, Issue 10, Page 18

A “back story” on computerized simulations…

About twenty years ago I got my first taste of how personal computers would appear in what I’ll loosely call the “enthusiast automotive aftermarket.”  I say loosely because the category encompasses a fairly broad spectrum of interests.  Pat Hale was the person who provided that taste and he did so with a software package called “Quarter.” 

For those of you with less gray at the temples than Ro and I, Quarter was a DOS program that allowed you to enter specific variables of the type typically associated with a quarter-mile acceleration runs, and stuff like final drive gear ratios, vehicle weight, transmission ratios, as well as shift points were included.  You even had a choice about how you used the program.  You could either evaluate a given parts package and how it was being driven or simply plug in the essentials and out crunched a best case scenario, particularly with respect to driving technique.  Was it a believable scheme?  Frankly, at the time, I didn’t know but was intrigued by the possibilities.  After all, Pat was a gear-head aerospace engineer with ample credentials to back up his software claims.  His package also allowed you to reverse the process of predicting quarter-mile speeds and elapsed times, enabling calculations that predicted the amount of power required to produce performances already recorded.  Remember that.

In 1990, I was working as a consultant to the NHRA and focused on technical issues about “performance limitations” and safety-related matters.  About the same time, the screw-compressor supercharger popped onto the scene.  It wasn’t a new concept, just a drag racing application of a prior design.  Fundamentally, the NHRA had concerns about the safety aspects of it, particularly because it appeared to be virtually boost unlimited.  That is to say, the faster it was spun, the higher the boost pressure…but without the heat and parasitic losses typically associated with a Roots-type counterpart.  I was asked to look into the deal.

It turned out most of new product’s engine dyno tests had been performed on Billy Williams’ pump in Torrance, CA.  Many of his blown/alcohol pieces had been birthed on that cradle, so it was a known quantity for producing reliable information from high-output engines.  When I arrived at Billy’s place, I was greeted by a young engineer who’d been a principle in the blower’s design application for drag racing.  When I asked to see some test results (particularly regarding temperature mapping and related data), he produced a three-ring notebook full of test sheets…apparently from dyno testing. 

The data was surprisingly specific and when I credited him for some very comprehensive dyno work, he said, “No, let me get you some dyno sheets. These are all computer simulations.”  After I’d made some remarkable comparisons between actual dyno data and the simulations, I asked the origin of the simulations.  Guess who?  Pat Hale, again.

So here I am looking a simulated and actual dyno sheets, and differentiating between them was nigh impossible.  The guys had truly done their homework.  Now I begin recommending the Quarter simulation program to several of my hard-core drag racing friends because I was very confident about its potential.  But here’s the kicker.

I got a call from Hale. He launched into a story about his run-in with Glidden.  It seems that Pat, not long after introducing Quarter and as he iterated the concept into other areas of drag racing, elected to produce a monthly newsletter.  No big deal, except in an effort to build credibility for the value in his software products (and I expect to create interest in what he was doing) he began publishing “computed” power levels of performances by widely-known drag racers.  Remember we said you could put this little software package in reverse, thereby matching recorded quarter-mile performances with what Quarter said was the power required?  Well, he hit a nerve.

“Jim, I got a call from Glidden’s attorney, right after I published [in the newsletter] the amount of horsepower necessary to set the mph record he holds.  He said that neither he nor Bob knew how I was able to get my hands on one of his dyno sheets but I was to no longer publish any information about his car.”

Now, you might view that as an extreme case, but it pointed to the emergence of computerized simulations in what I previously termed the “enthusiast automotive aftermarket” had arrived.

From ongoing experience, I share with you that what can be done today by this technology will stretch your imagination clearly out of bounds.  And while I’m not advocating Pat had an overbearing influence on the emergence of these techniques in our industry, he certainly put some early stakes in the ground, screw compressors or not….  

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