Volume III, Issue 12, Page 10

A Racer’s Edge...

Sometimes when we can’t remember an unsavory situation, it’s probably that the emotions involved were such that you’d just as soon erase it from memory.  I fell victim to one of these a number of years ago and it involved some folks you probably either know or know about.  And just recently, a phone call brought it all back.

Somewhere in the mid-‘80s timeframe, while attempting to herd the R&D cats at Edelbrock, we began working with a number of noted racers in NHRA and in NASCAR. Understand that the operational landscape of both those venues was considerably different than it is today, economically if nothing else, and such cooperative relationships were seemingly much friendlier.  For example, late Sunday night phone calls to commiserate about weekend race event results were pretty common and fostered a mutual trust while sharing race “secrets.”

 One day I got a call from a young performance parts aspirant who claimed to have some “technology” he felt would benefit drag and circle track racers alike.  Such calls weren’t uncommon and I generally managed to categorize them according to their source.  In this case, however, the subject spilled into an area where I had experience and interest.  It also was an extension of some internal combustion engine fundamentals originally proposed by one Harry Ricardo, virtually the Patron Saint of the “High Speed Internal Combustion Engine,” as students of the same will tell you.

Long story short, this person wanted to visit me at Edelbrock, bring along his engineering father (then head of R&D at General Dynamics Corp.), and discuss some direction about how to advance the ideas in motorsports.  He was starting up a small business to do so.  Now, you ask, why show any interest in such a thing?  Well, I’m always willing to learn new concepts or new twists on old concepts, so I bit.  And, at the time, I’d also been privileged to be a friend and student of such luminaries as Zora Duntov and Smokey Yunick, so keeping an open mind was something I’d learned to do.  Only this time, it backfired.

I did some further research into the concepts being offered me and decided some exposure in HOT ROD magazine would benefit both its readership and my new friend.  When the story broke, it included as persons then said to be using the technology, two prominent race teams.  Not coincidentally, one of these teams had just scored a convincing victory in the Daytona 500 and the other re-set both ends of the NHRA Pro Stock record.  Further, both were teams with whom I’d been previously working with on behalf of Edelbrock.  Then the bottom fell out.  Both teams claimed no connection at all to either the technology or person I’d thrust into HRM, and both chose (from that point on) to sever contact with me.

Now, before you begin drawing conclusions, let me tell you that immediately after the Daytona 500 just cited, a prominent NASCAR crew chief and friend of mine had called to say, “That car was the quietest one on the track and when I looked at its headers after the race, they were burning entirely different than what I’m accustomed to seeing.  If you’re working with them, I want to come out (with my cylinder head man) and spend a day talking about possibilities we might want to consider.”  Mind you, he would not have made that request without basis.  In addition, and on good authority, an NHRA tech inspector had previously told me he saw markings on certain Pro Stock engine parts that identified their source.  Both these incidences coincided with the denials referenced in the paragraph above.

In the business of motorsports, depending upon the level of ego and amount of money involved, truth can become distorted.  After all, if you have a racer’s edge, maintaining it is potentially tantamount to continued success.  And if it means disengaging yourself from the source of such an advantage… well, that might be called a “business decision.”

Here’s the point. Neither the technology in question nor the person mentioned at the outset of this column has gone away.  In fact, iterations of the concept have been adopted, explored and even expanded upon in both the OEM and motorsports communities, including F1.  It’s neither rocket science nor snail oil; just good fundamental engineering applied to the pre-combustion and combustion process in a stock or racing internal combustion engine.

Bottom-line, all this reminiscing is intended to emphasize that “new” ideas are not always confined to totally fresh concepts.  In many instances, they are iterations of something old, another spin put on fundamental thinking or revolutionary ideas that need validation and refining.  It’s the refining process that often leads to improved practical applications.

In this particular case, it appears an advantage was created that ruffled some feathers, despite my good intentions.  You know what?  Maybe it’s that old age thing again, but I’ve learned to care less and less about opinions from either biased, uninformed, or misinformed people.  In fact, I’ve pretty much remembered to forget about the negative side of that 15-year-ago experience to the extent I’m still working on finding new ways to improve upon the technology.

Thanks again, Larry, and pretty soon I think we may be working on this together. 

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