A foretelling of things to come…

As I recall, it was somewhere around 1987.  I’d received a call from a young aerospace engineer based in Phoenix, Arizona, who was also an avid drag racer.  He had been engaged in an attempt to using his engineering and computer skills to forecast quarter-mile performance of drag race cars.  It would be some four years later that he would surface again, but that’ll come a bit further into this story.  After a couple of phone calls, what he was proposing seemed sufficiently intriguing that we arranged to meet in El Segundo, California, for lunch and more discussion about his quest for “computerizing” performance evaluations at the drag strip.

The fact of the matter was I’d previously been exposed to various mathematical means by which drag car performance could be predicted.  There had been “dream wheels” that calculated quarter-mile performance based on vehicle weight and flywheel horsepower that excluded other factors like aerodynamic effects (drag), type of transmission, final drive gearing and even driving techniques.  It seemed that these approaches, while intended to have some scientific basis, lacked sufficient inclusion of variables that played significantly into evaluating performance in a standing-start quarter-mile acceleration effort.

Mind you, and despite the fact I’d been designing induction systems for a couple of decades at that point in time, my computer skills were virtually non-existent and void of the import such equipment could lend to the design of engine components. That void was about to be filled and instill in me a desire to dig much deeper into the benefits of engine parts and systems through computer modeling and dynamic simulations that exists today.  Looking back, that door was opened by my new friend from Arizona.

Here was his deal.  He had developed a software package that required a number of vehicle- and driving-specific inputs like g.v.w., transmission intermediate ratios and number of speeds (stick or automatic), an aero drag factor (based on vehicle profiles provided in the software), starting-line departure rpm, rpm shift points, flywheel power data (at selected rpm) and other variables germane to quarter-mile acceleration performance.  Given these inputs, quarter-mile elapsed times and speeds could be predicted.  Or, perhaps more important, there were alternatives to this that allowed you to request information about optimum driving techniques, final drive gear ratios and where in an engine’s rpm range power improvements were the most significant to quarter-mile performance.  For example, regarding the latter, the software might suggest that peak power could be sacrificed (even reduced) for the benefit of improving mid-rpm output.  In short, the package wasn’t just a tool for evaluating vehicle performance, it could be used as a development technique to pinpoint where power gains or power-related modifications should be made.  I had my doubts.

So, after I persuaded my new engineer friend to loan me a copy of the software for further evaluation, I went to work trying to disprove its merits.  Long story short, the reverse occurred and I became a student of the technique, first feeding it information I’d previously proven at the track and then (when the computer-derived results turned out to match the known track data) as a method to “shape” power curves through product modification.