Maybe I’m a little too old or I watch way too much Nick at Nite but if Dragnets Sgt. Friday was a race car tuner he would be consistent, sometimes slow to progress but would almost always move in the right direction. Why? Because he makes all of his decisions based on facts. The famous quote “Just the facts ma’am” is almost as apparent on that show as the incessant nodding and expedient dialogue.
As a tuner you have to base your decisions on facts and estimations. However, if you often find yourself in a bind that means you are relying too much on estimations (Level B decisions) and too little on facts (Level A decisions…I’ll explain in a moment). But if you are finding yourself running in the middle of the pack, that means you are probably relying too much on facts and are not taking some chances on your tuneup to get an upper hand.
When I’m hired to fine tune a program for a race team, The work actually starts before I show up to the track. We’ll talk on the phone about the program and I’ll ask alot and I mean alot of questions. There is no such thing as data overload in this business as oftentimes you can’t get any hard facts. After all is said and done you will miss something..but how much it’ll cost you in E.T. or pistons is the only variable.
Lets talk about one team as an example: The program for the team had been developed by a local tuner who had done a pretty good job getting the car baselined but he needed a bit more experience moving it to the next level. He had the intelligence to learn but needed someone to show him what he needed to look for in the jungle.
Most of us can set the timing and find the right plug gap and tire pressure but it takes someone with experience to properly balance the jetting on a tunnel ram, select a stage temperature, scope the plugs or even select a launch rpm. I’m fortunate in that I have had some very good teachers and have many excellent engine builders/tuners that I can call if I’m in unfamiliar territory (I’ve had some guys BS me and some outright lie to me too..so be aware, this is competition and well you know how that goes). The honest ones know that if they supply me with any needed tuning info that I’ll return the favor in kind and thats what this game is all about. Noone likes seeing anyone melt down or get in an accident, we’re here to compete against them not to avoid their schrapnel. If you lie to cause someone to lose performance or damge parts, you might as well be robbing their home.
Now, lets look at this customers program: The powerplant is a 622 c.i. RS Competition built Big Chief (a very well built solid piece). The customer contacted me to tune it for a big match race in Puerto Rico. Wow fun and sun and away we go. Not a chance, the work begins the moment I agree to take the job. So I contact engine builders or other racers and research various inherent problems with this type of combination (every combination has a secret or inherent dilemma or something that it does or doesn’t respond to). You get info from what they’ve seen work and/or not work, of course you call the original engine builder and download him too as he is as interested in its performance as you are. Then after your phone bill time matches your internet time its off to the races.
For a first pass you only need interval times so half track launches are all that are usually required to see where you are. Before you shoot down the track get a look at the obvious. Tire patterns, fuel pressure, float level, current jetting and air bleed configurations, look at plugs, computer graphs and download the driver ie. what rpm does the car pull to, whats the stage temp, how do you know when to pull out of the water box, how do you know where to stage, does the car have any inherent problems or recent or consistent repairs required. These may seem like pretty obvious things but take a look at those questions and answer them yourself and I bet you’ll find a flaw in your program. If you didn’t find a flaw or possible improvement…good job and read no further. If you did, then its time to set your program up like a military operation. You do the same thing the same way everytime, you map and record every HARD number that you can get your hands on…oil temp, water temp, track temp, header temp, tire pressure front and rear, interval times, correct wind to a head-on or tail-on negative or positive number and of course this numbers list goes on and on. Then record these numbers after the run and evaluate them and on paper or laptop, make the changes required to make the last run a perfect one. But don’t make all of them, because all of them in combination may create another dilemma. So baby steps is the deal here. You need to get your mind set so that you have two different levels of decisions. Level A means you absolutely know that change will work. Level B means its an educated guess. Level C means you’re taking a shot. You never use a Level C. Don’t learn that the hard way.
At this point if the car will go down the track without hurting anything or anyone you make two Level A changes and only one Level B change. Remember not all your Level A and B changes will work. If they do then your baseline setup was not well thought out at the time and you should take a hard look at the program. Not that much data comes out each pass and it will change as you alter the tuneup. If you find yourself requiring alot of Level A changes after every pass then you are trying to go beyond the current setup or tuned ability of the car.
Allow me to give you a perfect example of that. At the event I was tuning at, there was a car that was debuting. It was beautiful, very well painted, very high tech and had all the latest and greatest gadgets. Moments later those gadgets were bouncing from one guardrail to the other. On the first pass down the track the car spun HARD off the line, the driver lifted and re-accelerated, then it moved hard left at 300 foot and he lifted and gained control and then of all things, hit the throttle again. Now the car went very deliberate and immediately hard right and into the rail and back across the track. Thats a perfect example of a car that was being driven beyond its tuned ability. It required more than two A changes and one B change to get it from point A to point B. You may think this is the slow road to progress but you WILL find progress in this manner of thinking. If the road is too slow then you need to get to the track more or hire someone to make some baseline decisions for you. Then you or your tuner can make Level A and B decisions after the tuners baselines have improved the program. Progression in racing on a serious level is sometimes slow but hurting parts or destroying cars is even slower. Sometimes, accidents happen, cars wreck, parts burn up. But if these incidents are coupled with educated decisions and a slow path of progression, then fate played the major role, not lack of ability or dangerous risktaking.
Next time we’ll talk about segment racing and I can also explain why a car can pick up 1.6 mph in the eighth and only 1 or less at the finishline. Got your brain working didn’t I…good. Thats what this section is for…thanks for reading.