Many of you reading this column may have experienced what I did in school sometime around the 9th or 10th grade. It had to do with why it was so important to study mathematics beyond the level of basic arithmetic. I clearly remember wondering how any part of algebra or trigonometry could be applied to everyday life and certainly not to my then-growing interest in racing engines. It all just seemed not to connect.
However, in subsequent years as I began reaching out to engine builders in local areas who were clearly successful in their craft, the realization crept in that maybe there was really something useful about at least a minimum of mathematical skills other than just arithmetic. In fact, it became apparent that there were multiple reasons for expanding that particular area of knowledge, well beyond knowing how to read a micrometer and measure bearing clearances. Actually, far beyond.
While I didn’t realize it at the time, my desire to learn as much as possible about configuring high performance or racing engines became a subtle motivator to really dig into the subject of mathematics. Over the course of the next several decades of time, opportunities abounded to not only get to know but to actually work with some of the people who were making or had made their marks on motorsports. Smokey was only one of them, thankfully.
Here’s where I’m going with all this. There are fathers of young racers (or racers-to-be) reading this magazine who not only support their youngsters’ motorsports interests but who likely want them to be more successful than they themselves may have been. It happens all the time. Developing technical, math-related skills in a variety of areas can become of both short- and long-term value. There is a minimum of two core values to be derived.
See if this makes sense. Some of the most successful engine builders of today are engineers as well. Given the level of contemporary engine technology, computing speed and power and an academic background to knit these elements together is a powerful combination. The other value relates to drivers and crew chiefs. Some of the best are well-versed in technical issues, virtually of necessity.
So where does a young person begin, in particular on their own? There’s more than ample information and educational paths available, but none of these can be suitably explored without equally suitable enthusiasm and a desire to learn. One aspect of the learning process involves linking procedures involved in engine building with one of the basic tools inseparable from this activity; mathematics. It’s that simple.
We recently ran across a new publication that addresses this issue. While its title (“Performance Automotive Engine Math”) might at first seem a bit off the beaten circle track path, that turns out to not be the case. On the contrary. Aside from some of the basic mathematics of measuring and computing the usual approaches to compression ratio, piston displacement and other such topics, it reaches into the relevance of piston speed, carburetor sizing, and (as you’ve seen touched upon in this column) such subjects as volumetric efficiency and brake specific fuel consumption.
To complement some of these traditional concepts and methods of calculation, there are chapters on camshaft math, cylinder head math, intake and exhaust system math and suggestions on how to build an engine math spreadsheet. You’ll also find a segment on engine simulation and modeling software. To give you a sense for the book’s tone and intentions, following is a quote in the book’s introduction from its author.
Early on, he learned that “there is always a source that can be referenced to solve a problem. That what this book is for. Somebody smarter than the rest of us figured it all out. We’re just looking for the basics and the practical applications. This is a reference book; a source, if you will. Thanks to the real mathematicians and engineers, wherever they are, we can all use these basic equations to solve problems in our projects.” He further states that his “goal is to help you understand the practical application through repetition. This same ‘no pain’ method can be used by any performance enthusiast to learn and apply the basic math that makes the pistons go up and down and the wheels go round and round. If you have the right equations and learn to work them through repetitive use, your engine math butterflies will quickly vanish.”
The overriding message here points to the importance of developing a technical understanding about how engines work. This can open the door to not only why certain modifications can improve performance but provide a path for making intelligent decisions when selecting or altering parts intended for racing. Long gone are the days when engine parts combinations choices were based largely on what the “fast guys” were running. Now that’s not to say it’s not sometimes helpful to pay attention to racers who are consistent winners. But in the vast majority of cases, all their winning cards won’t be on the table anyway. In fact, how often have you seen “obvious” advantages put up as road-blocks to mask the “non-obvious” ones that are more critical to winning?
So let’s go back to the beginning of this little discussion. Having or developing an open mind to understanding and learning the technical side of engines begins at ground level. Along the way, we expect you will discover that there are historical and sometimes not-so-recognizable relationships among engine parts that can and should be integrated with other components. As an example, we’ve previously suggested the functional relationships between intake and exhaust systems and how valve timing plays into optimizing their performance. There have also been suggestions that an engine’s cylinders should be “tuned” on an individual basis, for the purpose of optimizing net power.
In the end, hopefully, you can see how certain knowledge of these relationships involves tools grounded in mathematics. It’s unavoidable. And because of this, reference materials like the one mentioned earlier will help put you, or that up-and-coming racer in your midst, on the trail of including the workings of math in the engine building (or understanding) process. If you’d like to explore the offerings in the book mentioned earlier, you can go to www.cartech books.com/performance-automotive-engine-math.html for a look.
Meanwhile, Circle Track’s decision some time ago to create space for this Enginology column is further evidence of the publication’s mission that includes forums for its readers seeking to expand their technical information and understanding of engines in general and racing engines in particular. This monthly offering strives to strike a balance between the theoretical and practical sides of knowing how and why engines work as they do. It’s a subtle way of “holding class” in a fashion that doesn’t require any final exams.
My desire to learn as much as possible about configuring racing engines became a subtle motivator to really dig into the subject of mathematics
I clearly remember wondering how any part of algebra or trigonometry could be applied to everyday life and certainly not to my then-growing interest in racing engines.