Editor's note: A conversation with Comp Cam's Billy Godbold is both interesting and revealing. He brings viewpoints that are not only thought-provoking but clear evidence of his penchant to bring new and supportive technologies to the motorsports community. With an M.S. degree in Physics from Florida State University and while working for the Nuclear Physics Group, he chose to join the ranks of the Comp Performance Group to combine his academic background with a passion to improve race engine performance. You'll enjoy his comments.
Over time and from a design perspective, how have you developed programs with racers and engine builders to address specific needs for their applications?
At Comp, we do not believe anything is more critical to success than listening to customers. Once you establish a relationship of mutual trust and respect, then communication flow is great, and we can focus on steps to improve performance.
Customers have to know that we will never share what they are doing with a competitor before they can give us good feedback and information. Once they can tell us where exactly they have issues, what is working well, and how they are trying to improve their system, then we can lock arms with the customer and bring all of our experience, testing and manufacturing resources to bear on their specific needs.
Over my 19 years with Comp Cams, I have seen that model work extraordinarily well while developing everything from new lobe families and lifters to literally hundreds of parts throughout our CPG family of companies. Earning trust, maintaining great communication and nurturing excellent partnerships are absolutely critical.
Billy Godbold stands in front of one of Comp's eight Okuma GC-34NH CNC Cam Grinding Machin
In the past, before engine dynamometers became rather commonplace among the racing community, parts manufacturers essentially aimed their products toward presumed needs and manufacturing techniques. Today, the level of parts specialization has increased dramatically. How have you adjusted to this changing environment?
I really have to thank SEMA for the access to information we have on the OEM side, and give equal thanks to all the race teams and OE suppliers for sharing CAD drawings, models and detailed information on all the new engines.
At times it almost seems as easy as in the late '90s. The difference is our engineering team has grown from two to almost 20, and the tools are so much better from design to testing to manufacturing.
We made a very conscious decision many years ago to stop designing "camshaft lobes" and "tappet lift" as the goal, but instead focus on designing what we thought would be the optimum valve motion for a given application. I know that seems simple, but it is quite difficult. Instead of making a given lobe shape and finding out how the valve moved, we would focus on designing valve motion, then back out the required cam profile needed to achieve that motion. If that profile could not be made, we would work around the system and design until we would get as close as possible.
Implementing that paradigm shift was painfully slow at first, but it put us miles ahead of everyone when the mass influx of new engines and specialization took place. It really was no more difficult for us to design valve motion for an R07, Ford Modular, TRD or anything that came our way than it would have been for a standard small block Chevy. We had great experience with what valve motion characteristics made power, and we were already extremely proficient at designing "at the valve" then working backwards to the camshaft.
The difficulties balancing what the rules makers require and what the engine building and racers want is an ongoing challenge. What role do you see parts manufacturers taking to help satisfy the requirements of these three areas of interest?
The short answer will always be that Comp Cams will make whatever our customers want, and then they can deal with the sanctioning body. We must understand that we are in business to serve our customer, so the balance on the design and manufacturing end is pretty easy.
The long answer comes from our place as a leader in our industry. Racers always do the following: Complain to the sanctioning bodies that they need more rules to be competitive then work their backsides off trying to evade those rules when implemented.
As an industry leader, we should communicate that the most valuable product in motorsports is innovation. In spite of massive efforts by extremely smart individuals, thicker rule books always result in higher cost, less opportunity for the clever engine builders, and more dominance by very wealthy teams. In NASCAR Cup, small engine builders begged for things like a gear rule, no qualifying engines, common chassis and less testing so they could keep up with the super teams. The result was exactly opposite of their intentions. The super teams bought everything from teams of engineers and elaborate endurance dynamometers to test tracks and copied tires. The new rules to save the small guys became the death to the small engine builder in the Cup series. All the parts manufacturers need to communicate the law of unintended consequences to sanctioning bodies, and help them see the pitfalls we have seen in other series.
What types of computer-based design and modeling techniques have you found to be of value when creating parts and systems for today's circle track racing markets? In pursuit of using such technologies, is it more economical and controllable to reach outside your company to enlist these services?
Comp takes a three-legged approach; balancing experience, testing, and modeling. We have used both 3D FEA and more simple "Mass-Spring-Damper" 1D models of valvetrain. Similarly, we have used 3D CFD modeling with engine firing for airflow, and stepped back to constant flow and typical 1D wave analysis approaches. All of the modeling approaches can be extremely beneficial. However, all have to be "tweaked" to match measured results. There are generally damping coefficients in valvetrain models or mass and stiffness values you can modify to achieve good agreement between predicted and measured behavior. You would think that a powerful enough model would need zero "tweaking," but a racing valvetrain has dramatic kinetic energy with coils clashing (often slightly off axis) and parts interacting in ways that are either not well understood or prohibitively difficult to correctly model.
We use the customer relationships to define a problem, then use our experience to layout various paths to explore. Then we prefer to run some baseline test and attempt to dial in a model. From there, we can explore various changes on both the model and testing. As we fine-tune the model, we can greatly reduce the number of tests that need to be run and even predict how changes that we do not have the technology to achieve or easily incorporate might improve the system (for instance a very light hollow head valve).
Anyone not learning to take advantage of a combination of experience, testing, and modeling is competing with a severe disadvantage. However, you must always balance the load on those three legs. The common trap is to lean too heavily on one (say modeling) and greatly reduce the time on others (like testing).
As a parts manufacturer, how do you establish and maintain the confidence of engine builders and racers in the protection of their racing "secrets" as they pertain to specific parts for their individual purposes?
Comp Cams has been around for over 35 years, and our customers know you cannot keep a great reputation in this industry without living and breathing integrity and confidentiality. We might be able to have a tiny spike in sales by sharing one person's secret, but we are not living and dying on quarterly sales reports. We want to keep our business strong year after year, and we value the relationships with our customers even more than our bottom line. Our customers understand nothing ever takes precedence over integrity, relationships, and our reputation.
On a long-term basis, do you see any shifts in how parts manufacturers do business when it comes to manufacturing processes and ways products are distributed?
Manufacturing equipment, capabilities and processes at Comp Cams improve so quickly it is hard to fathom. Things we used to think would be impossible are now common. Right now, I can't image just how it will get better, but ask me in 5-10 years and I'll likely be shocked that we made it by without things that are not even developed yet.
Briefly describe the future health of circle track racing, at whatever level you feel most comfortable commenting about. Where do you anticipate areas of growth or decline?
I'm extremely excited about all the new technologies headed into racing and truly believe this is the most exciting time ever in Valvetrain. Whether viewing from the engine shop, driver seat, or stands, we hope to see these new innovations make racing better, more affordable, reliable, and fun.
How are you positioning your product development plans to take advantage or guard against the answer to the previous question?
At Comp Cams, we love providing and promoting innovation. Lately, we have had tremendous results in both Sprint Car and Late Model racing. Customers are going faster, making more power, turning higher rpm, and breaking fewer parts. I believe this will continue in those and most other circle track venues. Engine builders, racers, fans and event promoters all desire to see great competition and innovation. While we may have seen some bumps in the road with both rules and turns in the overall economy, I certainly believe we have all learned and should be able to work together toward a very bright future. Comp Cams will continue to listen closely to our customers and respond quickly to their needs, following them towards whatever series and engine building applications they find most rewarding.