6. The use of computers has enhanced our knowledge of race car dynamicsover the years. We can now "see" more efficiently what the car is doingand better understand what the car wants. In your experience, how havecomputers in racing helped you to gain more technical knowledge aboutthe race car of today?
Computerized spring rating...
Computerized spring rating apparatus provide speedy and accurateanalysis of the spring rate for a specific range of compression (i.e.,in the working range of the spring based on its location in the car).
Block tells us: "Twenty years ago, I used suspension software on theIndy Cars and learned a ton. That software is still just as valuabletoday for any weekend racer. Twelve years ago, I got a major educationusing engine software, which is still (if not more) viable today for allracers. Six years ago, I got into data acquisition, and the learning hasnever stopped. Shocks have gone from black magic to simple science.Chassis flex way more than you could ever imagine, and your jaw will hitthe floor the first time you see live tire temperatures all the wayaround the track. Best of all, I can now tell how fast the car could go(i.e., lap time) in spite of the driver."
7. A question that is often asked is, "Where do I start with computers?"A racer wants to know how to get started and the basic cost versusbenefits of investing in computers and systems. What advice would youoffer?
Gertgen advises, "Start with a simple front roll center program. It'seasy enough for beginners, and you won't get frustrated, as it's veryintuitive."
"Like any learning experience, the enthusiast should pick what worksbest for him or her. If it's learning through personal interaction, thena class (often a free evening or weekend class at a civic center) wouldbe a great start. If it's quiet, personal study, then there are manyvery good 'getting started' books," Atherton suggests. "All in all,start off cheap and learn. It's doesn't have to cost a lot to getstarted [a used computer and low-end simulation package can be purchasedfor a couple of hundred dollars!]."
"If you don't have a computer, chances are you can get one for free froma friend, family member, or even a work place that is upgrading orlikely to have an old one collecting dust. If it is new enough to have aCD drive, then it will likely be fine for most any suspension or enginesoftware currently on the market," says Block.
8. There are a lot of teams who compete at the above-average level,which includes dirt and asphalt touring teams. Their budgets aresomewhat larger, in many cases, than that of a team who "stays at home"every week. With the need to adjust to new tracks and conditions, howcan computers help?
This computer is located atop...
This computer is located atop the pit cart and used during the race toplan pit strategy as well as keep track of track position and lap timesby being linked to the scoring system at the track.
"On the free end of the spectrum, you can use spreadsheets to trackeverything from hauler inventory to travel expenses. Software for enginetuning (weather, elevation, and so on) is great for anybody thattravels, and these usually cost less than $100. Suspension modelingsoftware can also help, but data acquisition is the ultimate tool. Youwill learn more in a one-day test with data acquisition than with awhole year's worth of racing." Block says.
"Again, in my situation", adds Atherton, "with the viewpoint of asimulation designer, this is exactly why we create and use simulations.It makes it possible for the low-budget teams to get an edge on whatwould be otherwise unavailable extensive testing or even unavailableexpertise."
9. Although most average racers will never race at the top levels suchas Nextel Cup, Grand Am, Indy Car, F1, and so on, some of the technologyand information acquired through the use of computers does cross overand apply to more than one form of racing. What are your experienceswith technology that have crossed over, be it "down" or "up"?
Gertgen offers, "John Block of Autoware is providing a seminar series onthe Web about data loggers and how to use the data to tune your vehicleor driving technique. John has experience in Nextel Cup and Busch and ispassing it directly to the short-track racer. This is an excellentopportunity to learn about data loggers and racing in general."
Block adds, "Don't forget sideways or totally different technologytransfer. For example, I use a software package developed for dragracing when I am working on cars at Daytona or Talladega. This is anincredible aid as witnessed by the fact that we (teams he has workedwith) have been on the pole at both places!"
10. As a professional who utilizes computers almost on a daily basis todesign and refine race cars, what thoughts can you share that might helprace teams at all levels feel more comfortable using computers in theirracing programs?
John Block downloads data...
John Block downloads data after a test run. He has refined the art ofreading the various data and using that to interpret such areas ofperformance as driver skills, engine performance related to trackconfiguration, and so on. Without the ability to read data, many of the"diseases" associated with ill-handling cars would go completelyunnoticed.
"Well, I don't know how comfortable it will make them, but theircompetition is using computers and simulation technology, and if theyignore this resource, they simply won't be able to compete effectively.If they like using high-tech tools, like a great Snap-on wrench thatfeels so good in your hand, then they should look at computers as justanother slick, high-tech tool. It is the natural progression of our'information' society to use more and more computational tools, andserious racers need to embrace this technology; it's not going away anytime soon," says Atherton.
Gertgen is brutally honest when he tells us about his experiences:"We're on computers six to twelve hours a day. We still lose datasometimes because the computer locks up in the middle of something. Weuse software daily where we're only using 10 percent of its featuresbecause we don't have time to learn the whole program. Or, we'll stilljump right into a new program before reading the manual. Don't be tooembarrassed to call for tech help, as we've probably had the same thinghappen to us. You also provide us with valuable feedback to make ourprogram better."
And finally, while I generally don't let these discussions evolve intoadvertisements as such, the following is just too good an opportunityfor the average racer to pass up. For just $20 for four sessions or $35for all eight, Block is offering online Web seminars teaching dataacquisition technology.
"We have started doing seminars online to eliminate apprehension and getracers up to speed. It is sort of like a bulletin board, butturbocharged with rocket fuel and steroids! A racer logs into ourvirtual conference room where we have live classes. You hear theinstructor on your computer speakers and see the instructor's slides onyour screen. If you have a microphone connected to your computer, youcan ask the instructor (or anyone else in the room) questions;otherwise, there is a section where you see live text messages on thescreen. It is a new concept that is becoming very popular, and theracers tell us they really enjoy the sessions."
In this day and age, computers can do for us what was only imagined justa few years ago. Take advantage of all of the opportunities for datastorage, record keeping, suspension design, engine simulation, and dataacquisition. All you need is to get started. The simple programs are theplace to begin and get your feet wet. Once you see what is possible, itwill be an easy step to more involved software and computers.