The application of scientific principles to racing has advanced the sport in many differen
What describes a person is directly related to the way he or she does things. In racing, we all think, act, and work in a way that meets the definition of "scientific research." That being said, we can be referred to as scientists. That is not a stretch of the imagination, just an honest evaluation of what we do.
No one ever said that in order to be a scientist you needed a college degree or, in fact, any education at all. Thomas Edison, one of America's greatest scientists and inventors, certainly did not possess a degree. Neither did Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Graham Bell, or for that matter, our very own astute scientist, Smokey Yunick. A true scientist, with or without a degree, is one who does scientific research and finds answers to phenomena that has been observed.
Remember that many new race car parts and improvements of existing parts were born out of the desires of everyday racers to improve the racing package. If not for organized racing, we would not enjoy many of the advanced designs of suspensions and improved engine systems that are now incorporated into the modern passenger car.
Fuel injection, disc brakes, independent suspension systems, adjustable shock absorbers, power steering systems, and especially safety systems all benefited in their refinement from data accumulated through the process of racing. We are still learning how to improve the motor vehicle by observing and adapting to conditions encountered while racing.
The legendary Bill Simpson is a typical example of a racing scientist. He has worked to im
The so-called scientific method (SM) is a process used by scientists to study areas of our environment. Race cars are an object of interest to those on the race team, and we possess a strong desire to find ways to make our cars handle better and go faster.
Here is how we commonly define and apply the SM to racing. In most definitions, the scientific method involves the following five steps.
1. We observe and describe an occurrence or trend (e.g., "The driver states that the car is pushing in Turns 1 and 2.").
2. We further define the problem by discovering exactly what is happening. "The tight condition starts on turn entry and gets worse in the middle. The tire temperatures show an overworked right-front tire."
3. We then formulate several hypotheses or theories as to why this is happening. "The front geometry is designed poorly, the alignment is off, the front brakes may be gripping more than the rear brakes, or the car just might have too much crossweight."
4. We then perform a series of experiments to attempt to isolate the problem to one or more of the theories. We first check the location of the moment center, presence of Ackermann, bumpsteer, and excess camber change, and adjust as necessary. Then we proceed to realign the car, adjust the brake bias, and then adjust the crossweight percentage in that order.
At the '06 edition of the Performance Racing Industry trade show, racers came to learn abo
5. We then formulate a conclusion once we have experimented and isolated the actual source(s) of the problem. "Once we aligned the car, it was much better. We still worked on improving the other theories and found we could use some more rear brake bias, and we also found we were actually a little low on crossweight once we straightened out the alignment problem."
Does this sound familiar to you? Of course it does. We all go through this process continually, not only with our setups, but also with engine and driveline problems. We are acting and performing in exactly the same way as a scientist. While we may not really want to be known as scientists, we need to get over it and come to understand how significant our contributions are to the automotive community.
Sir Karl Popper was a philosopher of science who is said to have solved the puzzle of the scientific method. He made this statement, which can be applied to the racer or engineer who thinks he or she "knows it all": "The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth."