How we interact with each other is partly related to the way in which we each go about our daily processes. In the world of racing, we all think, act, and work in a way that meets the definition of scientific research. Therefore, we can correctly be referred to as scientists. That's 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 inventor 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 parts and improvements of existing parts were born out of the desires of everyday racers to improve on 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, disk 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.

Scientific Method Defined

The scientific method (SM) is a process sometimes used by scientists to study areas of our environment that we may need to know more about or that are not working correctly and need fixing. 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. So, we necessarily apply the SM to those cars.

Here's how we commonly define and apply the SM to racing. In most definitions, the scientific method involves these five steps.

We Observe and Describe an Occurrence or trend as in, "The driver states that the car is pushing in Turns 1 and 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."

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."

We then Perform 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.

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 high 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 that can be applied to the racer or engineer who thinks they "know 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." How profound.

The word failure should never be used to describe an experiment that does not produce the desired results. We succeed in increasing knowledge whatever the outcome of our experimentation.

If you or the person who leads your team rejects scientific input and always insists on being right, you may have reached the limit of advancement in the development of the team. The most successful racers are always open to new ideas, no matter what the source. Winning teams search for truths and losing teams either search for what the winning teams have discovered or remain stagnant because they "already know it all."

In seeking the truth in racing science, we need to put aside our egos and understand that we can, and often will, be wrong in the search for a better race car. Not all theories will come across as improvements, but all experimentation teaches us something, even if it is only the fact that we should not go in a certain direction again.

Now that we know a little more about who we really are, let's take a look at how each of these areas of natural science is applied to our race cars.