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.


Physics is a science where we work with matter and energy and their interactions in the fields of mechanics. We are working with physics, for instance, every time we change gear ratios in our cars or the driveshaft alignment. We are changing the mechanical advantage of the engine in its relationship to accelerating the car. We do follow the SM in determining the correct gear ratio for our car at a particular racetrack.

Physics is also applied when tuning our engine for maximum horsepower or optimizing the torque curve. We observe how quickly we accelerate down the straight-aways and compare our times with the competition. If we are deficient, we work to make improvements.

Adjusting brake bias through a mechanical leverage system or by installing different diameter master cylinders is a good example of using the laws of physics to adapt our race cars to the forces of deceleration.

Settings such as bumpsteer, roll steer, and Ackermann, if not correct, can ruin an otherwise great spring and moment center combination. We use various instruments to evaluate our suspension geometry such as laser alignment tools, bumpsteer gauges and computerized racing programs.


This is a branch of mechanical engineering where we deal with forces and how they act on an object, or race car in our example, and how the car reacts to those forces. Our quest for higher performance must involve the study of dynamics and how our car is able to conform to the various forces it encounters lap after lap.

We have tools we need to study exactly what might be affecting our race car. These tools include tire temperature gauges, pressure gauges, tread depth gauges, shock travel indicators, and up to and including data acquisition. Of equal use are computer programs that tell us our moment center location and camber change characteristics as well as the dynamic balance of the car.

We are continually working to improve the dynamic condition of our race cars to make sure the four tires are working as hard as possible. Then we will be as fast as we can be relative to the limitations of tires, track surface conditions and available horsepower.

The word failure should never be used to describe an experiment that does not produce the desired results. We succeed in ...


Aerodynamics is a branch of racing dynamics that deals with the movement of air across the race car body and the pressures exerted on it while the car is in motion. We now know much more about how aero creates downforce. We use that knowledge to construct our cars so that we can take advantage of higher amounts of downforce to add "load" to the tires without adding weight to the car.

Stock cars often top 100 mph, even on the shortest racetracks. Even at the legal speed limit of 70 mph on the highway, we can stick our hand out of the window and feel the tremendous force of the rush of air. When we harness this force, we improve the way our cars grip the surface of the racetrack.

Thermodynamics is an area of Physics that deals with the mechanical action or relations of heat. Smokey developed an extremely high degree of knowledge of thermodynamics and could converse with the best PhDs around. He helped to develop advanced methods and technology related to the internal combustion engine within a small and underfinanced shop in Daytona Beach, Florida. It was referred to as his "inner-sanctum" because when he was on a quest, he became completely absorbed in the work. We may never find a better example of a racing scientist.

Smokey had a long list of accomplishments and successes. Even with his relatively low budgets and simple tools, he made remarkable discoveries that any well financed institution or corporation would be proud of.

The racing engine, as I learned in my thermodynamics class, is merely a heat exchange device that converts fuel into heat and then into energy. The more efficiently we can cause this exchange, the more energy we can produce, which is measured in our engines as horsepower and torque. When we tune the spark advance timing or carburetor air/fuel ratio, we are refining the process of heat exchange.

Outside the engine compartment, the brakes are heat generators too. The brakes on our cars convert energy to heat to help stop the car. Excessive heat is not desirable and can cause the brakes to fail. The disc brake system was incorporated into many race car designs to overcome deficiencies in the older production drum brake systems.

Along with that change, we have developed better compounds for use in our brake pads and improved rotor designs that will endure high heat and wear and that are designed to help vent heat away from the pads. Racers invented brake fluid cooling systems that recirculate and cool the fluid. Along the way, there has been further development to produce more heat resistant brake fluids.

Tire performance involves heat too. The tires benefit from heat so they can be more compliant to the racetrack. Without heat, the various internal compounds would not work to soften the rubber to help make the tire adhere to the track. So we read the heat in the tires and use that data to tell us how efficiently the tire is working. We make changes to the setup, geometry and air pressures largely based on these tire heat readings.


Hydraulics is another branch of science that deals with practical applications of a liquid in motion. Our race car has several hydraulic systems. Water flows to the engine through the water pump then out to radiator and back. Oil flows from the oil pan or reservoir to the bearings, pistons, valves, and more and through a cooler and back to the engine. Brake fluids also flow from the master cylinder to the slave cylinder, or brake calipers, and absorb heat and moisture which affects that system.

A lot of research has taken place over the years to improve the cooling of our motors, the lubrication of the engine and the efficiency and longevity of our brake systems. When we modify our radiators, develop water "wetter" heat reducing liquids that can be mixed with the coolant, or regulate the rate of flow of the coolant through the radiator and motor, we are experimenting in the field of science known as hydraulics.


Chemistry is a science that deals with the composition, structure, and properties of substances and with the transformations they undergo. Is there really chemistry in Racing? When racing parts manufacturers develop better alloys for the aluminum parts we use or improve the brake pads or invent materials that are more fire resistant to use in our driving suits, or for that matter, better tire treatments, the science of chemistry plays a large part in the process.

Brake companies are continually coming up with improved brake components, especially the brake pads. Performance gains come as a direct result of altering the chemical makeup of the pad material based on the real needs of the racers. It is not only the composition that is studied but the overall process of manufacturing the brake pad component that involves chemical process analysis.

Motor oils and oil additives have improved as a direct result of chemical research using new ingredients that provide better lubrication that will reduce the heating and wearing of metal parts. Coatings are chemical treatments of metals that help make the moving parts in our engines, transmissions, and differentials produce less friction and heat. Once we reduce friction we lessen the amount of the engine's horsepower we need to turn those parts and the more horsepower we will have available at the rear wheels to accelerate the car.

Computer Sciences

Almost every team either owns its own dedicated computers or has access to computers. Teams use the computer for many and varied tasks that help improve their racing efforts. From message board participation on the web, to saving data on the setups, a team now has access to a world of knowledge and useful tools that just were not available several years ago.

If I have a question that I need answers to, all I have to do is log onto one of the many world-wide web message boards run by racing companies and racing enthusiasts, present my query and then wait for someone to offer up advice.

If I need to know more about a particular routine or piece of equipment, I can search the web and thousands of links will be found where I can learn what I need to know. I can download software or locate companies that sell computer software that will help me manage my team, simulate my setups and help to redesign my race car.

I can keep up with the whole of the racing industry with my computer and that means finding out who is winning, where series will be racing, which new parts are out, lists of racing technology schools and new and improved techniques for setting up my race car.

The internet has opened up the world of racing as never before. The fact that it is almost instantaneous in the delivery of news and technology makes this medium a must have for everyone who is involved in racing.

Safety in Motorsports

Maybe the greatest leap in technology we have experienced in Motorsports is in the area of safety. Racers can now race more comfortably knowing their bodies can withstand the forces of an impact more efficiently. Motorsports science has helped us to understand the nature of the forces and how we can protect the driver from the negative effects of those forces.

A lot of research went into the development of safer seats, better seatbelts, head-and-neck restraints, safer barriers, more fire-resistant suits and accessories, and so on. The list goes on, but we can all agree that our sport is much safer today than ever before thanks to motorsports scientists.


By now you should have come to the conclusion that what we do and how we do it, not to mention the level of success we have demonstrated over the years in our discoveries, makes us by deed and definition scientists. We, as a group, have done as much good with fewer resources as any other research group probably in the history of mankind.

And the one reason we have been so successful is because racers are not bound by restrictions or self imposed guidelines. Research organizations born out of the higher education system can be stifling as to how quickly individuals are allowed to proceed in their research. Racers know no such boundaries.

Competition is the catalyst that breeds success. We are all driven by an intense desire to improve our product and the sheer numbers of researchers in racing means that this whole endeavor involving the science of racing moves at a quick pace and delivers results that formal scientists would find very impressive.

To find the most successful scientists on earth, we need only look at the everyday racer and realize it is he/she who is most successful, degree or not. The many other dedicated scientists in our society would do well to study the work habits and accomplishments of the men and women who race.

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