No one can deny the importance of cooling systems for race cars. In the sometimes-superhot environs of the racetrack, a radiator becomes especially vital in keeping an engine cool enough to make it to the finish line.
A radiator is one of those things that tends to be taken for granted until it fails. Fortunately for today's racer, the reliability of radiators has been elevated to a very satisfactory level. Not only that, but they can also be purchased with numerous options, such as internal oil coolers, several rows of cooling capacity, and any outlet configuration a racer wants.
There was a time when the only real choice in a radiator was between a heavy or an even heavier unit. In the early days of racing, radiators were cumbersome copper/brass contraptions that often could not stand up to the rigors of racing, and many a racer found his fortune going up in steam as the car sputtered to a halt.
Luckily, as technology moved forward, these old-style radiators have become relics and have been replaced by units manufactured from aluminum. Although there are some exceptions, aluminum radiators are virtually all you will find in race cars today. And there is a good reason for that-they're light, efficient, durable, and affordable.
Because these units are in such widespread use, Circle Track thought this would be a good time to take a look at how today's radiators are manufactured. To accomplish this, we spoke with Buddy Griffin of Griffin Radiator in Piedmont, South Carolina; Gary Johnson of Fluidyne Racing Products in Ontario, California, and Chris Paulsen of C & R Radiator in Indianapolis. Each company contributed information that helped us compile this simple overview of how radiators are made.
Cool ScienceHow a radiator cools is an uncomplicated process. In simple terms, radiator tubes provide the primary source for heat release. The tubes, in combination with the so-called radiator fins, provide a broad surface area for rapid heat dissipation. Air movement through the radiator is the final ingredient in the process. As air moves across and through the fins and tubes, heat is carried away, and if everything is working properly, the water temperature is maintained at a satisfactory operational level.
Pieces To The PuzzleRadiators have several parts that go together in making each unit. Tubes, fins, headers, and tanks are the basic parts of a radiator, and each part has a critical function. The radiator tubes are flat, which creates a broad surface area for heat dissipation. The fins are light aluminum ribbons, which are in a corrugated-looking configuration. The headers serve as an anchor for the tubes and provide a link between the tubes and the water tanks. Finally, there are the water tanks, which are made to hold proper amounts of water to keep motors cool.
Putting It TogetherThe assembly of a radiator begins with the assembly of tubes and fins. This process is known as core stacking. As each core is completed, the tubes and fins are strapped together, then it's on to the next step: the placement of the headers.
It's A Bonding ThingOnce the cores have been assembled, they are ready for the bonding process called brazing. In simple terms, brazing is a process that takes place in a furnace for a specified temperature and time. The result of this procedure is a core that is bonded together as a strong single unit.
When the cores are complete, water tanks are mounted. The basic water tank is designed to hold the correct volume of water to cool an engine, however, virtually any custom design can be provided. Tanks may be configured to contain oil coolers, transmission coolers, and baffles. Baffles are used to produce a double-pass unit in which water passes through the core twice before returning to the engine.
Cool PowerThe size of a radiator, both numbers of rows, and dimensions are dependent on a given application. Racing radiators are available in standard and nonstandard versions, but whatever the application, there are many quality radiator suppliers available to racers.
It's Tubular, ManThe very foundation of the radiator is the tubes, which are the heart of the radiator core. Tubes are formed on a machine called a tube mill, and Circle Track had the opportunity to see one such machine at Griffin Radiator, where they make the tubes for all of their units. Company President Buddy Griffin explained to us how a tube mill actually works.
A tube mill is a complex series of processing units put together so that a flat piece of aluminum ribbon is fed into one end of the machine and a finished tube is expelled out the other. In between, of course, there is a lot of high-tech stuff going on that makes it all happen.
Radiator tubes begin life as a flat piece of aluminum on a roll. The width of the aluminum will determine the size of the tube. Tubes are available in 1- 111/44-, and 111/42-inch sizes.
As the aluminum is fed into the machine, it passes through a series of special mill heads that channel, bend, and form the aluminum into what becomes a tube. After the aluminum has been formed into a tube shape, it passes through a final unit that welds the aluminum, thus sealing the tube.
During the process of tube making, random samples are put through rigorous pressure and integrity checks. Each tube run is tested for pressure. Additionally, tube samples are inspected under microscopic conditions to verify the integrity of the weld. In the end, this quality certification ensures that the tubing will withstand the demands of racing.
ManufacturersAFCO Racing ProductsDept CT01977 Hyrock BlvdBoonville, IN 47601812/897-0900
C & R Racing IncDept CT01286-A Gasoline AlleyIndianapolis, IN 46222317/241-0774
Fluidyne Racing ProductsDept CT014850 Airport RdOntario, CA 91761800/266-5645
Griffin RadiatorsDept CT01100 Hurricane Creek RdPiedmont, SC 29673864/845-5000
Howe Racing Enterprises IncDept CT013195 W. Lyle RdBeaverton, MI 48612516/435-7080
Ron Davis Racing ProductsDept CT017334 N. 108th AveGlendale, AZ 85307800/842-5166