Since the dawn of the automobile age, automotive gauges have performed one task: to convey critical performance information to the driver as accurately as possible. Tachometers, voltmeters, oil pressure gauges, and numerous others have been entertaining race car drivers for years. But can they do more? Racepak Data Systems of Lake Forest, California, says yes, gauges can be made to do much more than just feed information to a driver.

The company's line of Intelli-Gauges with V-Net (Vehicle Network) technology gives a driver information about the status of a vehicle and can also interpret information to perform functions accordingly. For starters, one wire connects all the gauges into one central unit. The central unit, formally called an Analog Module, collects information from the Sending Unit Transducers (the sensors that attach to the system being monitored). The Analog Module funnels the sensor information into the V-Net Line, and the V-Net Line, a single cable, then connects to the Intelli-Gauges. The V-Net Line is modular and can support 32 gauges.

Most traditional gauges are available for this system, including tachometer, oil pressure, water temperature, vacuum, brake pressure, fuel pressure, and more. The gauges fit in a standard 251/48-inch hole. As far as appearance is concerned, the gauges appear just like analog-style gauges with a needle pointer, and specific information is provided by an LED that displays the recorded numerical data.

The V-Net line can be wired into the optional Racepak V500 or V300 Data Recorder.The Intelli-Gauges contain miniature computers, and each connector, which can extract any information it needs from another gauge via the V-Net line, contains a microprocessor. The Intelli-Gauges can activate other pieces of equipment, such as a fan when water temperatures go too high, a kill switch if oil pressure should drop dangerously low, or an auxiliary warning light. It can also interface information. For example, the engine can be killed because of low oil pressure, but only if the engine is above a certain rpm. It can even trigger a light on the dashboard, or it can do something very complex, like work with a traction-control system.

The V-Net system can be as small as a single gauge and its transducer (sending unit), or it can be as large as a dash full of gauges, plus a data recorder and a host of electronic gadgets. The gauges have user programmable alarms, recall of minimum and maximum readings, step readings, and playback.

The key to the V-Net system is in the connectors, which act as mini computers. The connectors have the ability to store information that can be downloaded into a PC (without the need for the data recorder), via software and special connectors.

The data recorders are capable of using traditional hard-wired sensors as well as V-Net-based sensors. The V500 can accommodate eight digital and eight analog hard-wired sensors. Thirty-two V-Net based sensors can be accommodated with the data recorders.

Introduced in fall 1999, this technology hasn't been on the market long enough for the price to come down to a point where the average Joe could put it on his race car. In fact, the cost will probably never be comparable to traditional gauges. A basic system consisting of five or so gauges and the supporting equipment (without data acquisition) would be in the ballpark of $1,200 to $1,500, depending on the options.

A one-page QuickTech barely skims the surface of all the different things these gauges can do and how they work. Additional issues include the exclusion of data acquisition equipment from a series' rulebook. The NASCAR rulebooks (in any of its series) certainly don't allow for even the most basic recording devices to be used in competition. However, many other sizable series throughout the country may have no objections to high-tech gauges. Only time will tell. Nonetheless, these gauges represent a leap forward in how real-time information can be manipulated into better race car performance.

ManufacturerRacepak Data SystemsDept. CT0726806 Vista Ter., Lake Forest, CA 92630949/580-6898www.racepak.com