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Notes on books on race car engineering

I ordered the four books I'm covering here from HP Books when I was at the Performance Racing Industry show and I'm supplying both their product number and the ISBN code in case you want to order them, or you can order them from us here on the site in the LEMD Store. HP has a long list of useful books - they always have. When I had my BMW shop in the Seventies, their Turbochargers volume was my Bible.

Anyway, I approach books like these from two viewpoints: are they entertaining to read and are they good tools. Using those criteria, I suppose you could rank these four books, but I'd have to give Aerodynamics by Forbes Aird and Race Car engineering & Mechanics by Paul Van Valkenberg a tie. I find Paul's book the more entertaining. As tools it's hard to choose between them. The other two, Brake Systems by Mike Mavrigian and Larry Carley and How to Make Your Car Handle by Fred Puhn are both easy to read and good basics. All four are worth having in your library. Anyone serious about performance engineering should have a personal library of the books you'll use for reference and perspective. By reading all four of these, for example, you'll get solid formulas as well as different opinions on how things work together. By reading all of them you get more data. To these for your personal library, I'd add Milliken's Race Car Vehicle Dynamics - both the text and the workbook. And don't forget Carroll Smith's books. The list is on the website.

Brake Systems by Mike Mavrigian and Larry Carley (1998, ISBN1-55788-281-9) HP Books - 1281

This book is very informative from the standpoint of the basics on how brakes work and some of what's involved in maintaining brake systems. The majority is basic brake building or street applications; for example, there's a chapter on troubleshooting ABS. The authors do include some information on certain kinds of racing brakes and the how-to stuff is pretty good, if simplistic. The formulas are useful and basic. This is the core book for people who don't know anything about brakes - and is entertaining as well. For instance there's a chapter about the first 24 Hour race the guys did and they figured they'd need some way to dissipate the heat from brake pads they changed out during the race, so they brought a four gallon plastic bucket and filled it with water. Well in the time it took for the hot brake pad to sink to the bottom of the bucket, it hadn't shed enough heat to keep it from melting a hole in the bottom, leading the authors to conclude "Always use a metal bucket - and be sure to keep plenty of burn cream, disinfectant and bandages in the pit during a race."

This is a good volume for those who are new to the game. The writing is clear, the pictures are good and it's easy to understand. For maintaining and upgrading street stuff, it's excellent, offering the basics on how power brakes, drum brakes, disc brakes and ABS work. You could dig out the information on how to set up competition brakes, but this is definitely aimed at the introductory level

How to Make Your Car Handle by Fred Puhn (1981, ISBN 0-812656-46-8) HP Books - 46

This is an intriguing book because its publication date makes it nearly twenty years old and it is very interesting to look at how much things have changed in that time. I'd say that a good portion is based on what was going on in the mid to late-Seventies and that makes parts of the book very, very dated. The chapter on tires, for example, is so far away from what's happening in modern tires it becomes an historical treatise on the subject. The book suffers from that. For example, there's a large section on leaf springs and some of the examples given are things like ground clearances for the Porsche 928, Ford Pinto, MGB, Renault 17, Saab 96, BMW Bavaria and VW "Thing." The section on shocks is just old and the resource list in the back of the book includes companies that no longer exist, and old addresses for ones that do. Others are missing: Pro, Afco, JRZ and even Penske aren't on the shocks list.

However, this is a very, very good resource for understanding the basics and for the formulas on handling: lateral acceleration. Braking force, roll stiffness, center of gravity, and the like. Fred makes some comment about street suspensions I don't agree with, but it's a solid, basic book on how suspensions work and provides the engineering formulas for determining the parameters of the car and getting what you want. The rules of physics and the rules of geometry don't change

The following two books are both fun to read, clever and packed to the gunwhales on the subject. Both authors are extraordinarily good at what they do. For anyone dealing with a vehicle that runs more than 60 mph these are must haves - not just must-reads. You should have them in your library. I think the two books should be thought of as a matched set. The next step up from here is Milliken.

Aerodynamics for Racing and Performance Cars by Forbes Aird (1997 ISBN 1-55788-267-3) HP Books - 1267

This book covers this specific subject in greater depth and with more historical notes than Paul's book. It contains the useful formulas and very clear explanations of how they're applied. For example on page 55 there's a sidebar about calculating the CD of a drag chute. This chapter, on aerodynamic braking, also covers the Mercedes Benz flaps.

Forbes offers the clearest and simplest description of how to calculate drag that I've ever seen. The book covers sprint cars and dragsters, land speed record cars, sports cars and drafting in stock cars. He talks about the two kinds of energy consumed by wheels: rolling resistance in tires and cylinder form drag. There's a great, clear comparison on page 10 of the effects of frontal area on drag and a chapter on the Goldenrod, the holder since 1964 of the land speed record for wheel driven cars. The car looks like a needle and from end-on is almost invisible. As a result it has the lowest drag coefficient of any car ever built. (Forbes also makes what I consider a very accurate comment that people don't usually say: that it's virtually impossible for a car to reach it's theoretical top speed because there's so little actual power left for acceleration that you run out of room.)

The chapter on streamlining has bits I ended up reading aloud: "We all have our pet villains; Raymond Loewy is one of mine. This late industrial designer is widely credited for introducing the "streamlined look" which he and his followers applied to everything from toasters to tv sets. This movement… worked much to the detriment of society's understanding about technological artifacts… How do you go about getting someone's poetic license revoked?" I'm very glad someone has finally quantified how terrible and dangerous some of the streamliners were. The faster you went, the more lift you got. The designers weren't thinking about downforce, they were thinking streamlining, so the Benz, for example had to start lifting 'halfway down the Musanne straight' to get the car to settle down, so that pushing the brake pedal or turning the wheel actually had an effect on the car. Of course we have a perfect understanding of the problem now. Just ask a couple of Benz drivers at LeMans and a certain Porsche driver at Road Atlanta. "Ground. Sky. Ground. Sky. Oh, shit…."

In the chapter about the history of aerodynamics, Forbes talks about the Chapparal and then compares it to sprint car. He quotes physical statements and includes good stories. One approach I particularly like is that he'll cover a subject from different aspects. For example, he talks about the effects of rear spoilers in the chapter on wing theory and then again about them somewhere else.

Race Car Engineering & Mechanics by Paul Van Valkenburgh (2000 ISBN 1-55788-366-1) HP Books - 1064

Paul wrote the original edition of this book in 1976 and has updated it three times since. The current edition includes his thoughts about the computerization of the sport, particularly in pit lane and all you have to do is read what he has to say about Expert Systems on page 167 in in Chapter 17, The Race Car of the Future, to understand why I say, "If you see Van Valkenburgh in pit lane, you'd better hope he's not in someone else's pit!"

This is an outstanding book and part of the introduction explains why I think it is so valuable and important (remember that he wrote this in 1976).

"It is possible that many of the things I write here were previously known only by a very few professional racers. However, that doesn't mean that I'm so smart I know everything there is about racing… With the exception of Carroll Smith most other people haven't been fortunate to have the engineering education or the driving experience or the mechanical experience or the writing experience to do the job…. I have tried to cover all the areas of race car engineering, theory, development and mechanics as completely as possible and in a balanced manner. That is something that (to my knowledge) hasn't existed before."

Paul Van Valkenburgh has what I consider to be all the essential ingredients it takes to make a top-flight race engineer: the formal background, real world knowledge of wrenches and ratchets, and seat time. This business requires that its engineers have theory, on-the-job training and are drivers. I don't believe you can do it lacking any of those three. Just looking at the chapter titles gives you a sense of the comprehensive approach: · How to Win: People, knowledge, preparation · Wheels & tires · Suspension geometry and alignment · Springs, anti-roll bars, shock absorbers · Brakes · Aerodynamics And then he opens chapter 7 (page 70), on Handling, by saying "Once the previous chapters are understood it is possible to combine them all in one manageable whole." That gives you a good idea of how Van Valkenburgh thinks. You can't just go to Chapter 7 and get magic answers. It doesn't work like that.

In the chapter on springs he covers torsion bars, leaf springs and an overview of the hardware and then he tells you the formulas for spring rate and torsion bar rate and why you want to know that - he comments on which parts of the formula are important. For example, commenting on the spring rate he uses the equation to show how changes in the wire diameter will have a different effect than changes in the coil diameter (inferring something most people don't understand- - that the longer a spring is, the softer it is.)

Finally, when it comes to racing development, he (and I) think it's important to explain by the end of the book how all the elements fit to together.

I'd be interested to know what you think about these selections and how they might fit into your racing/educational program. That's it for now. Back to shoveling.

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