Innovation is a constant in auto racing

Marietta native, Kevin Brumbaugh says “his passion is driving.” Brumbaugh competes on the local and national level in a Formula F open-wheel car. He is entering his 35th year behind the wheel.

Brumbaugh’s approach to racing is “competing in big races and against tough competition makes me a better driver.” To better learn about his driving style and car setup, Brumbaugh installed a data-acquisition system in his race car. This system provides statistics acquired during a race about his driving progression and overall car performance. Brumbaugh has spent countless hours researching programs, diagnostic sheets and figures to set up his car to obtain maximum performance each time he races.

Sensors on the engine, transmission and suspension allow a technician to dial into a precise setup that reflects the data output. Engine diagnostics report any deviance in RPM range or power output during a run. If peak performance is not achieved, a graph will represent the area within the power plant that may need changed. A new program can be inputed into the computer module to obtain the desired dynamics.

Today’s technological innovations replace the seat-of-the-pants driving diagnostics used by old-school drivers. Detailed information presented on a laptop takes the place of driver jargon about the handling of the car and race track conditions.

Tuners must be able to interpret the data being displayed on a readout or a computer screen. Today’s technicians need computer knowledge due to the various programs being used by racing teams. The basic systems being used can run into the thousands of dollars.

Another technological device Brumbaugh employs is a GoPro Camera. They are known for being lightweight, rugged and universally-mountable in unusual places, such as a car’s rollbar or side pod. This technology allows a driver to download video of his run to adjust his driving line during the race. A driver can visually see where on the track he could alter his car’s suspension to get better handling, greatly improving his overall performance.

Brumbaugh’s next track venture will be on the Fourth of July at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. He has competed at the facility before and obtained loads of data to create a base-line setup for his upcoming race. Brumbaugh has changed his gear ratio and made slight chassis adjustments to hopefully better his running ability.

Another Marietta driver with legendary driving credits is Larry Dickson, who now resides in Athens, raced in the USAC and CART championship series from 1965-81. He was a three-time USAC Sprint Car Series champion in 1968, 1970 and 1975, and won 43 sprint-car races.

Dickson was the all-time series leader until Tom Bigelow broke his record. Dickson competed in eight Indianapolis 500 races, recording a ninth-place finish in 1969.

Dickson described his racing ventures as “like trying to commit suicide each week.” He drove a race car that developed nearly 650 horsepower with minimal-safety measures for drivers. The ability to tune the car or chassis was made by discussing what a driver felt after a practice session, qualifying run or race.

Minimal electronic data was available in the early 1960s. Now, general knowledge of engine parts, tolerances and overall power output has been replaced with computer programs and data acquisition

A driver’s safety measures during the early years were a helmet, jumpsuit and minimal role cages.

To drive under those conditions took skill and no fear of the outcome.

Today’s drivers have benefited from the advent of better cars and stricter safety rules, governed by racing’s sanctioning bodies.

One innovation that has saved lives is the HANS device (Head and Neck Support device), also known as a head restraint, that is a safety item compulsory in many car-racing sports. It reduces the likelihood of head and/or neck injuries, such as a skull fracture, in the event of a crash.

Auto racing has seen technology take over the realm of racing, but the ability and knowledge needed to comprehend the data being passed on from a computer readout or descriptions being reported by a driver is still required. The confrontation of more technology versus better ability will continue for many racing seasons to come.