Anyone who has spent anytime at a dirt track knows dirt track racers look for any advantage they can get. “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying,” is a common saying. T-shirts with the statement “It ain’t cheating unless you get caught,” are seen almost every race night. Tech officials will tell you, “It’s your job to cheat, and my job to catch ya!” Almost the entire dirt track world embraces that attitude, until something unfamiliar and different comes along. There is always fear in the unknown.
Shannon Davis’ traction control systems have been around more for than 20 years. Operating under the name Davis Technologies, these systems are common in drag racing and road racing series. When Davis first released his traction control system, most racers wondered if it was snake oil. “Did this little box do anything at all?”
When testing showed the system worked, racers wondered if this was going to ruin racing. After all, a car with an electrical gadget that could corner better and faster than a human was a scary proposal. How long before you wouldn’t even need drivers? It’s no wonder that racers didn’t like the idea of a black box controlling the car.
Two decades have passed, and many of the myths born from traction control have been debunked during that time. The one thing that has not changed is fear of the unknown.
While drag racers and road racers are comfortable with it, dirt track racers still respond with “cheater” at the mention of traction-control devices. They may outwardly curse these devices, but many of them secretly buy and install them on their cars in hopes of improving their racing program. Davis refuses to divulge which drivers or teams buy his products. Like any good company owner, he doesn’t even ask.
The most recent traction control products from Davis Technologies:
As discussed earlier, the first thing many racers mention when we say traction control is: “It’s cheating!” Webster’s definition of cheating is “acting dishonestly or unfairly in order to gain an advantage, especially in a game.” Given the circumstances, it is hard to justify traction control as cheating. When anyone can purchase the device, there is not an unfair advantage or anyone acting dishonestly.
We went right to the source and put the question to Shannon Davis, owner and founder of Davis Technologies. Do the Davis Traction Control Units add traction to race cars? “No, these devices can’t do that,” he said. “It’s not like shocks, springs, or tires where you can make a change and gain traction.”
If it doesn’t add traction, what exactly does it do? “It helps drivers control the available traction,” David replied. “Look, fast drivers are always going to be fast. Sure, traction control will help them, but ultimately they have experience and discipline to be consist for 40, 50, or 100 laps. It’s the mid-pack and backmarkers who are going to see the most benefit from traction control. It is like a mistake filter. “The most important things the device does is make the available traction more manageable, and assists the driver in getting as much as he can out of the car.”
The most important things the device does is make the available traction more manageable, and assists the driver in getting as much as he can out of the car. – Shannon Davis
It’s Going To Ruin Racing!
So, if traction control prevents racers from making mistakes, won’t that ruin racing as we know it? “That’s not what I’ve seen,” Davis added. “It has tightened up races. Remember, the fast guys are always going to be fast. This just prevents the slower drivers from getting lapped more often. In many cases, it keeps the drivers on the lead lap. Guys like Bloomquist will still win the races, but the fans will get a better show.”
“We’ve been around for more than 20 years and our products have been used in a lot of series,” Davis claims. “It hasn’t ruined racing in all that time, and it is not going to.”
According to Davis, even if you don’t use the device for racing, there are other areas where traction control can help racers. “Let’s say you are evaluating different shock packages and suspension setups,” he explained. “The traction-control device will ensure consistent laps so the shocks or springs can be accurately measured, without driver miscues. This way you know exactly what the shock setup is doing without worrying about spastic driver responses.” We can see the value in getting honest data during testing, and this method certainly doesn’t break any sanctioning body or track rules.
Is the device too expensive? How does it stack up to the claim that these devices only help the rich racers? “I hear that a lot,” Davis said. “Does having a backup car, extra engines, or a top-notch crew help racers who can afford it? Of course it does. Anything you pay for, and put on your car or trailer which helps the driver, benefits those who can afford it.”
What about other applications and races? “Many series have quietly removed any reference to traction-control devices,” he said. “Take the Chili Bowl Nationals for instance. There were several cars running our traction control there. I’m not going to tell you who, but it is not against the rules there. They did very well, but we’ve always been discrete with racers using the devices.” Then he made his strongest point. “We’ve been in the Chili Bowl Nationals for years and traction control hasn’t ruined that race. If anything, the Chili Bowl had it’s best year ever.”
How It Works
In circle track racing, spinning tires makes the car harder to drive, creates higher tire temps, and is a major cause of excessive tire wear. When the driver feels the tires spin, they immediately lift off of the throttle and counter-steer to correct the situation. Ultimately, this slows the car down. “If a driver makes a 5-percent mistake, he has to correct it 20- to 25-percent to fix the mistake,” said Davis. “But if the tire-slip is detected within one cylinder worth of crank rotation, as the Davis Technologies systems do, then a small reduction in power can reduce or stop the tire-slip.”
Using input from the distributor, Davis Traction Control Systems will periodically compare the rate of acceleration of the crankshaft to a threshold-rate determined by the system. If the engine RPM rate of change is in excess of that threshold, then a correction is made, reducing the amount of tire-slip. According to Davis, “the comparison is made every cylinder,” which is a quarter of a turn of the crankshaft. Most of the Davis Traction Control systems will allow the driver to adjust the threshold value, allowing them to fine-tune the car’s feel.
Some drivers are going to be helped and others won’t understand how to use it to the maximum potential. Ultimately, it is just another tool in the racer’s toolbox.
Davis has worked on his systems’ processes where the system constantly evaluates the track, tire, and driving conditions to update the settings – as many as 200 times per second – to keep the unit calibrated to the ever-changing conditions.
He contends the system will self-learn and adjust to correct the settings “even if one corner has more grip than another, or even one groove to another.” However, the biggest bragging point in the latest version of the Davis Traction Control systems is the speed and learning capability of the systems. This allows teams to focus on chassis setup, and not be distracted by adjusting traction-control settings like other systems which work on a percentage of slip between the front and rear wheels.
We’ve seen technology change in circle track racing through the years. No one thought power steering would be common in dirt circle track racing 30 years ago. No one ever believed fuel-injection would be attempted in circle track racing. Many of the same fears were brought up and addressed. We have witnessed these innovations becoming a help to the sport, not destroy it.
Among the worst complaints about traction control is the cost. It is another cost which drives up the price of racing, many complain. Racing is expensive, period. The days of going to a junkyard and building a winning car at the track are over. Traction control is an option and nobody is forcing anyone to buy it. However, when racers find out it works, they will all want it. That is just a racer’s mentality.
With traction control on almost every street vehicle sold in showrooms today, it is only a matter of time until it is accepted in all forms of dirt track racing. How long will it be before factory street stock cars start showing up with OE traction control on the track, if they are not already.