A Consistent Measurement of Track Conditions: The Track-Meter

So I am sitting on the wall at US 131 in Martin Michigan for the ADRL race, waiting for a small clean up on track from some fluids. I see Extreme 10.5 racer Spiro Pappas and tuning guru Don Bailey walk out on the track with some contraption in hand. Spiro plops the device on the surface and then jumps on it with his knees. Is this some new workout machine for racers? When they pulled it off the surface I saw the rubber-like pad on the bottom mixed with the torque wrench on the top, it clicked – someone made a device that measures traction, away with shoe stomping and in with the Track-Meter.

The Track-Meter has been a hot item in the NHRA Top Fuel ranks for a little while, but since I haven’t shot one in a few years, I haven’t seen it. This was the first time I have seen the Track-Meter in the door car ranks. I first called up Grahm Jones, Crew Chief at Sprio Pappas racing, which relayed me over to the man behind the Track-Meter, Larry Wolyniec. But before I called Larry, Grahm shared their experience with the Track-Meter:

“After we compiled the information from the Track-Meter and got use to using it, it makes it so much better than your shoe. It has been a godsend to us. It really helps increase consistency as we dial in our boost/power levels to accommodate the track conditions. If we see 100-150 in/lbs we know the track is in poor shape, but if it’s near 300, we know the track has some teeth”

The Man Behind the Track-Meter: Larry Wolyniec

Larry has been involved in Top Fuel racing for a long time, coming out originally from the old Chi-Town Hustlerdriven by Frank Hawley in the early 80’s. He has most recently been working with the Bill Miller Engineering team for the last few years. Around 5-years ago when the car was fresh, they didn’t have much data on the car and constantly found themselves up in smoke off the line. From there, they knew they needed a software that would help them dial the car into the track better, but they didn’t have any answers. One afternoon Larry came up with idea, assisted by Ed Litke, for the Track-Meter and a prototype was made about 4.5 years ago. They took it to all the NHRA races and tested the surface of the race track before their qualifying efforts, and we will let Larry explain how it works:

“We have a given amount of area of rubber (on the Track-Meter) and this rubber is very similar to a slick on a Top Fuel Car. We then have a given amount of pressure we apply to the rubber by a mechanism within the meter. Then we have a (inch pounds) torque arm built into the meter that is part of the measurement process. The entire shaft that the meter is bolted to is surrounded by ball bearings so their isn’t any parasitic drag that would influence the reading. You then press on the outer portion of the device, compressing the internal spring that presses the pad firmly and evenly to the ground. Then the torque wrench measures the break away torque, in which the point of the pad looses traction with the racing surface”, Larry said.

Graphical interface that plots conditions at different spots on the track.

The database software is a graphical interface that allows you to plot measurements at different spots on the track. Though the launch pad is where the tire is sitting and is the most critical measurement. From there they will graph 30, 60, 100, 150, 330, and 660 feet in separate measurements. They will then radio these measurements back to the tow vehicle so they can plot the measurements on the software so they can adjust the power curve depending on where the track is better.

The data side of the plots that also allow you to log previous run data.

Fast forward through 3 years since the first Track-Meter was made and a patent was in process, putting the Track-Meter in a sellable market in 2008. Norwalk is where a fast majority of these first-run copies were distributed to the teams and by current time, virtually all the teams swear by it. We look forward to seeing more of these meters filter down into the door car ranks as it will certainly heighten the competition.

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About the author

Mark Gearhart

In 1995 Mark started photographing drag races at his once local track, Bradenton Motorsports Park. He became hooked and shot virtually every series at the track until 2007 until he moved to California and began working as a writer for Power Automedia. He was the founding editor for its first online magazines, and transitioned into the role of editorial director role in 2014. Retiring from the company in 2016, Mark continues to expand his career as a car builder, automotive enthusiast, and freelance journalist to provide featured content and technical expertise.
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