Required Reading for Autocrossers

Here are a number of essential references, software products, and other tools to help you to learn to go fast:

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DSM Specific Books

Mitsubishi & Diamond Star Performance Tuning

By Keith Buglewicz

A former editor of Sport Compact Car, Keith Buglewicz wrote this book after extensive consultation with leading DSM experts like Marco Passante of Magnus Motorsports and Robert Young of Forced Performance

Driving Books

Drive to Win

By Carroll Smith

Carroll Smith served as a crew chief or race engineer for a whole host of professional road racing teams in pretty much every professional series since the '60s. He recently wrote a tech column for Race Tech magazine and was the head judge for the Formula SAE competition held every year in Detroit.

Sadly, Carrol Smith passed on in the spring of 2003, but he left a legacy of some of the best racing engineering books ever written.

Carroll has a no-bullshit, this-is-the-way-it-is writing style that's very easy to read. This book is a no-nonsense description of what you need to do to become a successful race car driver. More than just a driving manual, it's a complete tutorial on developing a professional racing career.

If you are serious about racing, his is the first book you should own!

Secrets of Solo Racing

By Henry Watts

A rarity! A Solo-specific book. Lots of tips and techniques for driving at autocrosses. Dated in places, but still full of sound advice, and one of the few books written specifically for autocrossers

Going Faster! Mastering the Art of Race Car Driving

by Skip Barber

Heavily road-racing biased, but full of plenty of insight on how to go faster once the basics have been learned. Start with the Watts book to learn the basics, then move to the Barber book to pick up more advanced techniques.

The Unfair Advantage

by Mark Donahue

Strictly speaking, this is more of a historical book than a driving how-to, but it's full of so many insights and and words of wisdom on being a race driver that you must read it. Mark Donahue invented the science of modern race car engineering, and was one of the few great driver/engineers. An absolute classic.

Winning: A Race Driver's Handbook

by George A Anderson

This is a nifty little book. George wrote down his first draft, and then gave out copies to a very unusual cast of characters (including former F1 driver Bertil Roos, and engineering legend Carroll Smith) He then included their comments in the book. The end result is sort of like sitting in a bar with all these racing masters while they talk shop. Educational, and a fun read!

The Racing Driver

by Denis Jenkinson.

Written in 1959 and since updated, this book covers not only driving techniques, it discusses mental preparation, the effects of stress, and the "will to win" required from a successful driver. Includes a Senna interview too. A classic.

The Technique of Motor Racing

by Piero Taruffi.

Another classic since updated, this book contains highly advanced mathematical descriptions of the ideal line through various types of corners.

Think To Win

by Don Alexander

A book that concentrates on the mental aspects of the game, an under-reported subject if there ever was one. Techniques for tuning the part that lives between your ears. Not bad, but inferior to the Ross Bentley book.

Engineering Books

Prepare to Win

by Carroll Smith

Contrary to popular belief, there is no such animal as a "ready to race" race car. Even a brand-new Formula Ford, straight from the factory, will require many hours of careful preparation before it can turn a wheel in anger. This book is all about the steps required to make sure your race car is ready for track time.

This was Carroll's first book, so some of the information is a little on the dated side - racing technology has come a long way since the 70's. But even so, 90% of the information in this book is still entirely applicable to modern cars. Solid advice is not subject to fashion.

Tune to Win

by Carroll Smith

The next book in Carroll's "to Win" series. Now that, thanks to Prepare to Win your race car is surviving races and isn't falling apart, now it's time to learn how to make it go faster. This book covers tire theory, suspension kinematics, vehicle dynamics, and various techniques for sorting out the handling of a race car.

Engineer to Win

by Carroll Smith

The third book in the "to Win" series, this book is about how to properly design your own parts, and how to identify flaws in the parts the car came with. Covers metallurgy, fatigue, stress, and the various ways to fasten things together.

Screw to Win

by Carroll Smith

The fourth book in the "to Win" series, this book is about the proper selection of fasteners, how to treat them and use them, and about fluid plumbing. There's a lot more to bolts than Home Depot.

Race Car Engineering and Mechanics

by Paul Van Valkenburgh

A good summary of race car engineering issues. Paul writes for Racecar Engineering and is a true scientist. Lots of good stuff in here.

Race Car Vehicle Dynamics

by William F. Milliken

This is the definitive reference textbook on vehicle dynamics. Not for the beginner! More calculus and other math than you can shake a stick at, and somewhat disorganized, but this book contains every racing/handling concept, formula, and model yet published. If you don't own this book, then you're not serious about your engineering.

Inside Racing Technology

by Paul Haney

A behind the scenes look at more modern racing technology, mostly in the form of interviews with other race engineers. Mostly about aerodynamics, but some on tires, suspension, and computers.

Competition Car Suspension

by Allan Staniforth

Fourth edition, largely updated book on the design, construction, and tuning of race car suspensions. An easier way into the material covered in Miliken. Buy this one first to get the basics, then dive into the Miliken book.

Tires, Suspension, and Handling

by John C. Dixon

Second edition of the standard reference manual on the cornering behaviour of wheeled vehicles. 600 pages long with lots of diagrams.

Aerodynamics for Racing and Performance Cars

by Forbes Aird

A detailed discussion of how aerodynamics can be used to improve the performance of racing cars.

The Shock Absorber Handbook

by John C. Dixon

Finally, a book on the care, feeding, and tuning of shocks! The focus is primarily on passenger car issues, with a small sidebar on racing. If you're going to get into your own shock work you'll need this book, as it is heavy on the theoretical underpinnings, but if you're looking for a by-the-numbers manual on how to tune shocks for racing, this isn't it.

Chassis Engineering

by Herb Adams (of Trans Am fame)

Another general "handling" book, but Herb goes into quite a bit more detail on chassis rigidity, and how to build rigid chassis, than the typical generalist. Good reading before you build your roll cage, and especially good for tube-chassis classes like CP.

How to Make Your Car Handle

by Fred Puhn

The classic "generalist" handling book. Slightly dated, but otherwise an exhaustive treatment of handling and how to improve it, mostly from a modification of an existing car standpoint. A good first book.

Data Power

by Buddy Fey

The absolute bible on interpreting racecar data acquisition. If you are at all serious about racing, a data acquisition system of some sort is an absolute must, and Buddy's book is the manual on how to interpret that data once you have it. If you're planning on buying a data system, buy this book first. If you wonder why you should buy a data system, get this book and you'll be amazed.


by Hugh MacInnes

Getting a little dated, but still the all-around best book for learning about turbochargers and designing engine turbo systems. Just skip the chapters on carbs.

The Design and Simulation of Four-Stroke Engines

by Professor Gordon Blair

Everything you've ever wanted to know about the design of racing motors. Includes extensive coverage of the computer simulation of engine performance. Not a book for beginners - know your thermo!

Design of Racing and High Performance Engines

Joseph Harralson, editor

A collection of SAE papers on the design of various racing engines, including some early 90's F1 motors. Hardcore stuff.

Engine Testing

by Michael Plint

OK, so now you've built your trick motor for racing. How do you test it? Recommended by Racecar Engineering

The Scientific Design of Intake and Exhaust Sytems

by John Morrison

A study on the strange goings-on inside your intake manifold and headers, and how to design these parts to make maximum power. Slightly dated, but the physics is still good. A must for the naturally-aspirated crowd.

Fuel Injection

by Jeff Hartman

A good primer on the theory of modern electronic fuel injection, and how to modify it for increased performance. Helpful for those considering a stand-alone EFI computer or forced to wrestle with an OEM one. If you're still playing with carbs and distributors, buy this book and see what you're missing.

Four Stroke Performance Tuning

by Alexander Graham Bell

A reference on basic to mid-level engine tuning. Noteable for the appendices that contain specifications (bore, stroke, etc) on most modern engine models.

Maximum Boost

by Corky Bell

A more recent book on turbocharging than the MacInnes book, this book has lots of good information about turbocharging a car. Not as exhaustive as Turbochargers but has some newer information, and a discussion of the steps needed to turbo a non-turbo car.

Engine Management

Should probably have been called "Engine Management for Beginners" as it's a little lightweight for such a heavy subject. Even so, it's the first book I've found that discusses tuning strategies (instead of just theory) and it comes with some software to play with. A good first book for potential AEM EMS customers - if you can't understand this book, then stick to the stock ECU

Reference Books

Machinery Handbook

Produced in a handy toolbox-sized format, this book is the essential reference for all machining operations. Properties of metals and alloys, feed rates and depths of cut for milling/lathing, specifications on threads, classes of fits, unit conversions - you name it. As soon as you start designing your own parts (and especially if you sub-contract the work to a machine shop) this book will quickly become invaluable.

Mark's Standard Handbook for Mechanical Enginners

If the Machinery Handbook is the reference on tactics, then Mark's is the reference on strategy. It's a giant aide memoire for all sorts of engineering topics. If you need a formula, it's in here.


Open Office

If you're going to do any engineering, then you're going to need a spreadsheet, and Open Office has an Exel-compatible spreadsheet that not only works on Windows and Linux, but is also 100% Free Software - and you get an entire office suite as a bonus. A great package, and you can't beat free!

Racing by the Numbers

Racing by the Numbers is a suite of programs designed to help model race cars. In particular, the suspension geometry program WinGeo is the only thing I've found that can model the crazy double-ball-joint suspension found on Talons and many Audis. Will run on Linux (more or less) under WINE. The author, Bill Mitchell, is very willing to listen to user feedback and has actually incorporated some of my suggestions into his product - support is excellent, and the price, while a little steep, isn't exhorbitant.


Once you start designing your own parts, you're going to need to start producing drawings. Machine shops - no matter how many times you describe the job to them in person - tend to follow the drawing and only the drawing, and that means the typical napkin sketch just ain't gonna cut it.

That means using a CAD program, and VariCAD is an excellent choice. It costs way, way less than AutoCAD, is mostly command-compatible with AutoCAD runs natively on Linux, does solid modeling, and has a nifty update policy.

Video and DVD

The Fast and the Furious OK, so there's no DSM autocross content in here at all. So what, it's a cool movie.

The 6th Annual DSM Shootout Video Lots of cool footage here of DSMs autocrossing, drag racing, and having fun. Almost as good as being there!

Copyright 1998-2008 Dennis Grant. All rights reserved

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