A number of years ago now, there was a very shortlived magazine named Performance Engineering. Two issues were published; my first (and last) motorsports book review column appeared in the second issue. The other columns I wrote for the magazine never appeared anywhere, and the editor choose to let all the writers retain copyright.
Since right at this moment, I don't have time to read anything, I've dug up these old reviews and dusted them off. They are mostly reviews of books that many of us who are active in race car prep know as classics; these reviews are mostly for those who haven't quite got to the point of needing these books yet, and possibly a few who are having trouble building a race car that can finish a weekend, having not yet found Smith's books.
In the future, I plan reviews of another classic from the 50s, Dennis Jenkinson's The Racing Driver, Carroll Smith's newest book, Drive to Win, and when it becomes available, the new edition of Bondurant's driving book.
No, there is no book named "Winning with Carroll Smith. However, Smith's "... To Win" series is quite well known in informed circles. The books are as follows:
Prepare To Win
Aero Publishing, 1974
Tune To Win
Aero Publishing, 1978
Engineer to Win
Motorbooks International, 1988
THERE IS NO MAGIC! The one basic truth of successful race car preparation bears repeating. THERE IS NO MAGIC! There is only logic, common sense, forethought, vast amounts of hard work, and a fanatic dedication to the task at hand.
-- Carroll Smith, Prepare To Win
Tuning is like designing in that, if it were a precise science, all of the cars campaigned by competent organizations would exhibit no faults or vices, drivers would have nothing to bitch about, every modification and demon tweak would work and the cars would go like stink all of the time. None of this happens. We spend most of our professional lives in one quandary after another -- wondering why our bright ideas don't work -- and searching for our very own Holy Grail.
-- Carroll Smith, Tune to Win
On the face of it, these two statements appear to be in conflict with each other. However, they actually make perfect sense; tuning a performance car is a distinctly different business from building and/or preparing one. Carroll Smith is an expert at both tasks, one of the better race engineers of recent memory. His ``To Win'' series is a brain dump of important things that he has learned over the years about successful race car preparation; these books are full of critical information for anyone who is trying to deal with performance machinery. This series rates as perhaps the most important compendium of basic information about building fast cars.
The focus is on purpose built race cars; Smith considers performance machinery based on street cars to be badly compromised, and avoids discussion of it whenever he can. This bias is not fatal, however: You just have to think a little to learn how to apply some of the gems in this series.
Because the ``To Win'' series has appeared rather gradually over time, some of the material in the early books is a bit dated; for example, the two books we're talking about in this column date from before the gradual conversion of race tires from bias to radial construction began (a conversion which is not yet complete, I might add; viable bias tires for competition purposes still exist.) Similarly, in Prepare to Win, F5000 is still a viable and popular series, but by the time of Tune to Win, it has been killed by the SCCA, and Smith is fuming about the people in Denver (home of SCCA HQ.) As I write this review, F5000 is just another fine racing series that was killed before its time by institutional stupidity.
There is a presumption in all the books in the series that the reader is familiar with some basics: if you don't know the difference between shear and tension, then you may have a little bit of learning to do before you can get the most out of the series.
Carroll Smith hates it when his cars break. Prepare to Win is a treatise on how to build cars that don't break. Material covered includes fasteners (nuts, bolts, rivets, safety wire), plumbing, brakes, clutch, welding, metal fabrication, linkages, instrumentation, bearings, wheels & tires, Hewland gearboxes, engine installation, alignment, electrical systems, and fuel cells. Note that engine building itself is not detailed (Smith does not consider himself an engine guy), and electrical system coverage is also somewhat limited (our fearless editor will no doubt be greatly amused by some of Smith's comments about ``Black Boxes''.)
The outlook in Prepare to Win is basic and practical; there is little theory here. Smith is not afraid to recommend specific products; unfortunately, the available products are subject to change, and in the past 19 years, they have indeed done so. Some recommendations are still valid of course (Aeroquip and Earl's Supply will probably remain the best sources of hoses and plumbing fittings well into the 22nd century) but in other cases there has been some real improvement in the past two decades. Smith is also quite willing to list junk products by name: ``All cars now require a master switch accessible from outside the car. Do not use the ubiquitous Lucas unit. It will fail ... In fact don't use any Lucas electrical components if you can help it.'' Prepare to Win taught us how to take the first, important step: we learned out to build cars that would finish races. Tune to Win teaches us how to start taking tenths and hundredths off our lap times by tweaking the car. Think of Prepare to Win as high school and Tune to Win as undergraduate school; Tune to Win covers tires and their behavior under load, basic suspension dynamics and weight transfer, springs, sway bars, steering geometry, and the basic principals of aerodynamics. The material is fundamental and important -- if you are a serious driver or car builder, then at the very least you need to know the material about tires, weight transfer, and suspension geometry. The theory is much thicker here, but the practical-minded would be ill advised to blow it off; if you don't understand the theory, you will find it extremely difficult to build a truly fast car. As with Prepare to Win, Tune to Win is focused on purpose built race cars, not on street cars or on race cars based on street cars; and as with Prepare to Win, Tune to Win still has a great deal to say to those of us who are building and/or modifying a production based vehicle. I do wish that Smith were more interested in the problems of those of us who have to deal with live and dead axles; the only cars of interest to him have a double wishbone suspension on all four corners. He does spend a chapter on the problems of sedan racers, though, and speaking as one who is presently starting to build a racing sedan, I have found the chapter to be incredibly useful. These books are not ones that you read once and then put down; you will return to them time and time again, looking for that extra nugget of information, trying to figure out why your car has just started understeering like a pig, or spinning at the drop of a hat.
``RACERS DO NOT READ -- at least about the technical aspects of racing (... Playboy and On Track are the racers reading norm.)''
-- Carroll Smith, Engineer to Win
Engineer to Win opens with an extremely thorough discussion of steel making and metallurgy; at first it seems rather excessive, but his goal is admirable: to equip the reader with the necessary background for making intelligent decisions in a maze of steel and aluminum alloys of widely varying characteristics. Fundamental details of elastic and plastic deformation of metals are covered, in the hopes of educating future race car engineers and builders in the reasons why parts break and in how to determine what changes to make to prevent breakage in the future. Smith has nothing but contempt for those who do not understand the differences between the various alloys and the reasons for using one over another (he illustrates with a number of anecdotes, with names excised to protect the guilty.)
Having explained basic metallurgy to us, the discussion then moves on to steel and aluminum alloys, the appropriate applications for them, and proper and improper welding technique. There is considerable discussion of bad and worse ways of engineering various types of attachments for suspension and other critical components of a vehicle. Further chapters discuss tires & wheels, springs and shocks, aerodynamics, braking systems, plumbing, finances, and tools. Some of the material supplements and updates Prepare to Win and Tune to Win, but neither of these books is rendered completely obsolete; Engineer to Win does not completely duplicate any material, or even mostly duplicate material; it is its own book, going much deeper than its predecessors on specific topics and not overlapping at all on other topics.
Motorbooks International, 1988
The first three books of the ``... To Win'' series are intended to be read pretty much in order. Carroll Smith's Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook is different; it is quite capable of standing on its own. In part this is a result of Smith using the cut and paste features of his word processor to crib some sections from Engineer to Win; this is mildly irritating at first, but there is in fact substantial new material in the Handbook, and the copied material is not as prevalent as it appears to be at first glance. A practical man, Smith probably saw no need to needlessly rewrite perfectly serviceable text, and once you realize how much new and useful material has been added, you'll not be bothered at all.
Just what is in this handbook? It is a complete updating of the fastener material from previous volumes to cover the current state of the art, along with more and better material on automotive plumbing. There is considerable new material on the behavior of thread systems and threaded fasteners, and an excellent chapter (30 pages!) on rivets.
Smith is sometimes criticized for being ``a salesman for Earl's Supply''. While he is certainly vocal about his liking for Earl's components, the truth of the matter is that many others in racing feel the same way (about the quality of Earl's components) and I can't find it in myself to get terribly upset when someone recommends good stuff, even if there is a business relationship (Smith has written sections of Earl's catalog, and Earl's often sponsors Smith's racing efforts.) Smith is certainly not trying to hide the nature of his ties to Earl's Supply.
One thing is noticeable about Engineer to Win: it is not especially thorough about braking systems. Smith gives the reason for this; he had read and commented on Fred Puhn's Brake Handbook before its publication, and felt that as a result he (Smith) didn't need to spend much time on brakes.
Back in the 1970's, Fred Puhn wrote the relatively well known How to Make Your Car Handle; for some reason, most of the people who are familiar with this earlier (and most useful) book are quite unaware of the more recent volume on brakes. This is unfortunate, as Brake Handbook is outstanding.
Fred Puhn has a somewhat different outlook than Carroll Smith; this is evidenced by his attention to both street cars and purpose built race cars. Puhn has written a tutorial on braking systems of all types, and has not constrained his book to cover primarily racing cars and racing applications.
Puhn begins with a basic outline of how brakes work; he covers the basics of both drum and disk braking systems, friction materials, hydraulics, pedals & linkages, and power assist, with an eye towards understanding why brakes are the way they are, what the various failure and performance issues are, and what can be done to alter the behavior of braking systems. Puhn is an experienced race engineer himself, and is intimately familiar with the behavior of braking systems when used under extreme conditions. Useful trouble shooting guides are provided, and descriptions of methods for curing braking system woes are outlined.
There is only one apparent discrepancy between Smith's attitudes towards brakes and Puhn's; Puhn declares that the only good flares in hard lines are double flares, while Smith recommends using 37 degree single AN flares on all hard lines. This is not as serious as it seems; Puhn is speaking to those who are working with conventional SAE flares in street automobiles, whereas Smith is talking about upgraded brake systems in race vehicles, which is a whole different kettle of fish (and I feel obligated to remind our readers that joining a AN and SAE brake hardware without proper adapters is a very, very risky proposition. Don't mix and match.)
HPBooks, 1982, 1990
Another book which Smith defers to is Ron Fournier's Metal Fabricator's Handbook: Race & Custom Car. Fournier is a highly regarded fabricator, and this book is an excellent tutorial in the craft. Fournier starts out with a survey of the various tools needed for metal working projects, and then moves on to a pair of excellent chapters on welding (very useful as the only welding discussions in Smith are somewhat out of date.) Fournier then discusses basic metal shaping techniques, and finally covers the specific methods used in various projects, such as roll cages, fuel and oil tanks, and headers.
Fournier wrote an additional book on metal working, Sheet Metal Handbook. This book is somewhat slimmer, and focused on a smaller array of topics; welding is omitted, and the chapters on tools are somewhat smaller. It is not completely overlapped by the Metal Fabricator's Handbook, but the latter is the more essential book for most serious car builders. The only major addition in Sheet Metal Handbook is a chapter on rivets, and between them Prepare to Win and Carroll Smith's Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners, and Plumbing Handbook cover rivets quite thoroughly.