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Tipping the balance of your average 320-mph Funny Car is serious work (from

By Rob Geiger


The first half of the drag racing season proved that the various crew chiefs in the NHRA's nitro ranks have caught up to the power reduction brought about by the turn-of-the-century 90-percent rule, which restricts the amount of nitromethane in the fuel mixture. Now the race is on for the perfect body configuration that will complement the power source.

In Columbus, top qualifier Dean Skuza announced the Mopar camp (which could be expanding considerably next year) would unveil a new Dodge Stratus body soon, hopefully by their title event in Denver. It's also been no secret that Pontiac engineers have been working around the clock in the wind tunnel to refine their Firebird hybrid. Naturally, 10-time champ John Force is a few steps ahead of the pack with his Ford Mustang, which might help explain his 271-point halftime lead.

Team Force aerodynamicist Tim Gibson has put in some serious wind tunnel and computer analysis time of his own this year, spending some exhausting hours at Lockheed's low-speed wind tunnel facility for airplanes in Marietta, Ga. To Lockheed, "low speed" means anything under supersonic (approximately 740 mph at sea level), a mark Force hasn't eclipsed just yet.

"Rumor has it that Ford helps us out with millions of dollars of wind tunnel time," said Gibson, who wheels Bill Miller's Top Fuel dragster and a nostalgia rail part-time. "Not true. The tunnel Ford has is designed for regular cars and tops out at 80-90 mph. We needed more so we have to go to Georgia and share time with the military people and lots of NASCAR teams. The truth is we don't get much time, only one 10-hour day so far this year. At a cost of $18,000 per day, we have to make the most of it.

"Plus, the Marietta facility is designed for airplanes, which they hang from the roof. We have to adapt it for a car that's sitting on the ground. It's quite a compromise. We don't have the advantage that, say, the GM guys have. They have the nicest automotive tunnel in the United States and it's all theirs so they can run non-stop if they want to do so."

According to Gibson, the effects of the 90-percent rule have changed the aero balance of the Funny Car as it travels down the track. He points to the rash of drivers taking out the centerline cones this season, particularly at top speed.

"Surprisingly, the hardest thing now is keeping the front wheels on the ground," Gibson said. "I think it has to with the clutch set-up for 90 percent, which leads to slightly different g-loading. Of course, we don't have a front wing like a dragster so there wasn't an easy adjustment we could make to fix the problem.

"It used to be you just went for maximum downforce. Now maximum downforce can actually slow you down. The 90-percent rule changed the aerodynamics and the balance of the car."

Gibson's solution to the problem, which he discovered in the wind tunnel and during qualifying sessions, where he uses a tiny camera and small tufts of yarn on the car to gain "real time" aerodynamic data to refine his computer analysis, was to totally reconstruct the rear spoiler.

"We actually discovered that a smaller spoiler was more efficient," said Gibson. "We debuted the new design in Columbus and Austin [Coil, Force's crew chief] was very pleased. It was a little nerve-wracking to mess with a car that had just been to three finals in a row. Yet, at the same time, it was extremely satisfying to see the wind tunnel results jive with the on-track results, which is not always the case. A side bonus with this new spoiler is that it's lighter and considerably easier to make.

"The effects of the 90-percent rule necessitated this move. We really didn't know what, if any, aerodynamic changes would be necessary but after a year of running the cars on 90 percent we have gained a lot of information."

The most notable change to the casual observer is the relocated parachutes. Gibson had put the two parachute packs on opposite corners of the old spoiler but has since moved them and the tail light vent doors to a more efficient configuration.

"People ask me all the time if I relocate the parachutes just to mess with the competition," said Gibson, who is signed to work exclusively for Force through the 2003 season. "Not the case. The outboard chutes complimented the old-style spoiler but didn't work with the new-style spoiler. They created too much turbulence in the rear of the car.

"The NHRA has done so much for all of us in the Funny Car class. They have worked with us throughout this process to help us stay within the confines of the rulebook and I hope they continue to cooperate, not just with us but also with the other teams in the class, for the safety of the drivers. We've never seen a blowover in Funny Car and I hope we never do but the old style spoiler and the 90-percent rule had, at the very least, put our Mustangs severely out of balance.

"You can't steer the car if your front wheels aren't on the ground. I would bet there have been a lot of discussions between crew chiefs and drivers lately about why they can't keep the car in the groove. Well, that's hard to do if the car is not balanced aerodynamically.

"Also, we are very concerned with maintaining the product identity of the Ford Mustang. Funny Cars have always been radical but we're proud that we still have a stock-size and -shape grille and headlights, and that the side contours of the car are accurate. Some others have taken great liberties in these areas.

"This entire process of change within Team Force has really impressed me with the way John does business. I know he takes a beating from his competitors sometimes but if people really stopped and considered what he's doing they might learn something. He doesn't whine when we get beat, he just says we all need to work harder to fix it. The guy just wants to win."

The story is copyright 2001 National Hot Rod Association. It may not be reprinted or retransmitted in any form without the express written permission of


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Force hires Gibson as team engineer and consultant (from

By Dave Densmore


     In a move designed to insure the future "airworthiness" of drag racing's dominant Funny Cars, 10-time Winston Champion John Force confirmed Wednesday that he has signed Tim Gibson to a three-year contract as Team Engineer and full-time consultant to crew chiefs Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, and John Medlen.

     Gibson, who worked with Coil, Fedderly, and Ford engineers in designing the 2001 Mustang body that helped the team win an unprecedented eighth straight Winston Championship, will consult on a variety of projects.

     In addition to his involvement in ongoing aerodynamic improvements, Gibson will work with the crew chiefs in supercharger and injector development.

     Driver of the BME (Bill Miller Engineering) Top Fuel dragster, which makes 10-12 appearances each year in the NHRA's Winston Drag Racing Series, Gibson is much better known for his design expertise. A native of Alabama, he moved to California in 1984 and immediately went to work for Don Long Race Cars, a company that built some of the era's quickest and fastest Top Fuel dragsters. While working at Long's chassis shop, Gibson attended UCLA and in 1990 earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. He even took a turn as the president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

     Upon graduation, Gibson worked two years for TRW Aerospace prior to beginning a five-year stint with Dan Gurney, working first on the Toyota GTP program and late the Indy Car program. In 1998, however, with the Gurney program having run its course, Gibson began working in drag racing aerodynamics, first for Don Prudhomme and later for Joe Gibbs Racing.

     His friendship with Coil ultimately led to his involvement in the re-design of Force's Castrol GTX Mustang which included the incorporation of more stock dimensions and a 10 percent increase in the car's aerodynamic efficiency.

     In addition to his work as an aerodynamicist, Gibson designed the Gibson-Miller supercharger used last season by several Top Fuel and Funny Car teams and drives the Mastercam vintage front engine Top Fuel car at Good Guys events.

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Gibson building NHRA rivals (from

By Robert Geiger Sports Writer


The fantastic back-and-forth battle in the Funny Car ranks between the NHRA's all-time winningest driver John Force of Team Castrol and upstart pro Jerry Toliver of the WWF camp can largely be attributed to one man -- Tim Gibson.

Tuned by Austin Coil, Force has won five races this year and held the Winston championship points lead for two events. Toliver and crew chief Dale Armstrong, meanwhile, have three victories and have been the top dogs in the points after nine of 11 races.

So what does Gibson have to do with this? Well, both of the machines these two men drive came to life on Gibson's drawing board. The renowned aerodynamicist, who headed the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics when he was an aeronautical engineering student at UCLA, actually designed and tunnel-tested both the Pontiac Firebird body that Toliver has credited for his wins and the latest-generation Ford Mustang body that Force started using two races ago.

"It's a little strange to look out there and see two totally different cars racing against one another when you know you helped build them both," Gibson said. "It's like having two of your kids competing against each other. You want both of them to do well."

Nowadays, Gibson has to be leaning toward the Mustangs. After all, he was approached by and accepted a job with Team Force in the off-season after spending the previous two years working with General Motors-sponsored teams.

"There are only two Fords out here competing," Gibson said, "John's and Tony Pedregon's. But there are quite a few teams using the Firebird body. I look at the elimination ladders on race day and see a bunch of my cars and I say to myself, 'Wow, this is great.' I don't say it out loud around Force, but he knows it."

Gibson started shaping racecars in 1992 with Dan Gurney. He helped the legendary driver and team owner build various cars for his GTP, IMSA, and CART programs. His first stint in the NHRA came in 1998 when good friend Roland Leong asked him to take a look at the Don "the Snake" Prudhomme-owned Chevrolet Camaro he was tuning. Gibson reworked the body and the team's performance improved so much that the following season he was hired by Joe Gibbs and Wes Cerny to redesign their Pontiac Firebird.

Working closely with GM Motorsport's head man Harry Turner and builder Harry Glass, Gibson designed the 2000 edition of the Firebird that all of the top teams are currently using. Once the cars began to show enormous potential on the track, the phone call from Coil came and, after some intense negotiating, Gibson switched camps.

It's taken the 43-year-old the better part of five months to deliver his first Mustang body and the team finally received the first pair of shells from Roush Racing June 14, just prior to the start of the Columbus, Ohio, event.

With no time to test, the team elected to enter the car in competition. Things didn't quite work as planned and Force barely qualified for the event, lost to Toliver in the first round, and relinquished the points lead.

"Not exactly the start we were looking for," Gibson said. "It turns out the car is actually better then we expected. It's producing even more downforce then it showed in the wind tunnel. That translates to better traction, regardless of the track conditions, and could very well allow Austin to pour more power into the tune-up. Once we reach a point where we can figure out the perfect combo, we'll be tough to beat.

"We stayed and tested after Columbus and we tested again Sunday (after the St. Louis event) and we figured out the problems. It needed a whole new steering system so we changed the entire front-end assembly. We're going to run this weekend at a match race in Norwalk, Ohio, and we will hopefully have it totally figured out by the time we get to Bristol (Tenn.) next Thursday. John won the Bristol race last year so we would like to be in top form so he can defend his title. There's $200,000 on the line.

"The fact is we're six months behind the Pontiac guys. That's a big advantage for them. I wish we could get this car back in the wind tunnel but the race schedule is so hectic we don't have time. We do have bodies No. 3 and 4 coming out of the paint shop right now. They are extremely light compared to the first two prototypes we've been using so that will help us also. We'll be up to speed very soon."

Gibson also hopes to be back up to speed himself very soon. The part-time Top Fuel driver, who also designs and builds superchargers for several top-level teams, drives the Bill Miller Engineering dragster that competes at select events on the NHRA schedule and the Mastercam vintage dragster that runs at Goodguy's events. "When you devote your life to making cars go fast, every once in awhile you want to experience it for yourself," Gibson said. "It helps me relate to the drivers I work with. Plus, it's a rush like nothing you've ever experienced."

Robert Geiger is a freelance writer who covers drag racing for and National Dragster magazine. To subscribe to National Dragster call 800-308-NHRA.

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Force hires Gibson to streamline 'Stang (from

By Rob Geiger, NHRA Online 



"We (have) already started on a new car. No one knew that until now. Of course, the NHRA will probably take one look at it and change all the rules but that won't slow us down."
-- John Force

Part-time Top Fuel pilot and noted racecar designer Tim Gibson has joined John Force's drag racing team in the role of aerodynamicist and engineer. The move comes as a quite a surprise since Gibson spent the majority of 1999 designing the 2000 Trans Am Funny Car body for General Motors.

"I'm as shocked as anybody," Gibson said. "We were making great strides with the Trans Am body and I was anxious to see how it would stack up against Force's Mustangs on the track because the data we were getting in the wind tunnel was phenomenal."

"But, I was riding motorcycles with (Force crew chief) Austin Coil the other day and out of the blue he asked me if I'd be interested in going to work for John. I think they were starting to get a little nervous about the Trans Am because they know all of the top GM-sponsored teams will have them next year."

"I was just about to sign a two-year consulting contract with General Motors but John called me the next day and said 'If I have to sell my house to hire you, I'll do it.' He wants to win that badly."

Force said hiring Gibson was an easy decision, especially in light of the recent developments at Ford Motor Company. "Ford had an aerodynamic guy all lined up to work with all of the racing teams," Force said. "But something happened and it fell through. At that point my crew chiefs came to me and said Tim was the best guy out there to fill the position."

"I know everyone is going to say 'There goes Force, buying up all the technology.' That's really not the case. It's more like getting the best help out there. Don't ever forget that I want to do everything I can to win."

"I've known Tim through Bill Miller Engineering, which is where we get our blowers. The fact that he drives a Top Fuel dragster really makes him valuable. That sort of insight for an aerodynamic expert is unheard of. I think he's probably the only one in the world."

Gibson, a 43-year-old from Irvine, is the former president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics at UCLA. He received a degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the university in 1990 and has since applied his knowledge to several different racing programs.

His first aerodynamic work in the world of drag racing came in late 1997 when crew chief Roland Leong asked him to fine-tune the design of Don Prudhomme's Chevrolet Camaro Funny Car. The following year, with driver Ron Capps behind the wheel, the improved machine went on to record five wins in seven final-round appearances and finished second in the Winston championship points standings.

"We found a lot of success with that car right away," Gibson said. "I've always said that the Camaro, Firebird, and Trans Am bodies offer a great starting point for an aerodynamisist to work from. I still believe that to this day."

The success Gibson found with Prudhomme's Camaro got the attention of crew chief Wes Cerny, who was in charge of Joe Gibbs' Pontiac Firebird Funny Car at the time. Gibson was hired by Gibbs and, in conjunction with General Motors, has spent the last year and a half improving the Firebird design.

"The ties I had with General Motors and especially (head of drag racing development for GM) Harry Turner made this a painful decision for me," Gibson said. "But, Force has put together a family of extremely talented people and I just couldn't pass up an opportunity to join them. It's not every day that you get a chance to work with guys like Austin Coil, Bernie Fedderly, and John Medlen."

"It was a very motivated environment we were working in at General Motors as we all tried figure out a way to beat Force. Now, all of a sudden, I need to figure out how to make this Mustang better and beat the very car I helped build. It's quite a daunting challenge."

"This is a long-term project. Austin is already asking when he'll get to see a new design and when it'll be ready to race. I don't have a specific answer yet. The very earliest we'll have a car on the track is April."

The bodies will continue to be built by Roush Racing and long-time Force aerodynamic expert Johnny Stamper from Lockheed Martin will continue to help with the project.

"We had already started on a new car before we hired Tim," Force said. "No one knew that until now. Of course, the NHRA will probably take one look at it and change all the rules but that won't slow us down."

"From what I understand Tim's a real smart guy so he can just dive right in and start working. I'm just an old truck driver. I really don't understand this aerodynamic stuff. But Austin says I need it so we have it."

Although the agreement with Force is exclusive, Gibson will continue to design and build superchargers for Bill Miller Engineering and will stay behind the wheel of the group's BME Top Fuel dragster, which competed at 11 events in 1999.

"All of my car building and aerodynamic efforts belong to John," Gibson said. "But I'm still excited about driving the BME dragster and the work Bill and I have done on the Gibson-Miller supercharger we developed."

"I'd actually like to drive at several more events in 2000. The work I'll be doing for John will happen between races, not at the track so there's really no conflict. In fact, he uses several of the components we sell."

"This year will be something. I know from the numbers we've recorded that the 2000 Trans Am will be better than ever and I'm excited about that. But right now, all things considered, that Trans Am is making me nervous."

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Hunting downforce to down Force  (from

By Rob Geiger, NHRA Online



"The shape of the Pontiac Firebird is a great starting point from which we can catch Force."
-- Tim Gibson

The list of people gunning for eight-time Funny Car champion John Force has added an improbable crusader: Top Fuel driver Tim Gibson. But unlike the rest of Force's Funny Car foes who try to beat the sport's best driver with horsepower alone, Gibson is using his Aeronautical Engineering degree from UCLA to catch the champion with technology.

"Last year Ford and Roush found a way to tweak the body of a Mustang in such a way that they created a bunch of downforce," Gibson said. "It allows them to run their engine and clutch much harder while staying hooked up to the track. It's given them at least a tenth of a second advantage over the rest of the field. In drag racing, a tenth of a second is huge."

"Of course, they have made big strides with their engine program. But without the aerodynamic information they gained during all those hours at the Lockheed wind tunnel, the extra horsepower they've created would only help them smoke the tires quicker. To a large degree, horsepower and aerodynamics must go hand-in-hand in order to work."

Gibson, who once headed the UCLA chapter of the prestigious American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, has been hired by team owner Joe Gibbs to make his Interstate Batteries Pontiac Firebird Funny Car as competitive as Force's two Mustangs. Team Force, which includes the Mustang of Tony Pedregon, has dominated the Funny Car class in 1999, winning 10 of 12 national events as well as the Inaugural Winston Showdown, which pitted Funny Cars against Top Fuel Dragsters for the first time ever in competition.

"The shape of the Pontiac Firebird is a great starting point from which we can catch Force," Gibson said. "The basic body design simply has more potential as a Funny Car then the Mustang does, aeronautically speaking. What we've been doing is constructing experimental add-on parts that we place on the body and then test in the General Motors wind tunnel in Michigan."

"The main thing we're searching for is maximum rear wheel downforce so that (Team Gibbs crew chief) Wes Cerny can get the power from his motors onto the track at all points on the strip. At the same time we have to keep enough front wheel downforce to steer the car. We're also trying to increase the lift-to-drag ratio. It's a very delicate and complex balancing act."

"Team Force has already logged so many hours in the wind tunnel that the rest of the Funny Car field is struggling just to stay within range of them. The Gibbs Pontiac, right now, is the best of the rest. But if we keep gaining ground on Force at the rate we're currently at, there is a realistic chance we could catch him at some point in the 2000 season."

Ironically, at the same time that Gibson is chasing Team Force, he's also helping them run faster. Gibson drives the Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel Dragster on a limited schedule to test new parts, and together with Miller, the two men provide many nitromethane-burning fuel teams with superchargers, fuel injectors, intake scoops and other aerodynamic accessories.

In fact, Team Force switched to a Gibson-Miller supercharger set-up at the NHRA's last stop in Denver and Pedregon won the race after beating his boss in the semifinals.

"It's rewarding for us when our equipment works well, regardless of which customer it is," said Gibson. "Both Team Force cars use Bill Miller rods and pistons. Pedregon won the Funny Car title in Denver with a Gibson-Miller supercharger Bill and I developed and (Joe) Amato won the Top Fuel portion of the event with one of our rear wing end-plate kits on his dragster. It was a great weekend for us. It's surprising how good it feels when your clients win."

"At the same time, going after Force with Gibbs' car is another big test for me. I'm working hard to make this car aerodynamically better than Force's machine. I believe the proper aerodynamic set-up combined with Cerny's tuning can produce the consistency we need to catch John."

From Thursday through Sunday, Gibson will temporarily put all of his other endeavors on the back-burner while he slips behind the wheel of the Bill Miller Engineering Top Fuel Dragster to compete in the 12th Annual Prolong Super Lubricants Nationals at Seattle International Raceway. "At some point, all the information we're gaining with everyone else will help make this BME car a front-runner also," Gibson said. "Then we'll find out how good it feels to win first hand. That's what we're all after, isn't it?"

To learn more about Bill Miller Engineering, the BME Dragster or driver Tim Gibson, please visit or on the World Wide Web. Gibson also writes the Top Fuel Diary, which appears on the website.

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