Effective mass-produced ETC units for racing are available today that are so small and portable they are almost undetectable. Costing in the $6,500 range, they are expensive for many amateur racers, but pocket change for professional efforts. You are paying a premium for the stealth technology, given its widespread illegality. The September 1999 issue of our sister magazine, Circle Track, examined the TracMate electronic traction control system, which was/is representative of a typical sensor-based unit. This system was effective, but not exactly undetectable because of its bulk and accompanying sensor wiring.
Today, Davis Technologies is one manufacturer of ETC that is "sensor-less" and not much bigger than a 9-volt battery. According to Shannon Davis, the unit's designer, "power is sourced from the original +9 volt battery and the ignition timing is adjusted through the battery case to chassis ground." That is, this portable unit detects wheel slip by monitoring an engine rpm (tach) signal, and retarding ignition timing to "soften" the engine power. Damped engine power reduces torque to the driving wheels and therefore can assist traction by keeping them from being overpowered.
This ETC unit does not have to be permanently hard-wired into the car's harness. Thus, tech inspectors can cut away on ignition controls, claim or swap them out, or apply engine seals to standard wiring connector junctions till their hearts are content they're policing ETC. But they will be hard-pressed to detect this portable unit that is separate from the ignition control's internal circuitry and can be temporarily wired into the car's wiring harness. That's why NASCAR is likely to make its race cars' ignition wiring harness be completely exposed, making connecting any auxiliary microprocessor electronics and wiring hard to do without detection.
Does ETC Work?Understandably, getting any performance numbers out of racers about ETC is not something they randomly bandy about. One Winston Cup racer acknowledged, "At Greenville-Pickens (South Carolina) it's worth 0.3 second a lap." ETC can improve fuel mileage in a carbureted race engine because throttle transitions are electronically damped and less fuel is expended. Tire wear/conservation can be improved because it can calm down all the little tire slips that are going on during racing that wear and heat the tires-the electronics can react faster than a human can in both cases.
Mark Richards, owner of Rocket Chassis, one of the top chassis manufacturers in Late Model racing, sells the Davis Technologies ETC. He doesn't make a big deal about it, but he knew he was competing against it on tracks across the country. So he began investigating ETC last year to find out if there was any real value to the claims he was hearing. He disclosed some hard test numbers about ETC.
"We're offering everything for a customer to win," he notes. "It won't make a 15th- or 10th-place car win a race, and it won't help the lap times of the best racers out there. But the average driver can pick up to 0.1-0.2 second. We've tested it (the Davis Technologies units). If (Late Model racer) Dale McDowell runs a 16.50 second lap without it, I run a 16.70-80 second lap without it in the same car on the same track. But I can hit the 16.50-60s if I use it on an open track."
Richards clarifies, "If Dale uses it, he can become more consistent and achieve more 16.50s over a number of laps." Basically, ETC helps a good racer stay good. Richards also says that traction control, "has become the number one excuse in racing: 'I got beat, I think the winner had traction control'" is all too common a post-race refrain these days. He states a reasonable legitimizing counter-argument. "Racers still have to have the skills to race: drive in traffic; adapt to changing track conditions; and adapt to the car's changing performance," he concludes.