Jim Richard’s account of his journey from youthful experimenter to designer of cutting edge gear processing equipment illustrates the amazing things that can happen while you are “just having fun.” His partner-in-crime, Pete Weismann, has been a hero of mine for many years. If you follow motorsports from the technical side, Pete is one of the innovators who took the sport out of re-purposed passenger car components into custom built super high performance drive units.
And when I say “super high performance” I mean stress levels way beyond what you will find in any aerospace standard. I got an opportunity to play in this arena for a couple of seasons in the early 1990s. A well known Indy car team was unhappy with the life of the gears and dog clutches they were buying from established vendors. They had heard of our success with off shore powerboat bevel gears and asked us to apply the same techniques to Indy car bits.
We reduced tolerances, changed alloys, improved heat treating, added shot peening, and used the newest CNC form grinding machines. The results were immediate; clutches that in some cars only lasted 200 miles easily survived 500 miles. Gearbox temperatures dropped and gear life improved. If you operate at 400,000 psi of contact stress you have to make everything right.
As often happens in motorsports, rule book changes mandated a “spec” gearbox from a single source and our orders went away. The hard learned lessons went from being an “unfair advantage” to common knowledge.
Weismann Engineering remains an active designer and supplier of custom, super high performance gearboxes for many forms of racing. James Engineering is a prominent source of deburring equipment.
Some of you may recall an article I wrote for Gear Technology a few years ago on another famous racing gearbox, the front wheel drive transmission of the incredible 1920s Miller Indianapolis cars. Those parts, although made on much cruder machines, share plenty of “design DNA” with modern racing components. Whenever a new idea comes around, racers will be there to test its limits.