Everybody always wants to lose weight in racing. This photo shows how simple and lightweight this installation is, compared with an entire dashboard and gauge cluster. Note: The red evidence tape on the USB cable was required at the Western States Nationals to ensure there were no tuning shenanigans afoot.

What information do you really need to know in a racecar? Sure, oil pressure, that’s pretty important. Rpm, is good to know so you don’t you toss the valves into the pistons. Coolant temperature, I agree, you might not want to melt the engine if it is running too hot. All right, we have clearly established you are going to need some gauges in the car so you can see what is going on. The problem is a lot of cars don’t come from the factory with many gauges. Instead of a coolant gauge, you get a “Temp Hot” light, which usually comes on after it is too late. To combat this problem, racers buy lots of gauges, like a tachometer, a coolant temperature gauge or an oil pressure gauge. All those gauges require sensors to work and they all need to be installed in the interior. The next thing you know, you have spent a lot of time and money and added weight to the car just to find out if the engine block is five degrees hotter than you think it should be.

This is all completely unnecessary because the digital future is here. All of this information can be made available to the driver through a tablet. Yes, a tablet, the same type you use to stalk your ex-girlfriend on Facebook.

NASA racer, AJ Gracy, owns Performance In-Frame Tuning, in Napa, Calif., and he spends his days engine swapping GM LS motors into anything and everything, prepping racecars — notably Krider Racing’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill cars — and dyno tuning vehicles for peak performance. To put it bluntly, AJ sleeps at night dreaming about engine management systems and how he can make them work better.

AJ Gracy’s shop, Performance In-Frame Tuning, is located in Napa, Calif., and is known for insane motor swaps, racecar preparation, chassis dyno tuning, as well as general automotive repair. The crew at the shop can be reached at 707-253-0748.
AJ Gracy’s shop, Performance In-Frame Tuning, is located in Napa, Calif., and is known for insane motor swaps, racecar preparation, chassis dyno tuning, as well as general automotive repair. The crew at the shop can be reached at 707-253-0748.

For his own racecar, a Mazda MX-6, he ditched the entire stock dashboard, skipped buying a bunch of expensive gauges and simply purchased a refurbished Nexus 7 tablet on Ebay for $100. The Nexus connects directly to his engine management system, the popular Megasquirt ECU used by 90 percent of Miata racers who run an aftermarket computer. However, a Megasquirt ECU is not a requirement to use a tablet for a dashboard because Palmer Performance Engineering makes an OBDII Bluetooth connector for cars 1996 and newer, which sends information from the stock engine computer to the tablet wirelessly for data logging.

A simple, clean and lightweight installation to run everything from every gauge you could ever want for a racecar to a full data acquisition system. And all of this in a $100 refurbished Nexus 7 tablet. You are looking at the future.
A simple, clean and lightweight installation to run everything from every gauge you could ever want for a racecar to a full data acquisition system. And all of this in a $100 refurbished Nexus 7 tablet. You are looking at the future.

For his digital dashboard, AJ chose the Shadow Dash MS app by EFI Analytics, which set him back a whopping $5. The Nexus 7 tablet connects to the Megasquirt ECU through a simple USB cable — and it could be done wirelessly through Bluetooth as well. To hold his tablet in place above the steering column, AJ purchased a Ram Mount Tab-Lock for $61, which works perfectly.

A Ram Tab-Lock system holds the tablet in place. This spring-mounted system allows the tablet to be firmly mounted in place, while allowing the access ports (USB, etc.) to the tablet to remain available for wiring. The Ram system is $61 and worth every penny for its ease of use.
A Ram Tab-Lock system holds the tablet in place. This spring-mounted system allows the tablet to be firmly mounted in place, while allowing the access ports (USB, etc.) to the tablet to remain available for wiring. The Ram system is $61 and worth every penny for its ease of use.
The Ram Tab-Lock tablet holding system comes with an additional slick feature: a keyed lock. This way you won’t have to worry about your tablet growing legs in the paddock since your racecar doesn’t have windows or door locks.
The Ram Tab-Lock tablet holding system comes with an additional slick feature: a keyed lock. This way you won’t have to worry about your tablet growing legs in the paddock since your racecar doesn’t have windows or door locks.
To mount the Ram Tab-Lock to the car, AJ welded a small tab to the top of the steering column and used four screws to attach it.
To mount the Ram Tab-Lock to the car, AJ welded a small tab to the top of the steering column and used four screws to attach it.

From this setup, AJ has a full range of gauge options and can spend hours endlessly fine-tuning which gauges to display, data and color options and more. The app also has the option to data-log during a race. But the options don’t stop there. Because the tablet has its own GPS receiver, the ability to capture race data is also available. Using a Trackmaster lap timing app, AJ can see live lap times during a race. Then, after the race, using the data logging information captured through the Shadow Dash MS app, he can put together race videos with data overlaid — track maps, mph, acceleration graphs, etc. — using the Race Render software by HP Tuners.

The digital dashboard on the tablet shows a multitude of information, from rpm, speed, acceleration force, coolant temperature, air-fuel ratio, intake air temperature, spark advance, oil pressure, to a whole bunch of other data I wouldn’t know what to do with.
The digital dashboard on the tablet shows a multitude of information, from rpm, speed, acceleration force, coolant temperature, air-fuel ratio, intake air temperature, spark advance, oil pressure, to a whole bunch of other data I wouldn’t know what to do with.
You can switch the display to show specific gauges, for instance fuel pressure, displayed as fuel load, so you can source a problem or see what changes you may want to make while tuning the car in the future.
You can switch the display to show specific gauges, for instance fuel pressure, displayed as fuel load, so you can source a problem or see what changes you may want to make while tuning the car in the future.
The Shadow Dash MS app screen shows a key piece of information that is being captured by the tablet: GPS information. Because the tablet is capturing this information, now you have the option to use an application for race data capture and the ability to overlay that data over some race video.
The Shadow Dash MS app screen shows a key piece of information that is being captured by the tablet: GPS information. Because the tablet is capturing this information, now you have the option to use an application for race data capture and the ability to overlay that data over some race video.

The installation on AJ’s MX-6 is simple, inexpensive and lightweight. He has essentially replaced five aftermarket gauges and an entire race data collection system for less than $200. This is the future. And since he has a fully operating tablet in front of a steering wheel, if a race gets red flagged, AJ can kill time playing Angry Birds.

Using a $100 tablet for a complete dashboard, AJ Gracy from Performance In-Frame Tuning earned third place in TTD during the Time Trials at the 2015 NASA Western States Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
Using a $100 tablet for a complete dashboard, AJ Gracy from Performance In-Frame Tuning earned third place in TTD during the Time Trials at the 2015 NASA Western States Championships Presented by Toyo Tires.
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Images courtesy of Rob Krider and headonphotos.net