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.
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.
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.
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 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.