Blower Belt Project

I am often asked about my blower belt assignment at the Gates Rubber Co.  Without question, the blower belt project was both challenging and rewarding.  In addition, it was a ton of fun for a person who lives cars and racing.  I was involved in the project from the mid ’80s until 1999, when I retired. 

First a bit of background.  I have been an “active” drag racing spectator since the  late ’50s.  Even went to a major NHRA event in Great Bend Kansas in the early years.  When our local track was south of Denver (CDR) I seldom missed a race and often helped prepare my friends cars.  Unfortunately, I could never afford to build and race a car.

The blower belt project became official in the late 80s when the fuel cars began to have severe problems with the blower belts.  I started the project by going to various NHRA national events to gather information.  My first race for this assignment was at Columbus OH.  The first person that I met, was Shirley Muldowney and she was very agitated (those of you that know Shirley very well, can appreciated the situation) about losing a run due to a blower belt failure. 

Over the next few years, I attended many races and began to develop great relationships with the racers and blower belt distributors.  I established a formal testing program (field testing and laboratory testing) that culminated in a paper that was presented in National Dragster and at seminars for the fuel teams at two National events.  A link to this paper, as well as  a National Dragster article about my work are shown below.

I am often asked about the attitude of the racers toward the blower belts.  In the early days, they were very upset about the belt, especially when it resulted in a lost race.  By working with them I began to develop a better understanding of the tremendous loads imposed on the belts – while at the same time, working to “educate” the racers on why belts would fail.  Over the years we were able to introduce new belt technology that better withstood the unbelievable loads these belts are exposed to.

Many of the belts failed because the engines were “not happy”.  The crew chiefs could tell when the engine had a problem in the early days by looking at the rod bearings to see how much they had be “squashed”.  Unfortunately, they did not link bearing squash problems to belt problems.  As computer technology became widely used, they began to develop a better understanding of the relationship of belt failures to engine problems.  The problems were mostly dropped cylinders, but not always.

For the teams we worked with, I would have a copy of the computer software and the crew chiefs would give me the run files (where the belt failed) and I would examine them as time permitted. 

At the races, I spent a great deal of time in the “shutdown area” where the cars turned off the track.  That allowed me to do two things:  observe the run with my binoculars and then examine the belts on the car after the run.  In many cases I could see the car drop a cylinder and I knew that the belt had been damaged.  Sometimes it would fail, but not always.  I would always remind the crew not to run the belt again.

This was an especially fun project in the latter years, as Pat (my wife) would attend the races with me and would help me document my findings (we were a pretty good team!!).  We both enjoyed the excitement of the races and the folks evolved (well, most of them {grin})

Since I retired, we continue to follow drag racing and try to go to at least one race per year.  I also maintain a great friendship with our major blower belt distributor – Steve Leach.  We were able to get together twice in 2010.  The last time was at the final race in Pomona where I got to visit a test customer with him. 

Here are the links to two documents:

The blower belt failure study that was published in the July 24 1992 issue of National Dragster NHRA_article

  • The September 4 1998 issue of National Dragster story about my blower belt work nhra_beltguy

Both of these articles are published with written permission of Phil Burgess, Editor of National Dragster.