EP162: Shocks and Fans with the Forest Gump of Racing, Ken Anderson

EP162: Shocks and Fans with the Forest Gump of Racing, Ken Anderson

Published by Crate Insider on 15th Aug 2023

In this episode of the Racing Insiders Podcast, Kate welcomed Ken Anderson from Race-Fan, the International Man of Mystery, and racings own Forest Gump. Ken got his start working as Chief Designer and General Manager for Fox Factory, he then went on to be Chief Engineer for Penske Racing and designed Penske Shocks. His work with Formula One, Indy Cars, and the Busch Series are only the tip of the iceberg with his outstanding career in racing. Tune in for some great information and awesome racing history.

This week Kate and Ken talked about Ken's history in the racing industry with Formula1 and Penske, wind tunnels, Oppenheimer, the desgin of race-fan, and more!

So starting in motocross, and starting at Fox, then tell us how you ended up over at Penske or with Roger Penske? Because I know you were instrumental in getting started with getting Penske shocks off the ground. (2:06)

Right. Yeah, I mean, I went to work for Fox and became the general manager there and designed a lot of stuff. And they were in motorcycles, motocross primarily, but as motocross bikes came with better and better shock absorbers, the market went away. And so I helped get him into off road racing, which was like trucks and buggies and all that Baja1000 stuff. And that was a natural progression from motocross just basically four wheeled motorcycle I guess. But then Roger Mears got a ride with the machinists union IndyCar team because they were getting old cars from Penske and stuff like that. And they went testing with him and after about three laps the car started moving all over the place and and they said yeah, the shocks are going away and because I've made shocks for Fox structures is off road stuff so here's I can go 1000 miles and Baja in the shocks don't go away. You tell me three laps around Atlanta, the shocks go away. So I made some sho9cks for his car and things went well and and he was third the next race and told his brother about it. So Penske tried them that year and they loved him went way faster. And we ended up winning the first year and we won the 82 IndyCar championship was Rick Mears on Penske shocks. So then down the road a bit. Roger hired me, he had done a deal with Monroe. And the thing is thing I realized back back in the day, shock absorbers were more promotional item. Nobody thought of them as a as a performance item. You know, do you want shocks, do you want a jacket, do you want a hat? Even the high end races, even Formula One Coney stuff and all that was just a $2 shock and aluminum body kind of stuff. So I kind of turned that around. And we started that design to original Penske shock and 1984 and start Penske shocks and we first thing we deal with so sold them to Monroe to be rebranded as Monroe's so they can still advertise Monroe wins Indy. And then, in a parallel universe, Roger traded my services and shock absorbers to Williams Formula One back in 85. 

When you were working in the Formula One Teams, were you traveling with them or were you just kind of in the design and prototype? How did that work out? (5:59)

They made me an offer I couldn't refuse. In late 88, and technical director there so in charge at all the design and I was renting our news rates engineer and went from there to Onyx Formula One with Stefan Johansson, Bertrand Gachot, and JJ Lehto, who went on to win the 95 Le Mans for us, Le Mans and the McLaren F1 road car.

Can you tell us about the wind tunnel that you designed and helped build? (15:22)

It's 180 MPH- full scale, with a rolling steel belt rolling road that goes 180 MPH to and the car can rotate plus or minus eight degrees. When next time it comes Charlotte, let me know I'll take you out there. It's pretty cool. It's 5100 horsepower motor that powers of 22 foot fan blade. So that's a Race Fan!

I want to hear about how you started your own company, Grand Prix Engineering, and the design and some of the projects that you've worked on or consulted with. Obviously, I'm familiar with, with Race-Fan, but so tell us a little bit about that journey. (26:08)

I started designing it for as a, you know, aside? Yeah, I've always had like a real job and then that was tilting or whatever else at the time. So everything kind of goes to that anyway. But yeah, we started and Harold Holly came to me one day and said, well, the world's everybody in racing ran the 19 inch 4 blade steel stamped stamped steel, fan off of 57 Chevy Van, or whatever.

Well, the world's supply of 57 Chevy fans, or whatever was steel fans started drying up and somebody had some made in China or something, but they weren't as good. So Harold said, you can't get any more of these. And they always crack at the rivets. He asked, Could you make one of these I go, Yeah, good. But also make a fan. That's not how I make them that that was made with, you know, we got to make this for 75 cents or whatever, to go on 10 million cars, you know, if I may do something that wants to be a real racing piece. And so I and the other thing, too, is it was what it was. And they were, they were coming in boiling over every time. So it obviously wasn't moving enough air. And then they go to Florida and they were blocking off the radiator. So it was obviously we went too much air. So you guys came up with how how would I do you're gonna want to do not get lucky, we'll have blinders and that's all they've ever seen so that they don't they see something different. So they don't really say how can that be good, you know, so I kind of things and that's the nice thing about being in so many of these different forms of racing, to just monkey see monkey do, and they just not supposed to. And so I say, if I'm going to build a fan lets let's build something we can tune and replace. Why is it here? You know, so something replaced the blades and that's how I came up with that. And it's it's worked out really well.

I'd love to know how about how you decided on the materials for center hub being billet aluminum? And the blades construction, that gets you into some material science. So I'd be curious, you've got I think Kevlar, maybe some carbon fiber and tell me about that. (30:00)

Well again, you know, being exposed to so many different types of racing, you know, Formula One is really about materials and all. You know, carbon fiber that was invented in the mid 50s by a guy fresh out of school with Union Carbide or something. Back in 1956, a pound of carbon fiber was $5 million you know, till I've learned how to make it cheap, but materials and strength to weight ratio is what you know, kind of formula one's all about getting back when they were light cars, he did everything to get get the strength, so I got introduced a lot of kind of fun stuff. The stuff used in the blades is a Dupont Zytel. So yeah, it stands high temperatures. And I mean, you can break anything. So you know, if you made something indestructible, you know, it'd take the next thing down the road and take your water pump off or whatever. Yeah, so I had to come up with something that was flexible enough to take some hits. But you know, you hit a big enough rock is gonna break. But be able to take chips and cracks and not fly apart. So it's been good. There's people out there. There's people out there two or three seasons on blades are so sandblasted. You can barely recognize them, but and then there's guys hit a rock and they break. 

My car runs so cool with a two blade race fan in the spring and fall that I kid everyone that I'm going to run 1 blade counterweight on the other side to build a little heat. (32:35)

I'd ask what size blade is he running? Is it a 15 inch? I'll send him smaller blades! Oh, there's an option. Yes. Well, and I remember when we first started, you had the 19 inch. Yeah. And I'm getting all these calls from the modified guys in the Midwest. And they're like, Well, this looks really cool. But you know, a 19 inch fan is too big for us. Can you do something smaller? And you're like, oh, yeah, we've got 15 inch ones too. And I was like, wow, I didn't even ask for those. So that worked out really good.

How often should you replace your race fan blades? (34:29)

I mean, honestly, there's no life. If they're running fine. I did have a guy that had run. He had a set of blades that he'd had a little over season on and he said he thought that the car was around a little hotter and it was not much just a couple of degrees. So I sent him some new blades to try and it did bring it down a couple of degrees. And he sent it back to me and they did feel a little bit- but they were sandblasted to hell. And they, they had a lot of miles. But, I've had guys, you know, you get a rock and they get they don't seem to get worse they they are what they are and then they last for a while. And I've had guys you know, lose a blade and still go on win a race and not even know it till they come in. Because the blades are only like 100 grams. So especially if you have like six blades, if you had a two blade I don't know if one blade would work. Yeah. It probably is not going to be that big a deal, ya know?

Should I replace chipped race fan blades? (35:51)

It depends on how bad their chipped.  You know, if it's just got a little ding, and that's always you know, just a little one hit wonder. They don't know the material is it has glass fibers all in there. So it's very strong a lot of directions. So they don't the cracks don't grow like it typically does like in metal and things like that. So this is a little chip much of the life so you know the blade.

Do you think double pass radiators are a mistake? What is your opinion? (39:50)

It's not an opinion. It's a fact. A single pass radiator is much more efficient and uses much less horsepower. Every IndyCar every stock car, every Formula1 car has a single pass radiator. Well, the problem is where it's coming from is people think when you slow the water down, it gets cooler, which is true. But the problem is it's getting cooler and right here, but it's getting hotter and the engine, you're not looking for a differential temperature in and out and you're looking for heat rejection, which is a completely separate issue. So, they also think that it's slowing it down, will slow it down. Because it's choking, you're taking, you know, 30-40 gallons a minute and turning 180 degrees. That's a huge restriction. I haven't put one on a dyno. But it's just got to be 10-20 horsepower.

What are your thoughts on whether the fan should be half in, half in half out of the shroud, completely inside a shroud? What What are your thoughts on that? (47:23)

From a purely moving air standpoint, having a shroud with the blade tips touching that that like on a wind tunnel, actually the blades actually scrape the wall, pretty much. In fact, the GM wind tunnel, they have balsa wood tips that create a seal on it. So that's the terms of actually pulling air through. That's the best you can possibly be. Now the practicality of having something perfectly round and you know, and then bumping it. Yeah, I'm a fan of having not blades touching, but if nothing else, keeping rocks out, because most rocks come up from the bottom and get them coming up. If you have a shroud coming back to the blades or a little bit behind it, even if you got a half inch all the way around it. It helps make family louder because it's not getting rocks kicked up.