David Badger, a retired chemistry professor, holds a special role at the Runoffs. Along with wife Judy and daughter Jennifer, the Badgers manage the fuel testing process that ensures that all competitors are using a compliant fuel.
For the duration of the event, all cars must use one of a selection of Sunoco fuels sold at the track. To ensure that everyone is running the right stuff on race days, the Badgers perform fuel testing throughout the testing and qualifying days to compare the known Sunoco fuels with what is in the car when it comes off track.
As the cars roll into paddock after a race, the top six finishers are sent straight to impound in the tech shed, where the tech team looks over them with a fine-tooth comb. They take a fuel sample directly from the car, and any vehicle that has fuel that doesn't match the control samples loses its times from that session or finishing position.
David, Judy, and Jennifer have gotten their process down to a fine art and work well together to make the process as efficient as possible. Jennifer, a chemist by trade, takes samples from the cars, then she and David run the tests. Judy collects and logs the data, and then they present the results to the tech chief.
David and Jennifer's chemistry backgrounds and experience testing fuel for many years, make them particularly adept at the process. Using a tool that looks like an industrial-strength coffee stirrer, they run a dielectric test on each sample to measure its conductivity. If a sample looks funky for any reason, they've got another two tests and a mass spectrometer that can be used to examine the sample further.
Judy, a retired nurse, enjoys working with the drivers to get anyone with failing fuel set for their next session. Any fuel the car arrives with to the track may cause it to fail the tests when mixed with the designated Runoffs fuel, so most teams empty the tanks before adding the new stuff. Some gas tank designs make it challenging to siphon everything out. Gas can get trapped in saddle tanks or even be absorbed into the foam inside the tank.
There are several reasons why fuel testing is so crucial at the SCCA National Championships. To start, it helps to assure a level playing field. With the competition so fierce and with national championships on the line, it's essential to keep an eye out for any unfair advantages between drivers. It also provides drivers with a level of confidence in their competitors. As a driver sitting on grid, it's nice to know that you're all working with the same fuel.
Fuel testing also helps ensure the safety of our workers. Fuel exhaust isn't healthy to spend a lot of time with to begin with, and some fuel additives include chemicals that create exhaust fumes that can be particularly harmful to grid and corner workers. Making sure that drivers aren't using these additives helps to keep our workers safe.
The Badger family plays a vital role in the Runoffs each and every year, and are only a few of the over 400 workers who come together to put on the event. With workers doing everything from managing grid, to flagging, to deep diving into racecar mechanics, or, like the Badgers, bringing their chemistry skills to the tech process, there are numerous ways for people to get involved!
If you've ever wondered how you might be able to be a part of the SCCA Runoffs, reach out to your local region and find out where you can help. They may have the perfect spot for you. And if you think you might want to try your hand at fuel testing, David, Judy, and Jennifer would be happy to show you the ropes.
At the Runoffs, there's room for you!
Photo by SCCA Staff/Jon Krolewicz