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Tim Gibson

A native of Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in New Orleans and Mobile, Gibson started drag racing when he was 15, with the acquisition of his uncle’s 1951 Ford 2-door coupe (originally purchased new by his Grandfather), Gibson’s first car. Building custom backspace rear wheels for that car was Gibson’s first exposure to wheel construction and drag racing. Gibson progressed to a 427 ’66 Corvette coupe, drag racing around Louisiana, at LaPlace and Southland Dragway, and Alabama, Phoenix City and Dauphin Island. He moved to California in 1984 with wife Karen and immediately went to work for chassis builder Don Long. While working at Long's shop, Gibson attended UCLA and in 1990 earned a degree in Aeronautical Engineering, and won a Citation for Engineering Achievement. At UCLA he built a glider aircraft that won the annual California Engineer's Week flight competition 2 consecutive years, and was elected president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) his Junior and Senior years.

Upon graduation from UCLA in 1990, Gibson worked for two years for TRW Space and Defense on ICBM aerodynamics. In 1992 Gibson started working for Dan Gurney's All American Racers, working first on the IMSA Championship winning Toyota GTP program, which was undefeated from March '92 to Jan '93. It was the 1993 IMSA GTP World Champion, also winning the 1993 IMSA Manufacturer's Championship and the 1993 IMSA Driver's Championship. Later Gibson designed engines and motorcycles for Dan Gurney’s motorcycle known as “The Alligator”, and the AAR Indy Car, along with other projects.

In 1998 Gibson left Gurney's to go back to primarily aerodynamics, first for Roland Leong at Don Prudhomme's and later for Wes Cerny at Joe Gibbs Racing. Both of these involved extensive work in the GM wind tunnel in Warren MI. In 2000 Gibson started working for John Force racing. With the Force team sponsored by Ford, Gibson enjoyed working for Austin Coil, and worked extensively in the Lockheed wind tunnel outside Atlanta, and with Ford in Dearborn, on adapting their new Mustang to drag racing. “Not many people have as much quality time in the Lockheed wind tunnel as I do”. Gibson did aerodynamics for John Force Racing, designing all of their bodies and aerodynamic systems and working on other projects.

Besides the wins and records the car achieved, a possible measure of Gibson’s success is that a large segment concerning bodies and aerodynamics of the NHRA Funny Car rule book was written because of Gibson’s work at John Force racing. “It would seem there’s a lot of room for improvement in the rules in the fuel classes”. In his “spare time”, Gibson, working with Bill Miller, designed the Gibson-Miller Supercharger and Fuel Injection systems, available through BME.

Gibson drove the BME (Bill Miller Engineering) Top Fuel dragster built by Don Long, with a best time of 4.59 sec. with speeds consistently over 320mph. Gibson also drove the MasterCam front motor vintage Top Fuel car owned by Tom Shelar and Frank “Root Beer” Hedge. Gibson is the only person in NHRA history to qualify and race both a mid-engine TF car and a front-engine TF car at the same race (NHRA 50th Anniversary at Pomona). Gibson also had the opportunity to drive in the Skip Barber open-wheel road racing series at Laguna Seca. Gibson wrote articles for Cole Coonce’s Nitronic Research web site entitled Top Fuel Diary, contrasting the differences between driving a mid engine contemporary TF car vs an old school Front Motor TF car, and road racing. After driving the BME Top Fuel car, Gibson drove Dave and Rex Stevens TF car.

Gibson had the opportunity to purchase the machinery that had been Kinesis Racing Wheels in Vista, CA. The name Kinesis, along with its inventory and designs, were purchased by Lexani Wheels. Gibson refitted the CNC machines, built all new tooling, and started manufacturing, testing, and sales of billet front wheels for drag racing in Gibson’s shop in Huntington Beach, CA, Gibson Wheels.com. “ Testing is an essential factor in design. You can do a lot of sophisticated FEA, but in testing is where you see the correlation to the theoretical work.” Gibson is also currently introducing his new sports car/road race wheel, with other wheel designs to follow.

Wheels can be a big factor in the way a car performs. “As a driver I was always impressed by how much effect the front wheels have on a dragster when they touch down. It’s not uncommon that front wheel spin-up will cause an upset to the car, whether it’s causing it to spin or shake or both”. The force used to spin-up the front wheels, no matter where they eventually touch down during the run, is created by the engine’s horsepower. So the heavier the front wheel the more horsepower is being used to spin that wheel up to final trap speed. The actual effect is not primarily the weight of the wheels, but the rotational inertia of the wheels. With rotating objects, i.e. heavy wheels, you in effect carry the weight twice. You have to move the weight, and you have to spin the weight. The spin-up effect is dramatic. Anyone who has experimented with different weight flywheels on their engine can understand the difference. The higher the rotational inertia of the wheels, the more horsepower is being wasted in accelerating them to trap speed.

Another way horsepower can be wasted is with wheels that are not round and/or concentric. In an extreme case, imagine trying to roll an elliptical, oval, or even square shaped wheel down the track. Machine tooling is critical to producing a round, true, low run-out wheel. Most wheels are machined using a standard axial compression jaw type chuck and a center hold down fixture, which due to their compressive and bending forces, can easily cause distortion during manufacturing. Our custom made tooling is designed to maintain precise concentricity and have no compressive or bending forces acting on the wheel at any time. This tooling eliminates any run-out caused by residual stress, metal removal, or induced stress.

Regarding one element of safety, many front wheels don’t have proper safety beads. Common on motorcycle wheels, these are beads that the tire fits over to hold the tire on the rim in case of deflation. Without safety beads, if a tire experienced low air pressure for any reason, the tire could easily slip off the bead seat and fall into the “drop-in” area, which could cause the tire to come off the wheel. Our wheels have safety beads as specified by US Tire and Rim Association specs.

One of the most interesting and demanding wheel projects came when doing the extensive redesign and engineering on Danny Thompson's Challenger2 Streamliner. That car, powered by 2 540 c.i. unblown Brad Anderson hemi engines running on up to 87% nitromethane, eventually set the official wheel driven Land Speed Record with an average speed of 448.757 mph, and was clocked at 459 mph at the exit of the 5 mi speed trap. Gibson designed the wheels for Challenger2, and those wheels were spin tested to over 560 mph.

For more information about Tim Gibson, visit: www.tgibson.com

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