By Josh Erdman, IT Pro
Nestled between fields of strawberries and spinach lies the powerhouse that fuels the National Hotrod Association (NHRA). Santa Maria Valley, with its rich agricultural and viticulture heritage, is also the home of Top Fuel drag racing legend Alan Johnson Performance Engineering.
Inside Alan Johnson Performance Engineering, 610-pound blocks of aluminum are molded and machined into 10,000-horsepower engines. Any NHRA team worth their salt has one of these engines under the hood if they want to be competitive on the track. They will never pass a smog test, but these V-8 engines are guaranteed to get you to church on time with speeds reaching over 320 MPH within a 1,000-foot drag strip.
Behind all this engineering and tech is Alan Johnson, the master of horsepower and engine design. I have had the privilege providing IT consulting to Alan and his team of machinists for the past decade. With Alan running a machine shop in Santa Maria and being a crew chief for teams in Indiana – email and real-time communications are critical.
Alan uses one of the most powerful desktop computers I have had the chance of managing. His PC runs SolidWorks, state-of-the-art software capable of designing engines in a 3D view that allows you to take a virtual engine tour as though you were an ant crawling through each cylinder, oil passage and water jacket with the sole purpose of identifying even the smallest flaw.
In 2012, I got an opportunity to see these engines in action at the NHRA Sonoma Nationals. Sitting in the stands looking down on the drag strip, the cars looked like fighter jets without wings and each stroke of the engine resulted in what felt like someone performing CPR on my chest. When the light flashed green the cars shot down the drag strip faster than I could turn my head to follow them. Three seconds later it was over and another set of cars were rolled onto the strip for another 4-second duel.
Alan has won 11 national Nitro Top Fuel titles either as crew chief or team owner – his experience and skill is highly sought after in the NHRA and helped team Al-Anabi obtain the recognition as being one of the most successful Top Fuel teams in the NHRA. But for me, the glory was in bearing witness to the incredible intersection of engineering power and technology.