The Driver and Builder as Tuner
By Pat Foster
[We all know that Pat Foster was one of the best drivers and chassis builders in the history of the sport, but just how much he had to do with the tuning of the racecars themselves is often overlooked. Pat was asked some time ago to provide a little background on this little known area of his experience. The Hall of Famer presented these notes. bp]
The tuning deal depends on what a person deems tuning. I was always a working driver and called all the shots from the motor plate rearward. As in: clutch set up and maintenance, gear selection, tire choice, etc. Mostly, all I ever asked of the engine gurus was to give me eight good cylinders that would make it to the win light. When that happened I could gather up all the rest and be competitive.
When Barry Setzer and I decided to pull his funny car out from Ed Pink's control and move it to Hickory, NC, I assumed the role of engine builder and tuner. My mechanic was "Fat Jack" Bynum, and as most will attest, he was never known as a "Tuner." We did quite well with that hot rod for the next two years, if anyone remembers.
I also ran an alky funny car in Texas for a while that was competitive right out of the box with an inexperienced driver in the seat. Having Dale Armstrong as a friend didn't hurt me there!
When Lee Beard left Gary Ormsby's team, he started to put together a Top Fuel team for a young man from San Diego by the name of Dan Fitzgerald. Ormsby then rehired Lee when the project was in its infancy -- no car yet, no 18-wheeler, no anything. I was in Texas when Lee called and asked if I would return to California and run the new Top Fuel team as a favor to him. I questioned his decision on his choice of replacements and he said, "I've watched you do it all for 20 years and think you are the best choice out there." I was honored that he would think of me.
I went to California and completed the whole act. First time out was at the Dallas World finals. We qualified in the middle of the show and went one round before Dan took a nap in the second round. Next, we went to the Winters in Pomona and qualified sixth. Amato just squeaked by when Dan clicked it about 50 feet too soon.
Dan quit the next week, saying this deal was more expensive than he'd dreamed it could be. I had a short career as a crew chief, but had the confidence I needed to continue. However, I decided it was time to raise a new son properly rather than be on the road as I had been for so long.