Rick Hord could have been rejoicing in his speed record this past weekend at the NGK Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals at Charlotte. Instead, he left zMAX Dragway with no record, a failure to qualify, and a thorny question regarding intellectual property.
Hord, driver of the Hemi-powered “Maximum Effort IV”/MoTeC Systems fuel-injected Corvette, posted a 5.711-second pass at 260.91 mph that was the sixth-quickest and fastest-ever in NHRA Pro Mod history. It rocketed him from 26th place to first after two sessions of qualifying.
But declining to hand over his computer tuning files to NHRA Technical Committee representatives cost Hord his class speed record – and ultimately a spot on the ultra-competitive E3 Spark Plugs NHRA Pro Mod Series race-day grid.
Following Hord’s run, NHRA Technical Committee representatives Joey Gorman and Jacob Marshall visited the Belle Isle, Fla., racer’s pit for a routine inspection. Hord and tuner Carl Stevens Jr. complied, allowing the inspectors to view computer data from the performance. Moreover, Hord said they had no problem with participating in the entire tech inspection.
“We were fully compliant. This process went on for hours,” the owner-driver said. “And quite frankly, I was getting tired at the end. It was midnight. We tore the entire motor apart. We tore all the turbos apart. They measured everything. They went through all the car.
“We showed them on the laptop everything they asked to see. At the very, very, very end of the entire process, they asked for a hard copy,” he said. Stevens deferred the decision to Hord, who said he told Gorman and Marshall, “I cannot give that to you, because in our system, (and this is the key to all of this, he said) the data and the set-up information are bundled. And the set-up information I consider to be proprietary. It has taken us several years to learn the set-up information, and I’m not going to hand it out.”
I think we just have a fundamental difference of opinion. And the fundamental difference of opinion is [the answer to] what is proprietary and what is not proprietary, or what is intellectual property and what is not intellectual property. – Rick Hord
Hord said, “I know they’ve had certain concerns in the category, and they’ve made that known to the drivers. They’ve made it known for some time now that they want access to data. Well, my fundamental problem here is that my system does not allow me to separate out the data from the set-up information. I simply said to them, ‘I cannot give you a hard copy, because I can cannot separate them.’”
However, Hord declined to relinquish the data, explaining that “we consider the set-up to be proprietary. We don’t consider the data proprietary. We showed them the data. And if we could have stripped it out and put it on a memory stick, I would have gladly done it. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t separate it. It’s just not the way our engine-management system is configured.”
So Gorman and Marshall consulted Glen Gray, the sanctioning body’s vice-president of technical operations. Gray went to Hord’s pit, along with NHRA Director of Engineering Tim White, who’s experienced with data acquisition.
“Rick was very polite. He was very professional, and I appreciate that,” Gray said. “I think we both tried to stay professional during the whole discussion. All of us did. But he had his position. We had our position. And we basically had to agree to disagree on this one. There wasn’t any yelling. There wasn’t any hand-waving or anything. It was very amiable. I can’t give Rick enough credit for being professional. I was the one who informed him that his run was going to be disqualified.”
Hord emphasized that the issue in this case is one of intellectual property and where the line is between keeping information proprietary and being required to share it, even with the sanctioning body.
“I don’t think anybody’s at odds with anybody here. Nobody punched anybody in the nose. We have respectfully agreed to disagree,” Hord said. “I have no issues with Glen. I understand his concerns, because we have talked at length. I think he has behaved very professionally. Honestly, I’d like to be on the Tech Committee. My background is mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering. He and I have exchanged dialog prior to this situation about ways to work through some of these things. Pro Mod is probably one of the most technologically advanced categories, from an electronics control standpoint.
“I think we just have a fundamental difference of opinion,” Hord said. “And the fundamental difference of opinion is [the answer to] what is proprietary and what is not proprietary, or what is intellectual property and what is not intellectual property.”
Gray wasn’t unsympathetic. “I understand his position,” Gray said. “But it doesn’t mean we can allow that to happen. We have to do our job, and we can’t allow people, even though they have a position, to ignore what our rulebook allows us to do. We have to make sure it’s fair for everybody, so we have to follow our rules.”
Based on Friday’s infraction, Hord is not subject to any further discipline or fine.
Gray said he will be issuing a letter to all Pro Mod teams before their appearance at the May 18-20 Menard’s Heartland Nationals at Topeka to clarify the rule “and what the punishment will be for not complying with it. The rulebook’s 300-and-something pages long, and people don’t read the whole rulebook. Some people don’t know everything that’s in there. We will be reminding the Pro Mod racers before Topeka.”
I understand his position. But it doesn’t mean we can allow that to happen. We have to do our job, and we can’t allow people, even though they have a position, to ignore what our rulebook allows us to do. We have to make sure it’s fair for everybody, so we have to follow our rules. – Glen Gray, NHRA
He said he plans somehow to make sure racers in every professional and sportsman class are aware of the rule and consequences for not following it. Gray said after any run, the NHRA Tech Committee has the right to inspect any car, by tear-down, measurement, and/or examining computer data. He said his tech team especially is eager to look at a car that has just set a record.
Ironically, Hord said he honestly wasn’t swinging for the fence in that Friday night attempt.
“We made an outstanding run. We were not trying to make that run. The set-up in the car was the exact-same set-up from the semifinal in Houston, which went 5.74 [seconds] at 255 [mph]. We were trying to go 5.74 at 255,” he said. To be exact, Hord ran a 5.776-second elapsed time at 255.29 mph in his Houston semifinal victory over Bob Rahaim. Hord said, “the conditions were such in Charlotte that the barometer was not as good, and we had no idea that those numbers were going to pop up on the scoreboard, not to say that we didn’t think we had the potential to do that. But that certainly was not in our overall game plan. We know we have a competitive car, but we were as surprised as everybody else.”
Curiously, Gray said “at least half a dozen” other Pro Mod racers approached him throughout the remainder of the weekend regarding Hord’s case.
“They said, ‘we’re more than willing to give you that [computer data files],’ and they felt we were not harsh enough in our decision,” Gray said. “Before I got back to the hotel at 10 or 10:30 [Friday night], I got text messages. It’s racing. It’s really hard for that not to get around in the pits. Anytime they see four officials standing in somebody’s pit after they set record, the rumor mill starts.”
One racer told Hord after news of his record run being disqualified became public that he didn’t understand Hord’s concerns. After all, the racer said, he himself has turned over a hard copy of his information when requested.
“They don’t completely understand what’s going on here. When people make comments, they don’t always know all the facts. When people don’t understand the details, it’s easy to forn opinions,” Hord said.
“I think where people get confused is there’s a difference between engine-management systems and the way they function. And these guys ask for data, and we simply could not provide data without providing proprietary information. Ours is bundled. That’s the key here that I don’t think some of these other racers quite understand, because I know who some of them are and I know the systems they use,” he said. “Had we been able simply to strip out the data, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. And I probably would have had a pretty good chance to win at Charlotte.”
Hord told his inquiring colleague, “your system allowed you to give just the data. Our system does not. And that’s where this whole thing about ‘proprietary’ came up. I cannot unbundle just the data. There’s a whole lot going on here, and I don’t think the NHRA has a simple solution. You’re dealing with three different types of [power-adders] in Pro Mod. You’re comparing apples, oranges, and peaches.”
Hord’s Q2 run was disallowed, but he was not disqualified from the event. He was free to participate in the two Saturday qualifying opportunities.
He did, but he failed to make the field – no shame in a class in which even the star-studded DNQ list at every race easily could be a starting lineup. Hord, left with his opening pass of 6.354 seconds at 211.26 mph as his best of the weekend, experienced mechanical trouble during the burnout on his first Saturday attempt and the team cut the engine off. In his last chance to crack into the top 16, Hord could muster only an insufficient 9.054, 102.20 clocking and finished the weekend 30th out of 31 entrants.
“We made a couple of mistakes, and that part was on us,” he said.
He arrived at zMAX Dragway in eighth place in the standings. After his frustrating weekend, Hord is 11th after three of 12 scheduled events.
Hord is no newcomer to drag racing or even NHRA drag racing, but this is his first season in the Pro Mod class. And he said he wants to remain active and competitive in the class he called “the most exciting category in all of NHRA drag racing right now.”
Hord said he and Gray have agreed to discuss the matter further later this week “on how to go about resolving this difference.”
I think where people get confused is there’s a difference between engine-management systems and the way they function. And these guys ask for data, and we simply could not provide data without providing proprietary information. – Rick Hord
The former Comp Eliminator regular said he returned after a six-year absence “to run the whole series. I didn’t come back to run just two races.
“I think this is just new territory for everybody,” Hord said. “I look forward to furthering the conversation. We’re not here to make a stir. We just want to compete. I don’t want to be at odds with anyone. I don’t want there to be any bad feelings from our side or their side. We’re going to move on. We want to be a part of this series. We have a competitive car. We’re going to run fast again. And because we’re going to run fast again, I don’t want to be going around in a circle. In other words, I don’t want to go to Topeka, run fast, and go through this same scenario and I’m going to tell you the exact same answer.”
The truth is that, as Hord said, “we’re living in a more technical world. We just reached a point in this particular situation that I didn’t think this would come up. Nobody thought this would come up.”
It has, though, and how the NHRA and its racers in all classes move forward is what matters now. This incident offers the opportunity to form a policy that’s palatable for every party.