TOBLER WALKS THE FINE LINE OF TUNING
Riding the wave of success can be a tricky one for a crew chief. Few can surf the treacherous waters of tuning better than Rahn Tobler, crew chief for the NAPA Auto Parts Funny Car.
Tobler, who has been tuning for the better part of four decades, believes the key to his success is following the line right in the middle of aggressive and conservative.
“You just have to stay in the middle,” Tobler explained. “I try to be just level; we don’t get too high, we don’t get too low. Eventually, you know it will come back around, and that’s what’s happening to our car lately. We had a good car in Houston. We made some changes going in there. They were pretty significant in the way we ran the clutch, same clutch, and we had a good car in Houston. We just got a little heavy with primary in the third round, but we qualified well, we ran well.
“Then with Charlotte, I can’t tell you what happened with all that, but ever since then, we’ve had a pretty good car. We really haven’t changed a whole lot.”
Tobler recently experienced a run of good fortunes with driver Ron Capps, where they have won two of the last three events. In the spirit of the .38 Special song, he holds on loosely to the combination.
“You have to be willing to make changes, and it could just be from last week to this week,” Tobler explained. “You can’t get locked in too much or say, “Well, we did this last week, and it worked.”
“You have to go with what the circumstances are giving you in a given weekend. Now our goal is to when we make that first qualifier that we’re pretty darn close. We’re not going out there trying to attack although the last couple of weekends we’ve had some pretty good Q1’s, but we didn’t do that on purpose, it just happened.
“Once you get the first run of the weekend over, then your tune-up and all those kind of things you pretty much have settled into and then it’s just making some fine adjustments from there. What worked last week doesn’t necessarily work this week. You cannot be locked into everything being identically the same.”
Hitting the mark on the first run can make the difference in the flow of the entire weekend. Last weekend, Capps grabbed the provisional at the NHRA Route 66 Nationals during Friday’s Q-1 session. Miss on the first run and the effects could be detrimental.
“I always try to teach the guys that I work with, in this case, Dustin now, that you need data,” Tobler said. “We don’t care so much that we don’t go out and run low ET. We would rather go from A to B and the more runs we can have going into Sunday; usually the better off we are.”
Tobler admits he has a relatively short tolerance of failure before he uproots his pathway into a different direction, sometimes back to the original baseline.
“No matter what it is whether it’s dropping cylinders or smoking tires at the hit or whatever it is, about two runs is what we’re going to give it,” Tobler said. “Knock on wood; we’re pretty good about fixing it after just one run.
“It normally doesn’t come back and do it the second run. It certainly did to us in Charlotte, and I’m sure there’s been a lot of instances when it’s been that way. We give ourselves about one run to get it straightened out, and we’re pretty disappointed after that.”
Tobler admits he doesn’t establish his tune-up by purely studying the computer data. He’s got an extra asset, the form of the driver’s seat of the pants. When it comes to a driver understanding what language their race car speaks, Tobler believes Capps is at the top of the list.
“It’s like the final in Atlanta,” Tobler explained. “We had run a 4.02 against John in the second round, which was low ET for the rest of the day. We ran a 4.07 in the semis because it kept getting hotter and hotter. We were racing Tim Wilkerson who got his car together in the middle rounds and we’re like, “Man, we cannot just sit on that 4.07. We need to try and step it up a little bit.”
“But one of the turning points was when I turned and looked at Dustin, and I said, “Let’s just let Ron drive.”
“Sure enough he beats Tim on a holeshot so had we done the wrong thing or tried to pep it up a little bit and it smoked the tires we would have never gotten that win. Sometimes your intuition just says he had been driving well that day. I think he had put a .030 light on somebody in the semifinals so you just kind of go with that as well. The driver is certainly what we consider when we make our decisions.”
Tobler believes a tuner is only as good as those they surround themselves with. He’s not afraid to open the proverbial suggestion box.
“I want to be open with everyone,” Tobler said. “If my guy outside that’s doing the body and tires, if he notices something, I want him to come in and tell me. Other people don’t think it’s a big deal, but I’ll always listen to what anybody has to say, and we go from there. So certainly the driver is a major influence in what we do. He’ll ask me something, “Why did it do this? Or, why did it do that?”
“I’m able to show him data. We look at it together because he’s up here with us most of the time anyway and then we’ll tell him what we’re going to do to fix it or how we’re going to approach it differently. So I think from that standpoint when we go up on the next run he knows in his mind that we’re going to take care of this one way or the other.”
And nothing takes care of something better than walking the fine line, something Tobler has mastered.