Fox helps drag racer win Microsoft Start Something Amazing Award

It was very impressive to see a computer using FoxPro helping a 15 year old drag racer win competitions. When I started reading about it, I thought it must be some sort of simulation: don’t you have to be older to drive? Then I saw the video, which clearly showed it was not a car simulator.



Ken’s blog on the subject.

Comments (10)

  1. Guy Eckinger says:

    I really enjoyed seeing this.

    2 subjects associated with speed: Drag Racing and Visual FoxPro.

    p.s. Thanks Microsoft Visual FoxPro team for all your good work!

  2. Don Higgins says:


    The Data Acquisition system has sensors on the car, and a collection and memory computer on the car. After a run we download them thru a serial port or USB port and transfer the information.

    I use Active X controls for several different purposes, I have mscomm, listviews, and several more. Nothing special in this area however. The data acquisition cannot be real time as the car goes down the track per the rules, but once stopped we can transfer the info. We are also working on Blue Tooth enabled transfer without cables.

    The data processing is fairly intensive, with calculations performed thousands of times per event. The amount of math processing is quite amazing. We not only process the data acquisition but we must PREDICT the next run’s tune-up based on weather parameters. This alone is a mathematical feat. Crew Chief Pro will analyze previous runs and the effects certain weather parameters had on the performance, then apply these formulas to the new weather conditions to determine the correct setup for the next run.

    Seems simple enough, however there are about 100,000 calculations per analysis and these are run over and over again with different sets of parameters to find the answer we need. This is what separates my program from others, my formulas are intense and extremely accurate. After these calculations finish, I will also perform "What If" calculations to see what certain areas affect performance more than others.

    As far as SQL we use it all the time, thousands of times actually in our analysis. Since we look at data over and over while applying different weather parameters this helps us more than anything else. FoxPro’s ability to handle large data sets with ease is what made us go your direction years ago. For example: We will run SQL with statistical calculations on the data looking at just temperature, then run the same thing looking at humidity, then the same thing with Barometric Pressure, then Density Altitude, then Vapor Pressure, then Grains Per Pound, etc etc etc. Each weather parameter must be analyzed fully then selected again against a math formula to get another answer, then again with a high low formula.

    The weather stations are very interesting. I sell weather stations that send a signal to a pager that we wear while waiting to race. My weather stations have transmitters built inside them that have 5 watt radios. These have a few mile effective range and each one is on a different channel. Every 2 minutes the pager beeps and alerts us to the weather changes, plus the updated predictions for the car setup. While this system is expensive it has be come a necessity to win. The weather stations are connected to the computer thru a USB or serial port also. Every 15 seconds or so I gather all the weather data from the weather station and analyze it, and rerun the mathematical formulas back thru the data. Even small changes in certain conditions can spell disaster to an expensive racing engine so we have to be very precise.

    There is a common misconception that drag racing is easy. There is a great saying in our business; "Drag Racing is Easy until you try to do it better than someone else". With 9,000 (yes 9 thousand) horsepower on tap these cars are very finicky, and they never go straight down the track. The front wheels sometimes are not even on the ground for much of the race so they are tough to steer. The fastest classes run over 330 miles per hour from a standing start in under 4 and one half seconds. Think about this for a second: The fastest class in drag racing called Top Fuel Dragster will be going 282 miles per hour at HALF TRACK in 3 seconds FLAT! These cars are monsters. The tune-up has to be very precise, there are No Mulligans, No Do-Overs, No Next Lap to beat someone. Get it right collect a bunch of money, get it wrong and at the very least you lose, and the worst you destroy a racecar.

    What separates us from other sports is this precise setup. Indy cars and NASCAR have hundreds of laps so they have to be more flexible with their setup. We do not have that luxury.

    There is one more piece to the puzzle that I introduced this year. This is a wireless receiver that will intercept the performance information about my competitors beamed from the track timing system. The timing systems display Elapsed Time and speed at several intervals on the track. These intervals are 60 feet from the starting line, 330 feet, 660 feet, 1000 feet, and 1320 feet (the finish line).

    After each run you receive a time slip that lists your run and your opponent’s information. With our new wireless receiver we receive information about everyone’s runs. This has helped us because we can now see how fast each opponent is, but more important we can see where we do better or worse than others and it helps us to change our tune-up. This wireless receiver also uses a USB port to transfer information.

    So you can see we use all available USB ports on many computers with the entire system. It costs around $3,000 for the entire system also. Many customers just buy the software then move up each year to more components. I change the program every day, and I charge update fees to customers.

    I use VFP 7 until recently, now it is in 9.0.

    And your question about if it will work on other motorsports is yes and no. We sell weather stations to NASCAR and Indy car teams but I have not ported this program to their cars because there are NOT enough racers in these series for my effort. There are about 150,000 drag racers in the US and overseas. There are only a fraction of circle track racers.

    Sorry to be so long winded about this. I appreciate your interest in my program.

    Don Higgins

  3. Hector says:

    It’s really sad that there is no mention of VFP in the post at

  4. Don Higgins says:

    It is sad that there is no mention, but my customer said he informed Bill Gates that it was designed with VFP. He chose the award and got a 30 minute demo by my customer. I wish I had known about it before the demo, I would have flown up to Seattle and made sure.

    Not many developers can say Bill Gates saw their FoxPro application so I am happy.

  5. Guy Eckinger says:

    In the July 2006 Reader’s Digest magazine, page 190, there is a short but nice article on Jeannine Johnson.  

  6. Bill Johnson says:

    Thanks everyone for the kind words.  Jeannine is really looking forward to moving up to the next stage in her racing carrer.  She turned 16 in May and has licensed with a 8.65 sec Quarter Mile pass at 153MPH.  We are bringing a new car out in the next couple of weeks and will have a firm race schedule on the site.  We race just outside of Auburn Washington, so if anyone wants to come out let us know.

    Bill Johnson

  7. In this post: Fox helps drag racer win Microsoft Start Something Amazing Award , I wrote about an application

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