There was a time when the size of your car’s rear tire could severely inhibit dragstrip performances. The only “power management” available was your own foot and optimal traction was had by stuffing the largest tire you could under the car. If you were planning on building a radical engine for your muscle car you had to plan on running some radically sized tires too, if you ever wanted your car to hook up and perform. There wasn’t a magic spell that could ensure your car would stick. There is still no such spell, but thanks to today’s advanced electronics, like MSD’s Power Grid Ignition System, drag racers can produce enormous horsepower and torque and not have to worry about blowing their puny tires off when they launch. Electronically controlled power management is what we’re talking about here, and although it’s nothing new (MSD’s Digital 7 boxes have been allowing racers to manipulate timing for over a decade), the way they do it is improving and, judging by this versatile system, both the hardware and software are getting more effective, yet simplified.
The Power Grid Ignition is MSD’s latest digital system, and it features technology that makes installation, as well as tuneability much simpler than the previous Digital 7 boxes, such as the 7531 box, which has been a staple part number in small-tire heads-up drag racing for the last several years. The Power Grid setup consists of a controller box (PN 7730), ignition box (PN 7720), a CAN-bus hub (PN 7740), and various modules that allow the user to control different areas of their engine. Timing ramps, rev limits, traction control, all can be almost infinitely adjusted with the Power Grid, and the user interface (the computer screen display) is so simple compared to the old program. That alone is enough reason for drag racers to make the switch over to the new system.
It’s designed using CAN-bus, an automotive and aerospace technology that allows devices to communicate with each other within a vehicle without a host computer. MSD has designed modules that feature specific functions, such as launch and rpm control, which easily tie into the Power Grid using a hub, making installation a breeze. Since it can be used with both MSD and RacePak’s (a popular data logger company) existing products, it’s a great setup for the serious racer. The Power Grid allows you to combine various systems together in order to relieve the complications that go with running multiple interfaces. In other words, the Power Grid puts all the log screens in one area. The Grid is a great upgrade for those racers who already have a 7531 and RacePak data logger because it allows the user to view both unit’s data on a common screen. Before, users would have to view each separately, inconveniently.
It’s engineered with a powerful 32-bit micro-controller and the Power Grid is monitored using all-new software called MSD View, which is very comprehensive and an easy program to navigate. Being USB compatible means it can be updated via download from msdignition.com and the Windows-based software is designed with tabs to help racers easily select different programming windows and parameters. Also, the data acquisition files of the ignition are captured on a micro SD card for ease of storage and review. One nifty thing about the setup is the CAN-bus technology reduces the amount of wiring, so for those racers looking to shed every ounce, the Power Grid system is light in weight, relatively.
If you are a casual gearhead who rarely races his car, the Power Grid has a lot of features you may not ever use. There are adjustability features that cater to the top-tier drag racer, but what you’ll care about is the super hot spark the Power Grid ignition box produces. According to MSD, the 7720 ignition box produces an even hotter spark than the Digital 7 boxes (200-220 mJ compared to 190 mJ). This means a more complete burn and ultimately, more horsepower, and we can all use that.
Using the Grid
In hard-core drag racing, controllability is king. Being able to program and monitor every aspect of your car and make changes accordingly is what separates the winners from the losers. One team who often wins with an MSD Power Grid is West Coast’s Eddie Rios, the tuner for Al Jimenez’s supercharged second-gen Camaro. Running as quick as 7.14 and as fast as 205 mph in the quarter-mile, this car actually holds the unofficial title of fastest car on leaf springs. We contacted Rios to pick his brain about how he uses the Power Grid to control one of the most powerful drag radial cars in the country.
Chevy High Performance: What prompted you to start using the Power Grid, and what did you run before?
Eddie Rios: We used the MSD 7531 box for years, which was great for getting the car down the track, but it lacked the ability of controlling the timing in a time-based retard. You could do time-based retard, but it had to be done through different nitrous retards. Now with the Grid you can make a whole graph and map out a retard table in time-based and in turn, control timing at any point in the run. On top of that, you can log what the Power Grid is doing through the RacePak data logger. We use the time-based retards, gear retard, shift retard, and the two-step rev limiter on Al [Jimenez’s] car.
CHP: How does the installation and display screen compare to the older Digital 7 box?
ER: Pretty much the same for installation, but the RacePak connection is a nice feature; it’s connected using one plug. The program [MSD View] is way more user-friendly and easier to navigate than the old one. I also noticed quicker upload and download times, and much more precision on the graphs also.
CHP: Do you use any of the Power Grid modules like the ARC module?
ER: I haven’t used the ARC module yet, since it only recently became available, but I do plan to use it because we use a time-based rev limiter in the 7531, which people refer to as “dots”. I read that it will also incorporate a driveshaft speed-based limiter also, which will come in very handy.
CHP: Do you think the Power Grid is a good upgrade for a radical street car?
ER: For some of the more powerful street cars, yes, but I really believe it’s a necessity in any heads-up drag race car. These days, if you’re trying to be on top in a class, you need to have a Power Grid and a RacePak, period.
Power grid Specs and Features
Four steps of rpm limits: for burnout, turbo spool, launch, and over-rev protection
- Output switch triggered by rpm, pressure, or time
- Timing based on engine rpm and gear value
- Advanced individual cylinder timing based on gear or time
- Five retard stages for nitrous
- USB connection for ease of programming
- Shift light settings for each gear
- Ignition data acquisition accepts multiple runs
Spark energy: 200-220 mJ per spark
Primary voltage: 545-570 V
Secondary voltage: 50,000 V
Spark series duration: 20-degree Crankshaft Rotation
RPM range: 15,000 rpm with 14.4 V
Voltage Required: 12-18 V, negative ground
Current Draw: 1.3 amps per 1,000 rpm
Weight and Size: 2.9 pounds, 71/2 inches long by 5 inches wide by 21/4 inches high
The CAN-bus technology allows you to expand the system using modules that can be easily added using a hub. MSD’s ARC module for example, allows you to set rpm limits based on slew rate (rpm acceleration) or based on time since launch. Designed to limit wheel speed, this add-on allows the tuner to finely tune their car’s launch characteristics, optimizing performance. In the event that engine and/or driveshaft rpm increase(s) at a pre-programmed rate, the module’s software will retard the ignition timing and/or rev limits in order to prevent excessive wheel speed. This data can easily be accessed and modified using the MSD View software on a laptop computer.