In a sport where innovation is a necessity for advancement, one area of drag racing that has been surprisingly slow to implement change is that of engine management. Although new products have come on the market over the years, it wasn’t until Anderson Dick and FuelTech burst onto the scene that exponential advancements started to be made.
Dick, the mastermind owner and founder of FuelTech, has an incredible, intrinsic need to do things differently and to do them better. His attitude of “don’t tell me I can’t do something” is somewhat punk rock in his unapologetically rebellious determination to buck trends, break molds, and find unique, creative solutions to problems. Like Apple’s Steve Jobs and Tesla’s Elon Musk, Dick absolutely thrives on challenges and has made it his personal mission to improve not only drag racing, but engine management as a whole.
Growing up in southern Brazil, Dick, now 36, had loved cars ever since he was young. In 1999, when he was 17 years old, he set off to study electrical engineering at UFRGS (Federal University of the RS state of Brazil). “I had some friends that were installing turbos on cars and modifying them, but the Brazilian market was restrictive and made it almost impossible to get any kind of aftermarket ECU into the country,” he recalls of the initial inspiration for an idea that would eventually spark an industry revolution. He started designing a simplistic product to handle electronic fuel injection on turbocharged vehicles, and it wound up becoming his graduation project. “It took me a few years from the first prototype, but I presented it and it wound up becoming a commercially available product.”
At the time, Dick was operating a start-up-style company out of his college apartment, and his two-person business didn’t give him reason to expect big plans for the future. Soon, he realized the need to grow as he had more people interested in his product, aptly named “TurboPro,” than he could manufacture. “I was designing the system, buying parts, assembling, cutting wire harnesses, taking phone calls, doing the website, shipping, handling the money… everything,” laughs Dick, who officially registered his company on April 23, 2003.
In 2004, Dick graduated from the university and focused more on his aftermarket performance engine management systems. Interestingly, his ability to innovate and think creatively was uninhibited mostly thanks to the lack of other products available locally. “We never had competitors’ products around to see how others were doing it, so we designed everything from scratch and without any preconceived notions of how things should work,” Dick explains.
By not following historical trends, such as having to connect a laptop to an ECU for tuning purposes, Dick was able to revolutionize the world of EFI. Instead, Dick decided that he wanted to create something with an integrated interface that allowed users to control and tune everything from one self-contained unit. Initially, a laptop connection wasn’t even an option – it wasn’t until around 2007 that the feature was added.
By 2009, though, Dick’s company had established itself as a key player in the Brazilian market and employed a team of more than 25 staff members. With the proof of concept firmly in place, he knew it was time to branch out.
His ingenious method of problem solving actually hindered Dick’s initial efforts to penetrate highly competitive international markets at first, as so many people were resistant to change. “We attended the Performance Racing Industry (PRI) show in the USA in 2009 through 2012, and the majority of the people who stopped at our booth were asking ‘if this is the dash, where is the ECU?’ and we had to explain it was all one unit,” he notes of the typical response his product received. “People said we wouldn’t succeed.”
Undeterred, Dick continued and regularly displayed at Donald “Duck” Long’s legendary radial tire races at South Georgia Motorsports Park in Valdosta, Georgia. “We never sold a single computer the first year,” Dick admits, and notes that later events had similar outcomes. Eventually, though, a few racers agreed to try his technology. The progress snowballed, and before long, people were coming by already convinced they needed to make the switch to FuelTech themselves. “It was a shock; we really weren’t expecting it!”
In 2012, two Brazilian racers, Roderjan Busato and Fabio Costa, purchased engines for their Pro Mods from Pro Line Racing. “They were the ones that introduced us to Eric Dillard at PLR. They wanted to run FuelTech on their cars, so we talked to Eric and realized our product at the time was not able to fulfill their expectations for an engine like that,” Dick candidly confesses. Using the setback instead as motivation, Dick went to work on a major redesign that would become an all-new platform for FuelTech.
Over the next two years, the FuelTech team worked relentlessly to develop something to meet the needs of the Pro Mod community. “We had maxed out our original products, and the new platform became the FT500,” clarifies Dick of the unexpected progression, despite already having approximately 90 percent market share in Brazil with his earlier offerings. “By 2014, we started using our systems on the Pro Mods and established the FuelTech USA headquarters next to Pro Line Racing in Ball Ground, Georgia.”
Although the two companies work together quite closely, they remain completely separate entities and FuelTech works with many other engine builders. It’s not a traditional partnership, but rather a synergistic, non-exclusive collaboration. Pro Line Racing benefits by having direct access to the FuelTech think tank, while FuelTech’s products are proven by Pro Line Racing’s customers.
It wasn’t luck that helped propel FuelTech to the forefront of drag racing notoriety, but rather their incredible abundance of industry-leading features and benefits. “We are the only company in the world that can manage every single electronic function in a drag car,” boasts Dick, who didn’t understand why racers would buy separate components from multiple brands. “FuelTech eliminates the need for other things. The dash, ECU, data logger, boost and nitrous control, traction control, wheelie control, it’s all built into one, easy-to-use box.” Racers have reported being able to shed up to 30 pounds of weight from eliminating unnecessary wiring and components after switching to a FuelTech engine management system.
To further simplify the FuelTech experience, the same system will run a nitro-fueled car, a 4,500-horsepower radial tire car, a street car, sport bike, jet ski, or pretty much anything with an internal combustion engine. FuelTech’s innovative technology is mind-blowingly powerful and comes packed with countless features available to help make anything possible.
Advanced diagnostic capabilities also play a key role in the popularity of FuelTech, as Dick wants to know the why, what, and how behind any problem a racer may encounter. He keeps his ears open and is genuinely receptive to input and feedback so that he can put the knowledge to work solving problems and eliminating weaknesses.
“Our systems save racers tons of guess work. You can simply see that ‘oh, the coil on cylinder six isn’t firing’ or ‘a coil connector was disconnected’,” Dick states, adding that replaying data is as easy as a few taps of a button. Although FuelTech can be used in any motorsport, the company’s primary focus is drag racing. “We know where racers struggle, and we work hard to prevent those issues from ever happening.”
Communication with racers is crucial for Dick, whose passion for support is unparalleled. He encourages users to call in to with ideas of feature suggestions. “It doesn’t matter who you are – if you’re Steve Petty or a beginner tuner that just started – you can call us and discuss your concerns and we’ll probably have a solution that’s easier and quicker than you realize,” laughs Dick, who thoroughly enjoys discussing concepts and strategies, and is unquestionably committed to improving racers’ quality of life at the track. “I love when people say, ‘everything was great this weekend,’ but I love it more when they say ‘man, we need to figure out a way to make the car more consistent to the 330-foot’ or ‘what about blah-blah specific feature’ so we get ideas and inspiration to create new software.”
Although the FuelTech software itself isn’t open source in a traditional sense, the company has embraced the concept of group thinking. Many of drag racing’s most talented tuners and brightest minds are constantly consulting on feature suggestions, contributing to software updates, and more, to ensure that all end-users can benefit from the collective, shared greatness accessible within the industry… at absolutely no cost to the customer. That’s right – FuelTech makes its software updates, which include feature additions, absolutely free to product owners.
“We want to be disruptive and bring new technology to this industry,” notes Dick, who is well on his way to changing the engine management industry forever and has no qualms about continuously reinventing his products. His ultimate goal is to have people look back and realize that FuelTech had a dramatically positive impact on the development of the drag racing scene. “We don’t accept the limitations. We know we can do better and always improve.”
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for FuelTech, as the company fought hard at first to prove their quality was up to par given that many drag racers are diehard “Made in the USA” loyalists. Being that Brazil is located in South America, one could still technically say that FuelTech is “Made in the Americas” although that becomes a moot point if one were to look strictly at the performance history and track record of the product – it speaks for itself and there can be no question in regard to the excellence of the manufacturing, regardless of its location.
With a team of nearly a dozen US-based employees, too, FuelTech is fully invested in being a proud American company that offers a personalized experience for its customers. Dick further solidified his commitment and proved his authenticity by relocating his entire life, along with his wife and sons, to the USA in 2016.
Now, Dick’s products are setting the standards in the world of EFI and making traditional products obsolete. Touchscreen dashboards allow tuners to quickly and effortlessly make changes on the fly, access data, and push the limits of performance to never-before-seen levels of greatness.
The new FT600 engine management system was debuted in August of 2017 and it quickly reset the standard. “Not only does the FuelTech control the electronic fuel injection and the power management systems, they now have the FTSPARK to provide engine starting and operation ignition capabilities and the updated data logging system, all within one module,” wrote Tyler Crossnoe in a product review on DragIllustrated.com.
The FuelTech FTSPARK itself is a high energy Capacitive Discharge Ignition (CDI) module that meets the most demanding spark power requirement levels for racing and does not need to be used in conjunction with a FuelTech engine management system. FTSPARK was designed initially for high-horsepower, alcohol drag cars and tested on 5,000-plus-horsepower engines.
Additionally, FuelTech’s new SwitchPanel-8 is a customizable, sealed button panel with “multicolor backlight that communicates with the PowerFT line of ECUs (FT500, FT500LITE and FT600) through FTCAN 2.0.” Each button’s programmed function can be specified through predefined stickers (or blanks) making an aesthetically pleasing switch panel setup totally hassle-free.
FuelTech’s team of elite engineers, along with the best technology available and overall system simplicity, have brought world-class tuning capabilities to racers of all levels, within any form of motorsport from drag racing to circuit racing, off-road racing to rally, motorbike racing to nautical applications and everything in between. The pioneering spirit demonstrated by the FuelTech family embodies the American Dream, and has helped propel the company from a small start-up to a globally respected powerhouse.
Looking to the future, Dick plans for FuelTech to continue to innovate and respond to changing industry trends and dynamics. “One hundred and twenty years ago, horses were the primary commuting option, but that’s not the best method anymore – we’ve switched to cars. If FuelTech had been around back then, we would have been involved in horse racing,” jokes Dick, who uses the analogy to describe how FuelTech specializes in racing, period, and isn’t partial to one particular sector of the sport.
In the world of consumer electronics, end-users have become accustomed to having the latest technology and expect nothing less. In motorsports, and drag racing, though, it seems that there’s an apathetic acceptance of lackluster, antiquated devices and Dick is working hard to get automotive electronics up to speed.
For example, Dick called out his friend and noted tuner, Steve Petty, for being one of the most stubborn and hard to convince when it comes to accepting change. “He likes to do things his way, and he’s been successful with that, so our challenge is to learn with him and understand his needs,” continues Dick, who sees that as a good thing as it pushes him to hold himself to a higher standard with regard to developing the FuelTech line and ensuring the company produces nothing less than world-class, industry-leading, advanced technology.
“Ten years ago, everyone would say that ‘electric cars are impossible and it’ll be gas forever. GM tried, and if they couldn’t do it, then it’s impossible.’ But Elon Musk said he would do it, and he did,” Dick muses. “So many other companies in the racing electronics industry have been copy and pasting or following some outdated way of thought. That’s just how it’s always been done, although I understand where that comes from because the most successful racers are the hardest to convince.”
Unsurprisingly, Dick is almost obsessive when it comes to having the newest devices on the market for personal use. “I love to learn,” he asserts, and enjoys being able to apply what he learns from other products to his niche industry. “Massive investments into research and development aren’t possible on the level of Apple or Samsung, so instead, we use the inspiration from mass-market products to put forth crazy effort instead of crazy finances.”
In the future, Dick predicts that electric engines will be big in racing. “At FuelTech, we are controlling a race car, regardless of how it is powered, and our goal is to make it easier, quicker, faster, and more reliable for the racer or the tuner,” articulates Dick, who owns a Tesla as his daily driver and doesn’t just look at performance – instead, he looks at the big picture and considers where and how electronics can be integrated into a car, regardless of function. “Holley was a carburetor manufacturer before they became an EFI manufacturer. It doesn’t matter what the next kind of engine, horsepower, or fuel becomes popular, FuelTech will be there no matter what.”