Car Performance Tips from Professional Drag Racer Ali Afshar

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Ali Afshar is a Cali kid through and through. Part actor, part producer, part professional racecar driver; this guy is what every Californian boy wants to be when he grows up. Born and bred in Petaluma with a world-class racetrack in his backyard, Ali’s been behind the wheel ever since he was tall enough to reach the pedals, and he’s been racing ever since the day he turned sixteen.

It all started with a deal he made with his dad – one you probably tried to work out with your old man back in the day. It was simple – If Ali got good grades, he got a new car. So as any adrenaline junkie teenager would, Ali hit the books, and before he knew it, he was winning high school drag races with a shiny new ’67 Camaro.

Fast forward a few years and he’d picked up a sponsorship from Subaru America, and found himself living the dream of racing profesisonally at tracks all over the country. Today he runs a company called ESX Motorsports, and is currently touring around the US with a 1600 horsepower twin-turbo Subaru BRZ – a car he built himself to run a sub 7-second quarter mile.

We caught up with Ali at his spot in Santa Clara to get some pro automotive tips before we head out those summer road trips we’ve got planned.

So, as a guy who’s been running a shop for over 20 years, can you give us a few tips on ways to improve car performance without breaking the bank? 

Yeah, air pressure in your tires. Your car has little sensors – well, most do anyway, but if they don’t, you should totally check your air pressure. The right pressure gets you better gas mileage, it gives you more tire life, saves you money on tires and brakes, and it’s safer. So that’s the first thing I always tell people.

I mean, common sense stuff really helps. I’ve been running a shop for twenty-some years now, so I’ve seen pretty much every failure in terms of the most basic caring for your car and following the instructions. You know- changing the oil a little more often than you’re supposed to and getting things checked regular

It’s really just about taking the time to check things. You remember that whole thing about “plants grow better when people talk to them?” There’s a whole series that figures if you take the time to sit down and actually talk to your plants, you’ll probably remember to water them.

Your car is the same way. If you talk to it, you’ll most likely take time to keep it running good. When the check engine light comes on, check it out right away. Check it – don’t let it go. If something feels wrong, if the steering wheel is a little funky, get the alignment done. Fix it immediately, don’t let the steering wheel vibrate or all the sudden the the rack will go bad and things will start leaking. Lots of the stuff I like to recommend to people at the shop is just simple preventative stuff like that.

What about saving money on gas? Is there anything we can do in terms of tweaks, tunes, or modifications that can help boost gas mileage this summer?

I hate to be the air pressure guy, but that’s the best thing I can think of that most people overlook. Make sure you’ve got the right pressure. If your tires are too low, you’re not going to get good gas mileage. Just make sure your car is running correctly, running clean, and everything is efficient. if everything is a bit older, make sure you check the catalytic converters – a lot of things like that just it’s always tuned up and running efficient.

Other than that, if you happen to have a newer car with a great cruise control feature, use it. It keeps the car at the most efficient level and increases the pedal position very smoothly so you’re not just dumping a lot of gas when you accelerate. Newer Subarus have this think called intelligent drive, and a lot of other cars have similar features that let you pu them in a very economical mode – some can actually shut off cylinders when they’re driving long distances. So if you can afford it, when you go out and buy a new car, make sure it’s got these new technologies. And of course,  there’s also so many hybrids out there now with different features that can get you really good mileage.

In terms of adding stuff to your engine and tweaking things, I know that sometimes if you try to get your car to breathe a little bit better, you can sometimes screw with the mass airflow sensor and make your car less efficient. Make sure that the intake and exhaust that you put on your car are tuned properly because different intakes can make your car run really rich or really lean, which will use more fuel.

So in a nutshell, I think the best way to keep your car running efficiently is to just make sure the air pressure in your tires is high, and make sure you’re not gunning it every time. When you gun it even just once, your mileage is done. Make sure you’re keeping a nice steady throttle, or at least keeping it on cruise control – that’s the best way.

Alright, lets say I’m looking to start making improvements on my car. Where should I start?

Oddly enough, I always recommend you start at the end. Understand what your goal is, or the car can be a money pit. It’s really easy to start out and say “I want to get this, I want to get that,” and the next thing you know you’ve spent more than the price of the car on parts.

Before you spend a penny or turn a wrench, think about what you actually want. What is it you’re going for? What do you want to do with this car? Do you want to take it to the track once a week, do you want to take it to the track every day, do you never want to take it to the track, do yo want to just look awesome? Figure out what it is that you’d be happy doing, and then really put some time into that – i wanna get x amount of horsepower, i want to get new brakes, all gears to be this, change stereo, paint, graphics, wheels tires, and whatever it is – figure out whatever you really want.

There are all kinds of supercars out there that you can compare to, like “Oh, I love how the Bugatti looks,” or “I want that Ferrari sound” – whatever it is, do that first. Then put your budget down. Get the goal first, the budget second, and then out outline the build of the car there. Once that’s done, do not deter from the plan, because as soon as you deviate from the plan, that’s when you start spending like crazy on little stuff that you think you need.

Don’t deviate from the plan, or else your car will just turn into a money pit