Physics For Gearheads

An Introduction to Vehicle Dynamics, Energy, and Power with Examples from Motorsports

physics gearheadsby Randy Beikmann


1) The physics is applied to cars.

2) The explanations are clear and easy to read.

3) The author has a sense of humor.

4) All of the above.


The correct answer is: 4) All of the above.


If, like me, you are a gearhead who enjoys building things, this book is a godsend of practical equations that, once understood, will allow you to raise your intuitive abilities to a higher level. A good gearhead always gets “very close” to the perfect answer. This book drops “very close” out of the equation. Throw some physics from this book on the “very close” answer, and everything becomes “exactly right.“ It also makes what you build look professional, with a shape to it that is simultaneously gearhead clever and physics efficient. No wasted motion or mass. All forces accounted for.

Microsoft PowerPoint - gebp-draft02a-ch16-2013-01-17 Figures-refAs they say, once you know how to work the math, the math will work for you. Any of the math in this book you don’t understand can be looked up somewhere and figured out. I personally have no math background, so if I can understand what author Randy Beikmann is saying, so can you. Fear not the odd-looking symbol! Any serious car nut will be able to figure out what the symbol means after what it represents is clearly described in the text. “Oh, that!” I hear you say. “I know what that is.”

physics gearheads pg

To quote this book’s author, “Many good creative inventors have done their work solely by intuition. But a good background in physics would help them avoid many dead ends. It helps to know the rules if you’re going to play the game.” To that, I say “Hear, hear!” Combining common sense with physics always equals a better answer.

Microsoft PowerPoint - gebp-draft02a-ch10-2013-01-13-Figures-refWhile this book will help you set up your car, it is not intended to be a car set-up book. It’s a physics book. The author, because of his love for cars, felt that “the ideal physics book would use cars to illustrate every area of physics.” This book is one that the author “could have used as a teenager.” His idea is to give the reader valuable insight into how physics can be used to advantage by explaining the laws of physics in terms that a car nut will easily understand. Beikmann does not use his Ph.D. status to make learning hard by “Piling it higher and Deeper,” as we used to joke at the University Faculty Club. This book is written so well that you don’t have to be a math wiz to understand what you’re being told. You do need to want to learn, and it will require some thinking. But if you are of average intelligence and willing to make an effort, then it’s all here, and the secrets of physics will be revealed. These hidden truths will give you powers that others do not possess.

physics gearheads tocThe book opens with the five Fundamental Laws of Physics and a chart of Dimensions and Consistent Units that are used throughout the text. After that a Table of Contents lists the 17 Chapters that make up the bulk of the book. Chapter 1 is “A Warm-up Lap” that tells the reader why physics matter, what’s to come within the book, and how the physics will be explained in four different ways: verbal, mathematical, as a diagram, and by real-life example. If the reader understands any one of these four explanations, they will understand the concepts presented throughout the book. After that, chapters include “Kinematics Basics,” “Dynamics Basics,” “Energy Basics,” “Power Basics,” and last, but not least, “Statics and Quasi-Statics Applications,” where center of gravities, contact forces, and “vehicle design for maximum performance” are discussed.

Microsoft PowerPoint - gebp-draft02a-ch03-Figs-2013-01-13-refreeAt the end of each chapter the formulas used within the chapter are listed and numbered so that the reader may refer to them as necessary. These equations can be used to obtain answers to similar questions that you may have on a project of your own. This allows you to use the formulas without having to get a degree in mathematics. All I personally want in these situations is an answer, I don’t need to understand the beauty of the number theory behind how the equation works. As Beikmann puts it, “Remember that math is just a tool.”

After the 17 Chapters there are six Appendices covering “Units and Conversions,” “Greek Letters and Pronunciations,” “Math Reference,” “Symbols,” and “Selected Derivations,” all of which can be referred to by the reader as needed. A very nice Index follows the Appendices. The books listed in the “References and Recommended Reading” section are all great and worth buying if you want to expand your knowledge in the fields covered. Excellent books that tell you how to set up your car are included in this section, if that’s your ultimate goal. A page of Acknowledgements follows the references, which in turn is followed by the About the Author page. Not only does Beikmann have a Ph.D. in physics, he works for General Motors as a noise and vibration specialist, and has to his credit a long list of published technical papers as well as three patents. He also has a weakness for occasional puns and/or wordplay like “wrenching examples,” and “getting your shift together.”

When I read a book like this one, I assume the equations are accurate; I just read the text and examine the diagrams for how forces affect each other, with an eye on my own projects. After reading the entire book, I return to the section that best applies to what I want to do, and learn to work the formulas for that specific topic. In that sense, I now consider this book to be part of my small but serious library of math toolkits, to be pulled out and consulted as required.

After reading this book you’ll find new words creeping into your vocabulary, and your friends will think you’re smarter than you used to be.


Copyright 2015, Bill Ingalls (

Physics For Gearheads
An Introduction to Vehicle Dynamics, Energy, and Power
with Examples from Motorsports
by Randy Beikmann
Bentley Publishers, 2015
604 pages, 347 photos, illustrations and diagrams, softcover
List Price: $79.95
ISBN 13: 978-0-8376-1615-5

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