Motorsports – Hard work, fun, education or “all of the above”

Chris Spies

Chris S. Spies, P.E.

The world of motorsports serves as a captivating laboratory where failures are not only commonplace but also provide invaluable lessons for forensic engineering. My decades of hands-on experience as a motorsports participant, combined with an engineering background also spanning decades, have provided a unique opportunity to become acquainted with a wide array of mechanical systems, devices, and metallurgical failures. These experiences have endowed me with a unique perspective that allows for a translation of many lessons learned from motorsports to the realm of forensic engineering. In this blog post, we’ll explore the correlation between motorsports and forensic engineering, shedding light on a few of the many items encountered that draw upon the synergy between these two worlds.

Mechanical Systems Under Extreme Conditions

Motorsports inherently pushes mechanical systems to their limits, exposing them to extreme conditions of heat, vibration, and stress. Through my involvement in motorsports, I have witnessed failures in various systems, including engine components, suspensions, transmissions, braking systems, and others. These failures provide valuable, real-world insights into the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of such systems. While it may not have provided any continuing education credits, it has no doubt provided many teachable lessons that are not soon forgotten. Leveraging this knowledge has better equipped me to identify similar failure patterns in a wide variety of forensic engineering endeavors and provide in-depth analysis that draws from the challenges experienced in motorsports.

Device Failures and Reliability Analysis

In the highly competitive world of motorsports, devices such as sensors, actuators, and electronic control units as well as volumes of data recorded from each play a crucial role in optimizing performance. However, failures in these devices can have catastrophic consequences. Understanding the role of each device, as well as the particular vulnerabilities of each often proves useful in an engineering investigation. This hands-on exposure often proves useful when assessing and interpreting a device’s operation leading up to and during an incident. The recognition of these finer details of the various devices encountered in everyday items provides expertise that is often applicable to forensic engineering, enhancing the ability to identify and analyze similar issues in a broader context.

Sports car

Unraveling Metallurgical Mysteries

Metallurgical failures are not uncommon in motorsports, where materials are subjected to intense loads, extreme temperatures, and rapid mechanical stresses. From engine components to chassis structures, failures such as abrupt overload fractures, fatigue cracks, and material degradation can occur. Motorsports experience as an engine builder and fabricator has provided an assortment of opportunities to study metallurgical failures and better understand the crucial role of material selection, heat treatment, and manufacturing processes. This practical knowledge serves as a valuable foundation for investigating metallurgical failures in forensic engineering, providing the opportunity to delve into some of the more intricate details of material science and application. In addition to metallurgical knowledge gained, competitive motorsports where engines are routinely pushed to the edge also provides far too many opportunities to sort through a pile of broken/damaged components in an effort to identify the weak link and determine the root cause of damage to an engine. The good news is that much of this assessment of damaged engines is readily applicable to everything from a weed eater to the enormous engine found in ships and everything in between.

Applying Lessons for Forensic Engineering

By drawing parallels between the failures observed in motorsports and the challenges faced in forensic engineering, the lessons learned better equip the forensic engineer to unravel complex cases. The direct translation of knowledge gained from motorsports allows one to consider failure patterns, root causes, and potential mitigation strategies in the forensic context. In my case, this synergy empowers me to provide comprehensive failure analysis, expert testimony, and actionable recommendations to attorneys, insurance adjusters, and product manufacturers who seek my expertise.


The marriage of motorsports and forensic engineering offers a wealth of knowledge that can be applied in both realms. Through my extensive background as a motorsports participant, fabricator, and a licensed Professional Engineer, I’ve been provided with a unique perspective and an abundance of opportunities to evaluate damage to mechanical systems, devices, and metallurgical components common to motorsports, automotive, off-highway, rail, marine and other industrial environments. By translating these lessons to forensic engineering, I’ve been provided with a unique perspective that has assisted in equipping me to unravel the mysteries of damage/failure analysis. This approach of drawing upon the ever-continuing education obtained from the dynamic world of motorsports and applied to the ever-changing and often complex field of forensic engineering continues to better equip me to deliver value to those in need of expertise.