Shop Visit: Nine Lives Racing

By Tom Suddard
Dec 5, 2019 | Shop Visit | Posted in Shop Work | From the Dec. 2019 issue | Never miss an article

Nine Lives Racing is a motorsports startup with a simple mission statement: “Racecar wings for the masses.” Its story started a few years ago, when a racer-Johnny Cichowski-was working with Élan Motorsport Technologies Chief Engineer Robert Lindsey developing NASA’s NP01 prototype race car. One thing from that experience stuck with them: The car’s rear wing, a unique American-made aluminum extrusion that offered exceptional aerodynamics without the high cost of carbon fiber or the weight penalty of lesser-quality aluminum pieces.

At the conclusion of the NP01’s development, Johnny and Rob moved on; but they couldn’t forget that wing. Rob was learning more and more about aerodynamics and the rapidly developing computer modeling tools to analyze them; he kept hounding Johnny to do something with that exceptional wing.

So he did. Johnny, already an established racer with lots of industry connections, started spending evenings in his home garage teaching himself how to TIG weld. A simple website and a business name inspired by his love of cats followed, and he was in the wing business, marketing his only product: the Big Wang. His pitch was simple: great aerodynamic claims supported by data–both computer models and lower lap times.

He’s since grown the business into a dedicated shop and sold more than 700 Wangs, including new dual-element models, Gurney flaps and more. Johnny has been rapidly adding new applications, too, offering custom-made kits to bolt Big Wangs onto many popular track cars. The price for all this? A Nine Lives Racing wing kit for an NA Miata, for example, costs less than $800.

Johnny’s also brought on additional help, with a familiar face arriving at the shop every day: Rob finally quit his day job and moved into Nine Lives Racing’s space. No, he doesn’t work for Nine Lives–the two are careful to note that they operate separate companies–but the shared coffee maker says a lot.

Johnny Cichowski (top) and Robert Lindsey want to improve your car's aero.

Johnny is really good at building Wangs, and Rob is really good at aerodynamic modeling. He maintains a giant stack of servers (the total count is 240 processing cores) that allow him to offer Formula 1-level aerodynamic analysis to any racer. Rob even developed a 3D scanning service, meaning customers can have their car scanned (either in the Nine Lives Racing shop or at home with a mail-order 3D scanning kit), then loaded into the computer and digitally manipulated until an ideal aerodynamic package is developed. Once Rob’s decided what would work best–exactly where to place the wing, splitter, canards, vents, etc.–Johnny can build it.

The price? Rob’s services aren’t cheap, but they’re a bargain compared to renting a wind tunnel. Prices start at $3500 to scan a car, build a 3D computer model of it, and run a few different aerodynamic tests to determine which combination works best. It’s a shockingly labor-intensive process, with the initial model taking about 40 man-hours to build, and each aerodynamic simulation requiring the refrigerator-sized stack of servers to run at full steam for more than 30 hours straight. The payoff is immense: Rather than guessing where to put each aerodynamic element, and how they’ll interact, racers can know exactly what will happen before they even take the car off the trailer.

What’s next for Nine Lives Racing? Sell more Wangs. Johnny says their waiting list is perpetually three weeks long, and Rob’s servers are always running.


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DjGreggieP Reader
12/5/19 9:46 a.m.

One day, I will have the money to have some aero development done to my jellybean car... First I need to finish it and get back to being comfortable with driving it again.

noddaz GRM+ Memberand SuperDork
12/5/19 10:09 a.m.

Those look great.  And are priced very competitively.   But I am broke, and race car is not running so no big Wang for me anytime soon.

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