Just like with an engine, putting quality lubricants designed for the task at hand in your automatic racing transmission is vital to not only the performance and operating temperatures of the transmission, but the overall longevity of the intricate parts and pieces inside that make the magic happen.
ATI Performance Products, one of the leading manufacturers of drivetrain components for the drag racing industry, set out to provide just that for their transmission and converter customers and the racing marketplace as a whole, by developing a new brand of automatic transmission fluids engineering specifically for high-horsepower drag racing applications, covering a complete range of horsepower levels and transmission designs.
Known as Super F — and complimented by their Max Duty Super F for the most hardcore of racing machines — ATI’s line of transmission fluids is a fully synthetic, type F fluid that delivers a number of advantages for racers, not the least of which are quicker elapsed times on the race track. We’ve hooked up with ATI’s JC Beattie Jr, who not only markets the product but also uses it in his own race cars, to help us take a closer look at the Super F and Max Duty Super F and illustrate what a synthetic fluid can do for you and your transmission. We’ll also hear from Driven Racing Oils’ Lake Speed Jr., an expert in the field of motor and transmissions oils, to learn more about synthetics and Type F fluids.
Type F And Synthetics At A Glance
As the name indicates, ATI’s Super F line is a derivative of the Type F automatic transmission fluid first developed by Ford in the 1960’s, which came about as part of the moratorium on fluids that had contained whale oil. Type F, featured in virtually every Ford transmission through the late 1970’s, worked to modify the shifting characteristics of the transmission, allowing it to shift cleaner and smoother, while also improving oxidation resistance and internal wear.
As Beattie Jr. shared, “My dad remembers when he had his transmission shop. He had two drums of transmission fluid that he used and they contained Type F and Type F — that’s all he‘d put in everything he fixed.”
Many of today’s high performance transmission fluids from any number of oil suppliers, including those used in drag racing applications, are likewise based on that original Type F engineering. But as Beattie Jr. explains, as the performance of the Stockers, Super Stockers and other racing machines began to escalate and the demands placed on the transmission became greater, he and the team at ATI went looking for a product that would keep the operating temperatures at a minimum and eliminate shear.
With a synthetic, the harder you push on it, the slipperier it gets, because it has smaller molecules in it. – JC Beattie Jr.
Beattie Jr.’s intent on developing his own product for his fellow competitors and customers, spoke with a number of oil manufacturers about producing a synthetic racing transmission fluid, and finally struck a deal with the team at Joe Gibbs’ Driven Racing Oil in North Carolina. Beattie Jr. and the ATI team worked alongside Driven’s chemists and formulated three batches of an initial blend of fluid, which was first tested by Beattie Jr. himself, along with Chris Rini and Jeff Lutz in their Pro Modified cars.
But interestingly, ATI wasn’t always sold on the idea of running, much less selling, a synthetic oil.
“From the very beginning here at ATI, we never really liked synthetic transmission fluid. With a synthetic, the harder you push on it, the slipperier it gets, because it has smaller molecules in it. But when we set out to begin developing this product, we looked for a type F friction modifier, which you have to use and can go either way — to make it grippier or one to make it slipperier.”
Beattie Jr. says he ran the first five-gallon batch of fluid in his race cars for an entire season, making more than one hundred runs in all. In that time, his maintenance involved simply dumping the fluid into a paint strainer and pouring it right back into the transmission.
Synthetic oils are essentially man-made, lab-produced fluids, and differ from their organic oil counterparts in their molecular structure. The molecules in a synthetic are of uniform size and the blends contain no fossil fuels. This results in a product that, while more expensive from the outset, shifts and performs better, reduces operating heat and wear, and will not break down, meaning it can be run for longer periods than organic oils.
Along with countless others, our Project BlownZ Street Outlaw Camaro has run on Super F with excellent results.
The Synthetic Advantage
Lake Speed Jr., a certified Lubrication Specialist at Driven, worked alongside ATI Performance Products in the development of the Super F, bringing to the table his vast knowledge with and experience both in the lab on the race track with synthetic oils. As Speed explains, there are three primary differences that exist between synthetic and non-synthetic oils, and each revolves around the management of heat.
A synthetic oil has better thermal stability which dictates how quickly an oil will degrade as it gets hot and operates under load. Pressure equals heat. – Lake Speed Jr.
“First, a synthetic oil has better thermal stability, which dictates how quickly an oil will degrade as it gets hot and operates under load. Automatic transmissions produce a considerable amount of heat and that’s especially the case when you’re staging and holding that load. Pressure equals heat,” says Speed.
It’s at this stage, Speed tells us, where conventional oils tend to break down, thus shortening the life of the oil, while the synthetics are more stable in these high-heat environments. Along with that, synthetic oils exhibit a greater specific heat, or in other words, the oil’s ability to absorb heat from the components and dissipate it. “A synthetic oil is essentially a better coolant than a conventional oil,” he explains.
And finally, synthetic oils have less internal friction, meaning they generate less heat in its operation, in general.
The Pros Of Synthetics
There are a great number of advantages to synthetic fluids, all of which can be be formulated in varying blends for different applications. Synthetics perform better in the cold, allowing for easier startup, they resist viscosity changes under high-heat, they allow for smoother transmissions operation (and therefore more horsepower, and they can last for as much as twice as many miles in your street car or race car before requiring maintenance.
“In itself, synthetic oils flow much better. If you think about a torque converter and how much fluid is in there and how much fluid friction there is — there’s less fluid friction in the converter with a synthetic versus a conventional oil,” explained Speed. “Which if you extrapolate from that, that’s how you get the improved efficiency — there’s less friction around the moving parts, which means you get more power transferred to the rear wheels and you can run faster down the race track.”
The Type F synthetic, in specific, does away with ‘slip’ that was engineered into the blend of previous synthetics on the market that robbed the car of power and performance. Type F is designed to grip and deliver a firm, hard shift. But Speed adds to that point that, “You still want to run as low a viscosity fluid as you can — if you put a real high viscosity fluid in the transmission, it’ll create more drag than is necessary. A free-flowing fluid delivers a non-delayed response from the components.”
Super F: The Proof Is In The Results
ATI and Driven Racing Oil developed a pair of synthetic transmissions fluids — a standard Super F that comes in a 20 weight, and a Max Duty version for higher-horsepower machines that’s a 30 weight. The 20 weight oil, as Beattie explains, provides several very important advantages to a racing transmission, as it moves through the pump and elsewhere in the transmission easier thanks to its lighter weight, but also increases torque converter flash by roughly 100 rpm and decreases transmission pressure by about 10 pounds, which all adds up to greater performance.
In his in-house Dodge Challenger Drag Pak, which runs in the NHRA and IHRA Stock Eliminator category, Beattie Jr. saw true improvements of a little more than three hundredths of a second when using Super F versus conventional Type F fluids, on the same track and on the same day.
“It’s not going to do that for everyone, depending on what they’re running, but any mid-level horsepower, class racing-style car that’s running an over-the-counter transmission fluid is likely going to see a consistent increase in performance,” says Beattie Jr. “I’ve honestly never had one customer come up to me and say anything negative about the product.”
A number of major player at the heads-up, high-horsepower level run the Super F fluids in their transmissions, including ATI-backed Chris Rini, who runs a Turbo 400 and lock-up converter combo in his Pro Mod Camaro.
Along with a couple hundredths on the race track, Beattie’s Challenger has also registered 20 to 25 degrees cooler operating temperatures. “The transmission is going to hit 180 degrees no matter what if you run for a little while, but it’s after that, when you’re going six and seven rounds, that it doesn’t keep climbing to 200 or even 250 degrees,” he points out.
The Max Duty fluid, meanwhile, was developed for large displacement turbocharged, supercharged, and nitrous-fed engines producing more than 2,000 horsepower that utilizes a heavier viscosity for less thermal breakdown under extreme use, with cooler temperatures and improved converter lock-up. The Super Duty, as Beattie tells us, can also be utilized by those in lower-powered classes who simply want to leave the fluid in the transmission longer between maintenance cycles.
This a first-look at the fresh new Super F bottle design that will be forthcoming in a future batch from Driven Racing Oil.
Because of the sheer heat that Pro Modified, Outlaw small-tire doorslammers, and similar race cars produce, including turbo cars that have added spooling time on the starting line, Beattie Jr. knew that a thicker viscosity fluid was needed to cope with and dissipate these extreme temperatures, thus the Max Duty was born. These days, it’s used by a range of racers, including Rini, Lutz, Mark Micke, and a host of others.
ATI suggests that 2,000 horsepower mark as the dividing line for moving from the standard Super F to the Max Duty, but as with anything, there are variances and situations where that could go in either direction. Racers under that mark that run loose torque converters, for example, can benefit from the Max Duty, because such combinations can put the engine at high RPM’s on the starting line and flash the converter. This leads to what Beattie Jr. explains as an incredible amount of heat, and it’s the synthetic makeup of the Super F and Max Duty that allows the transmission to move the fluid to the cooler and dissipate the heat without breaking down.
Beyond the results, another case for ATI’s Super F line is the price point.
The Super F isn’t what we make our living on, so we try to put out the best fluid we can at the lowest price possible so the racer can get a quality product. – JC Beattie Jr.
“The Super F isn’t what we make our living on, so we try to put out the best fluid we can at the lowest price possible so the racer can get a quality product that, ultimately, we hope will find its way into one of our transmissions and converters and make it an even better product. That was one of the tipping points for me — when I had to pay 13 bucks a quart at the track for fluid when I ran out of what I had,” said Beattie Jr.
“It’s just a no-bull product that does what it’s supposed to that doesn’t break the wallets of our customer — the end user.”
And if you’re wondering about compatibility — ATI has successfully tested and recommends the Super F and Max Duty for use in virtually every common automatic racing transmission, including the GM Powerglide, TH350, TH400, Chrysler Torqueflite 727, 904, and Ford C4 and C6. At this time, only electronic transmissions are voided from the list.
What it all adds up to, just as Beattie put it, is a no-bull product, that presents many great advantages, from less wear and tear on your expensive parts, better performance, less heat, and a longer useful life, all at a great price point. It’s Ford’s age-old Type F completely re-imagined and re-formulated for some of the harshest applications in auto racing, and it’s proven itself up to the task, with the numbers and the accolades to prove it.