Professor Gordon P. Blair — 1937-2010 on Oct25 2010

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Many people knew Professor Blair. He was quite well known throughout the world in the area of engine theory and design. Professor Blair achieved notoriety through his accomplishments in the research  and publication of the fundamental study of two- and four-stroke engines. He was very passionate about engine theory and as such was perceived, at times, to be smug or condescending to some. The conviction he had for his beliefs and his experience became the foundation on which he stood his ground against anyone who debated fundamental engine theory. While Professor Blair may have been considered by some to be arrogant or snobbish, nothing could be further from the truth.

I met Professor Blair nearly ten years ago while I was working for Hendrick Motorsports. Professor Blair had paid us a visit to demonstrate his 4stHEAD software for Valvetrain Development. He brought along Mel Cahoon to assist in the presentation of the software. He made his presentation to me along with a few members of the engine shop management which took about 45 minutes. Immediately after the presentation, I asked the Professor if he wouldn’t mind answering a few questions I had about Engine Simulation. He was quite agreeable and we convened to a training room where Andy Randolph and Mel watched as I interrogated the Professor for several hours! Actually, it was a great discussion where we all exchanged thoughts, ideas and our experience regarding the best way to characterize a physical engine in a virtual environment. For months preceding his visit to Hendrick, I had been using the Engine Simulation software from Optimum-Power, Virtual Engines. I had taken it upon myself to bring the software home and use it to determine whether or not it could be used to aid in Engine Development. I had also read his book, Design and Simulation of Four Stroke Engines, and I had many questions regarding both the software (based on his work) and his book. Professor Blair shared his experience with me and answered every question in great detail. That was the beginning of a relationship that we enjoyed for many years.

The next time that the Professor came to visit, I was eager to expand on our previous discussion. While I wanted to learn more, I also wanted the Professor to respect me. I was very calculated about the questions that I asked fearing that he would take something I said, in my lack of experience in engine modeling, and rip me to shreds! I did not have decades of experience in engine theory and I felt at a disadvantage. At first, the Professor was very academic, impersonal and direct in his approach. He treated me as though I was a student and he was the Professor. Over time, I expressed my respect for him and his experience and suddenly the walls all came down. He became a different person. Suddenly, he was humble and candid and even made jokes about himself. From that point on, Professor Blair was an absolute pleasure to work with and we both became more comfortable. We became friends. Over the years, we met nearly every time he came to the United States. I also got to know Charlie McCartan, the Professor’s right-hand man – the man responsible for a large portion of the valvetrain work that supported the Professor.

The Professor I came to know was in stark contrast to what I had been told. I don’t think most people ever really knew the real Gordon P. Blair. Certainly, the true Gordon P. Blair was not revealed in his publications. In text, he was very opinionated and steadfast in his beliefs and his stance was unwavering as he spelled out his theories and experience through research publications. In person, however, he was open-minded and respectful of others’ ideas and opinions. He certainly treated me with much respect and I am very grateful for that.

He was quite a character at times. I used to get a kick out of requesting changes to the software. If I would ask for something (anything, actually) he would say “Do you know how much work that would be? Oh my, it would take this and it would take that and all the code and the math and the this and the that…” and then he’d go do it (or Charlie did it). I quickly learned that I had to make requests by expressing how absolutely difficult it would be and that it would be practically impossible to implement these simple changes… and he’d do it (or Charlie again). Either way, he’d always call me up and say “Master Kurn! You must go to the website and download the latest version of the software as I am sure you will find a welcome improvement. Mind you, it was no easy task. Charlie and I have worked tirelessly for hours on end to make these changes” – which probably meant that Charlie worked tirelessly for hours on end!

I consider myself privileged to have known the real Professor Blair. He was a pioneer in fundamental engine research and accomplished a great deal in an area that is, at best, not very well understood. He had a way of solving difficult problems with simplicity while capturing and characterizing complicated phenomena occurring throughout the strokes of an engine cycle – both 2 and 4-stroke engines. He was also a true patriot, a gentleman and a good friend. He was a truly great person who left his mark on the Motorsports world.

He will be sorely missed.

Brian Kurn

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