Tuning Teachers

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How quality tuning education is opening doors for motorsports hopefuls.

As today’s race cars continue to push the boundaries of horsepower and performance, EFI tuning has taken on increasing importance in the world of motorsports.
Great tuners bring home trophies, bad tuners detonate motors. For prospective tuners, these real-world consequences underscore the importance of getting a high-quality tuning education from a credible program.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of programs offering EFI tuning education. Online and in-person programs cover a range of budgets, teaching styles, and time commitments. But after speaking with top tuning teachers from around the country, one thing is clear: There are no shortcuts to becoming a successful tuner.

Wild West

It wasn’t so long ago that EFI tuning was stuck in the dark ages.
“We started in the mid-1990s, and there were no good ways to learn how to tune a car,” said Bob Morreale of The Tuning School, Brooksville, Florida. “Literally nobody would give us any knowledge, and the only thing you could do was buy chips through mail order. Typically, what you got was a roll of the dice. Sometimes it was better, most of the time it was worse.”
Since those early days, EFI tuning has always been an awkward fit in the motorsports ecosystem. Morreale views his school as the connection between two vastly different specialties. “We like to refer to ourselves as the bridge between people who understand engines and people who understand programming.”
The proliferation of information via the internet and advancements in EFI tuning software helped tuners emerge from the dark ages. However, this EFI enlightenment has given rise to a new problem.
“We call it YouTube learning,” said Morreale. “There’s so much bad information out there about tuning. We always say you’re just one key stroke away from disaster. Though more likely you’ll spend a year trying to tune a car but without understanding the tuning process.”
Bad decisions lead to unintended consequences. But even if a motor isn’t damaged, opting for patchwork tuning education on YouTube is more likely to result in wasted time rather than a properly tuned race car.
“People usually poke around on YouTube for a year or two, and they get fed up with it,” observed Morreale. “There are sufficient places to learn. However, most people just take a slow track and then eventually realize their YouTube education wasn’t really the right option.”

Growing Demand

Skirting by on a few tutorials isn’t realistic. For those who are serious about learning to tune, there are many excellent programs that cater to a range of budgets, skill levels, and locations. For those who put in the work, the upside is significant.
“If you’re an engine builder, mechanic, or technician, and you want to expand your income potential or expand the service you offer in your shop, then tuning is a great thing that people are picking up,” explained Morreale.
Jeff Evans of Evans Performance Tuning, an online tuning education program based in Mt. Bethel, Pennsylvania, noticed sustained growth in the sector beginning with the COVID-19 pandemic, as people found time and opportunity to expand or start a business.
“I think there’s been a bigger demand in the last five or six years in general, but since COVID I have definitely seen a huge explosion,” said Evans. “People are starting businesses and realizing there’s decent money to make in calibrating and tuning, and that’s where I think the need for education comes into play. Anybody can punch numbers into a keyboard, but to understand what’s going on is key to calibrating and tuning.”
However, new tuners should keep in mind that turning desire and potential into competence and success takes time and hard work. While many EFI tuning software programs have streamlined their interfaces to be more user-friendly, jumping into tuning on a certain platform without understanding EFI tuning fundamentals could result in a short-term gain and a long-term loss.
“A guy might choose a particular brand of software, but that’s just the tool that you decided to use,” said Ben Strader of EFI University, Lake Havasu City, Arizona. “You still need to know how to make the engine physically run well before you can do it with any particular brand of software. If you know what buttons to press to make the car run, but not why it worked, then you get boxed into, ‘I can tune your engine if you’re using brand X software.’ That shouldn’t matter if you really understood the whole package.”
Greg Banish of Calibrated Success in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and author of “Engine Management: Advanced Tuning,” joined Strader in stressing the importance of EFI tuning fundamentals.
“Taking the time to understand how the system works is the real key,” said Banish. “I’ve worked with dozens of different control systems over the years. Some guys say they are Ford specialists, GM specialists, import specialists, or whatever. But by sweating the fundamentals, that’s how we get it to work right. Even if we go to European or Japanese ECUs, they’re still finding a way to figure out how much stuff is in the cylinder, how much fuel goes with that, and how much spark goes with that.”
A good tune enables an engine to run properly and reach its full potential. Get that wrong and nothing else matters.
“The number of vehicles out there being modified is what drives the need for tuning work,” said Banish. “We used to do it with a screwdriver and a timing light. Now we do it with a laptop. But it’s always going to be a necessary part of the process. Every new engine that we build, every new camshaft we install, every supercharger is going to require some ECU change to make it run as good as it should. It’s always that last but critical step to getting the car to run right.”

Tuning for the Track

Tuners aren’t exactly celebrities at the track. Nevertheless, they’re one of the most important members of successful race teams. Just look at what’s happening in drag racing, where tuners are enabling cars making eye-popping horsepower to actually hook up to the track.
“Twenty years ago, if somebody had an engine that made 1,000 horsepower, everybody’s eyes got really big,” said Strader. “Now street cars make that much power, and Pro Modifieds make 3,000 to 4,000 horsepower and nobody even bats an eye. I really think part of that is because EFI brought us finer control. The ability to manage the amount of power you’re making has really made it a tuner’s game.”
With tuners driving more performance in the drag racing sector, race teams are directing more attention and resources to tuning.
“People who drag race know everything comes down to the tune that’s in the car,” said Evans. “They also realize they need to look at data. That’s the one large thing that’s really changed in the last 10 years. People went from sending the car down the track and just trying to figure it out, to now people are heavily focused on what the data shows. The amount of data that you can process and what you can do with it is huge, which is why the cars are getting faster and faster.”
Despite improving engine performance, Evans finds many racers still aren’t up to speed with tuning. However, this creates opportunities for younger tuners looking to break into the motorsports industry.
“If you’re a young guy trying to get into the industry, you probably don’t own your own race team,” said Evans. “If you look at the demographic of guys who typically do have their own race programs, they’re generally older guys and maybe aren’t quite as savvy on the computer side, so they’re depending on someone else to do that for them. So if you show up at a race team looking for a job and you have this higher level [tuning] skill, I think it opens doors and opportunities that you otherwise wouldn’t have.”

No Substitute for Hands-On Experience

Whether you are a racer, a shop owner, or a young gearhead looking for a path into motorsports, becoming an EFI tuner is a wise decision. However, the first hurdle is simply figuring out which path will get you there.
The piecemeal YouTube approach isn’t advisable, but a range of reputable tuning education programs is available to fit anyone’s budget, knowledge base, time, and ability to travel. The most common distinction among tuning schools comes down to in-person versus online tuning education.
Hennessey Performance’s Tuner School in Sealy, Texas, offers comprehensive in-person education for those hoping to make a career in the high-performance vehicle and motorsports industry. Approved and regulated by the Texas Workforce Commission, the Tuner School offers two 14-week programs—100 Automotive Technology: Intro to High Performance, and 200 Automotive Technology: Advanced Tuning.
Jason Haynes is the director of research and development for Hennessey Performance, but also oversees the Tuner School, including writing much of the program’s curriculum.
“We tell students to show up and treat it as a job,” said Haynes. “This is basically you interviewing to be part of the performance racing industry.”
In addition to tuning, the 100 program provides students the opportunity to cover a range of subjects ranging from fabrication to alignment.
“The expectation of that class is for you to come in, maybe not knowing anything but loving cars, and then once you graduate, you have a foundational education,” said Haynes. “We try to make the class as all-encompassing as possible, so that the students really get a feel for every facet of the performance and racing industry.”
Each subject is introduced in the classroom, followed by a hands-on lab component where students get an opportunity to put their newly acquired knowledge to the test on a trio of high-performance cars—a supercharged Hellcat, Mustang GT, and a Camaro SS.
“They actually get to go into the lab and perform those hands-on modifications under the safe supervision of our staff,” said Haynes.
Haynes noted their 100-level graduates typically go into one of four different sectors: high-performance technicians, fabrication, engineering, or EFI tuning. For those students pursuing the latter category, the 200 class provides a comprehensive tuning education that includes running the dyno, practicing advanced traction control strategies on a test track, and getting experience on various advanced aftermarket EFI standalone systems.
“We really try to get them as much hands-on experience with all things EFI. The basic principle of the program is to graduate as a well-rounded EFI tuner.”
Though just like in real life, there are no shortcuts in this program. Tuner School students must complete the 100 class to build a foundational understanding of high-performance vehicles before moving onto advanced tuning.
“To do this the right way, you need to have a very firm understanding of engine dynamics—the physics, the math of everything that goes into it,” said Haynes. “It’s no longer just fuel and timing. There are so many more things that go into these modern systems, and that’s why education is so important.”
The program isn’t for everyone, and space is limited, with classes sold out for the rest of 2024. However, the success rate of its graduates is high. According to Haynes, students who complete both programs have 95% job placement, with several alumni going on to work for professional race teams in NASCAR and NHRA.
For those who already operate a shop or possess a solid understanding of high-performance engines, several programs provide a quality education without requiring a significant investment of time and money. EFI University offers a popular five-day program dedicated to motorsports tuning education. Strader believes the key to his program is the in-person experience.
“I’m a true believer in you’ll remember what you do, not what I say,” said Strader. “We present a concept, explain it until you understand it, and then go out into the dyno shop and actually experience it. Because without the experience, it’s just a rule. If we make engine tuning a bunch of rules that somebody has to memorize, they’re not only going to be uninterested, but they’re not going to remember a lot of it.”
Beyond the experience of tuning a car on the dyno, Strader believes there’s another intangible that can’t be taught in a virtual environment—pressure.
“With today’s culture, everybody wants the easy button, and it sounds good to download a video, watch it, and know how to tune,” explained Strader. “But I’m telling you, it’s not the same as when all that pressure is there, and you’re worried about blowing up some engine or crashing some race car. It changes the experience, not so much the information.”

Convenience and Accessibility of Online Schools

For all the positives of learning in-person, it’s not possible for everyone. Fortunately, there are several online tuning schools that provide a thorough education and extended support. The support for students is key, as it helps inexperienced tuners get up to speed once they start tuning on their own.
Evans Performance Academy started out offering in-person instruction before eventually switching gears to online only. Evans found too many students “didn’t know the basics and fundamentals,” which led to them not understanding the information taught in class. “It’s like starting off trying to teach somebody algebra when they don’t know addition or subtraction.”
Evans’ online-only program includes more than 2,000 hours of video content, including more than 1,700 tutorials.
“It’s more like a streaming service, where you elect what you want to learn, how you want to learn, and your learning pace,” said Evans. “You can watch tutorial videos over and over again.”
Evans acknowledged much of tuning comes down to troubleshooting and diagnostics, which is where he saw students struggle once they left the classroom setting. For this reason, he offers email support and a private support forum for students to submit calibration files, which he then coaches them through or helps identify problems.
“You can learn the basics and the fundamentals, but as a long-term approach to tuning, you need someone to almost coach you and guide you along the way. That long-term support I think is really key to having success with tuning.”
For all the benefits of the in-person experience, the online advantage is found in the ability to review past lessons for a refresher, whenever you need them most.
“Even professional calibrators and tuners can only remember so much, so they’ll pop in and go through the tutorials,” said Evans. “I think that’s the one nice advantage of online compared to in-person, is that you have the ability to go back to the material and cycle through it. You’re not going to remember something two to three years from now unless you’re doing it every day.”
Morreale’s The Tuning School takes yet another approach, offering both in-person and online education. Prospective students can choose between live classes on the dyno, virtual classes via the Master Tuning Experience, and budget-friendly learn-at-home courses. Additionally, each option includes a year of support from The Tuning School instructors. The extended support is something Morreale also touted as being a critical component of learning to tune.
“We want to make sure that if people learn from us, when they go to do their job, they aren’t hung out to dry,” he said. “They have a support system, and when they’re struggling on the dyno and don’t understand something, we’re not going to tune it for them, but we’re going to teach them why it’s not working so they can fix it. We’re educators. That’s our goal.”

Certificate Optional; Experience Required

EFI tuning education requires forging one’s own path. There is no official third-party certification or test to prove someone is a qualified tuner. While several tuning schools mentioned in this article—Hennessey’s Tuner School, EFI University, and The Tuning School—have instituted their own certification test, the lack of an independent third-party certification comes down to a confluence of factors.
“I’ve had this conversation 50 times over the last 15 or 20 years, and I would wholeheartedly support an industry-led group,” said Strader. “But it’s one of those things that we all wish would happen, but somebody’s got to pick up the reins and do the work. I’ve never really seen that part because to be honest, everyone’s busy running their business. And then who runs it? Who finances it? How do you get compliance and enforcement? There are a lot of tentacles to it that make it more difficult.”
An additional wrinkle to forming a third-party certification comes from the very nature of tuning: It requires creativity and ingenuity to be successful. Getting all relevant stakeholders to agree on the “right way” to tune would be challenging, if not impossible.
After all, the true measure of success in tuning is determined on the track, not in the classroom or on a certificate.
“[Tuning] is a form of creativity,” said Haynes. “It’s a form of thinking outside of the box. The results may be the same, but how you arrive at those results may be different. That doesn’t necessarily make it right or wrong, but getting a body to agree on that, it’s just never going to happen.”

Choose Your Path

“The big thing is, there’s something out there for everyone,” said Banish. “That may be a book, it may be a video, it may be a class, it may be a one-on-one. There are different levels of engagement, but there’s something for everybody.”
Tuning education is essential for understanding the concepts and basics of tuning. Without that foundation, failure could be inevitable. But once that solid foundation has been obtained, real-world experience is the next step in putting that tuning knowledge to the test.
“The big thing for someone starting out would be trying to get experience,” explained Evans. “Maybe doing an apprenticeship at a tuner shop or volunteering time for a race team and being exposed to it. You can learn a lot at tuning schools, but you need to take what you’ve learned and practice. If someone’s persistent and willing to learn, they can definitely pick it up and get into EFI tuning.”
To be a successful tuner, our sources agreed the biggest investment is in time and dedication. “Just like being a race car driver, seat time is number one,” said Haynes. “You can never replace seat time. You have to be on the dyno, you have to be at the track, you have to be married to the cause because that’s what’s going to gain you the most experience and knowledge—seat time.”


Calibrated Success
EFI University
Evans Tuning
Hennessey Performance’s Tuner School
The Tuning School


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