Racers have long coveted a universal timing controller that would allow them to seamlessly merge various ignition controls and data logging functions with different racing applications. So it was no surprise a few years back when Autotronic Controls Corporation, better known as MSD Performance, came up with that very hardware.

MSD’s versatile Power Grid system was originally conceived when turbo drag cars underwent a wholesale conversion from gasoline to alcohol in search of greater performance. Boost levels quickly escalated and engine builders began switching from Digital 7 ignition boxes to Digital 8s to ensure the spark energy required for richer fuel mixtures. To retain the full programmability found on the sevens, they had to merge the two boxes, prompting MSD to consider developing a programmable Digital 8 unit.

The Power Grid system is all-inclusive with the 7730 Power Grid controller and the 7720 dedicated Power Grid-7 ignition box. The Power Grid will control the functions of all other MSD ignitions, but it was designed around the 7720 advanced ignition. MSD says previous units were rated at 190 millijoules vs. Power Grid’s 200 millijoules.

The final result of that urgent performance need is the more robust MSD Power Grid system controller, a flexible smart ignition control that permits users to add a variety of programmable timing controls and data logging to any new or existing ignition box. The Power Grid was specifically developed to provide racers with fast and easy tuning ability, regardless of the individual components connected to it.

The system incorporates two primary components; the controller (PN 7730) and the power source (PN 7720), although the controller itself is fully functional with all other ignitions, including any MSD-6, -7, or -8. It’s also configured to grow with the program as future ignition controls are developed.

As the racer adds or changes components related to the ignition, it seamlessly connects them to provide immediate no-fuss functionality. It serves as the central processor between the tuner and all aspects of ignition control, including tuning and data acquisition. The Power Grid is fully compatible with CAN-Bus wiring. This allows racers to use single-wire CAN-bus plugs leading into a central CAN-Bus strip, thus eliminating the need for soldering pins or attaching compatible plugs. In most cases this option shortens installation time and provides immediate service.

Shown on the left is a typical Power Grid installation with the controller designed to mount on top of the ignition housing. This provides a cleaner installation and keeps wiring to a minimum. On the right, the Grid controller is mounted separately in an ADRL drag car to control an independent ignition box not seen in the picture. This mounting location makes it easy for the tuner to retrieve the SD Card or plug in a laptop between rounds.

“The flexibility of the Power Grid enables you to use it with it with whatever ignition you have,” says MSD’s Joe Pando. “Power Grids are also field updateable via the Internet.”

The Launch Retard will become your go-to tuning section of the Power Grid.–Joe Pando, MSD

A major goal of the Power Grid design team was making the system foolproof and easy to use, even for racers who are not particularly comfortable with electronics or computers. Plug-and-play functionality with simple controls was an important design objective along with full compatibility among MSD and other aftermarket-brand ignition components.

Connectivity and compatibility with Racepak Data acquisition units greatly enhance the utility of the Power Grid system. Racers can configure the Power Grid to port up to 17 channels of compatible data directly to a Racepak unit for evaluation and there are multiple ways of referencing and storing data from individual passes. The Power Grid accepts its own SD data card, which can be used to transfer data to your laptop directly via a card reader or integral SD port if the laptop is so equipped.  Also note that inexpensive adapters are available at any consumer electronics outlet that will adapt the small data card to a laptop port that’s not directly compatible. There is also a direct connection via any USB port.

Benefits of the data logger

“Once you use the high-speed data logger, you’ll become dependent on it,” says Pando.

In addition to full compatibility with other MSD components, the Power Grid offers tuning tools for which racers are discovering more applications. For example, the ability to control timing throughout the full run enables racers to make subtle adjustments that may be required in each individual gear and during the long pull in high gear where the retard function is valuable. Timing adjustment can be made based on rpm, time into the run or individual gear while CAN-BUS connectivity permits all the ignition activity to be displayed directly on Racepak software.

This diagram shows the direct connection to the Racepak data logger via the VNet and how individual Power Grid accessories are ported directly into the controller via independent CAN-BUS hubs. Hubs allow you to stack as many components as necessary, all with direct porting to the main controller.

Power Grid allows delicate control for striking the tires on launch or with each shift. It’s is fully compatible with extreme nitrous oxide systems, providing five stages of retard. Using dyno work and data logging, racers can identify dips in the car’s performance and apply appropriate timing adjustments to compensate. 

Wiring diagram shows the connection destination for each wire. Note the VNET connection for the Racepak and independent connections for legacy ignitions. All of this is necessary to provide the near unlimited tuning possibilities the Power Grid supplies.

The Power Grid can also program an individual timing curve for each gear based on rpm and time in gear. This accommodates engine loading and the varying timing requirement as speed increases but acceleration decays as the car progresses down the track. For example, you can:

  • Program a burnout rpm limit and individual limits for turbo spooling, launch and overrev in each gear. 
  • Program a specific timing action at any point or range during a run to control conditions you have identified by feel or via data logging.  
  • Program time or gear based rev limits throughout the run to prevent an overrev from tire spin or even a missed shift.
  • Program it as a safety device against conditions like a stuck throttle. Say you have a consistent running 9-second and car the throttle hangs when you let off after the lights. By pre-programming a rev limit of say 1,500 rpm to take effect somewhere after nine seconds the timing feature will overcome the stuck throttle and slow the car.

Another feature is individual cylinder timing. This is not critically important from a power standpoint, but often more from a durability perspective. Engine builders for high-end applications, such as a Pro Mod engine, have the diagnostic resources to evaluate air/fuel ratios in different cylinders and use ignition timing to help equalize the cylinders across the board. Otherwise, most engine builders will chase their tail on dyno trying to optimize individual cylinder timing.

Various screen shots, from left: MSD data ported to and displayed via the Racepak. MSD functions currently operating on this system are indicated at the top in the cells marked MSD. Data can be seamlessly merged and displayed directly with other Racepak channels; middle, shows timing retards per gear; right, Launch Retard dictated by time.

A more critical value is the ability to address detonation, fuel delivery problems or undesirable burn characteristics in any particular cylinder as determined by careful examination of the spark plugs. Crutching a cylinder in this manner rarely adds much power, but it can often ensure that the cylinder maintains its individual performance level without failure.

Racers used to address this by adjusting the heat range of the spark plug in a particular cylinder or in some cases switching from a standard tip plug to a projected tip. Adjustable timing control in a distressed cylinder quickly addresses the problem by eliminating lost power, preventing inadvertent engine damage and allowing trouble free racing under any given conditions. All too often racers will drop a cylinder due to the instantaneous damage caused by some undetermined combustion anomaly. Causes for this are many and varied, but if you catch signs of distress in time, a simple timing revision via the Power Grid may keep you in the race and preserve most of if not all the power your engine is capable of delivering. 

The run displayed on the left indicates recorded data for the Transbrake (blue), Engine RPM (green) and the Launch Rev Limiter or Two Step (pink). On the right shows each trigger point coming into the Power Grid (Ignition In) and each trigger point going out to the Black ignition box below the Red Power Grid. It basically shows us that everything is working correctly.

This feature is fully compatible with other programmable timing features that permit adjustable timing throughout a run to compensate for conditions the car experiences during launch and different loading characteristics in each gear. Once you adjust timing in any given cylinder, it will follow suit with all subsequent timing adjustments made to optimize ignition performance throughout the run. The Power Grid allows you to control timing as a function of time or rpm. For example if you run a small-tire car, you can adjust the system to pull timing immediately upon launch and slowly add it back in over a desired period of time, depending on how well the car hooks and how it affects your sixty foot times. 

The smart Power Grid works equally well with all other MSD ignition boxes, controlling their function based on each one’s performance capabilities. Street applications can easily combine it with an MSD 6AL (6425) to gain greater tunability.

Here’s a good example: A dyno-verified combination delivers peak power at 35 degrees total timing. That part at least doesn’t change in the car because it’s a function of combustion chamber design and overall engine combination, although certainly the fuel curve will be different. At launch you may want to pull timing briefly to let the tires grab, then wack it with more timing to help carry the 330-foot times — say 42 degrees or more — because the faster an engine accelerates the more timing it can stand, depending on the air quality. Then pull it back to 36-38 through the mid-range and back to 35 degrees at higher rpm. 

Generally, drier air requires less timing, and more timing is often needed if the air is laden with water vapor. This example fits no particular car, but it illustrates how engine tuners might use the Power Grid to custom tailor timing curves that deliver maximum performance with the ability to quickly adjust for track and atmospheric conditions. The Power Grid records these curves, so tuners can revert to them again under similar conditions. For ease of use, the launch retard can be triggered from the trans-brake button to control how hard the tires are hit at launch.

“The Launch Retard will become your go-to tuning section of the Power Grid,” adds Pando.

The Power Grid is a robust stackable modular system with broad connectivity including off-brand components. To service the developing ignition requirements of various racing applications, MSD designers simply provide a software update to accommodate them or design new modular components that plug into the system if a hardware requirement is identified. The following specifications apply to the Power Grid as accompanied by the attending 7720 Grid-7 ignition.

• Spark Energy: 200-220mJ per spark
• Primary Voltage: 545-570 volts
• Secondary Voltage: 50,000 volts plus
• Spark Series Duration: 20-degrees of crankshaft rotation
• RPM range: 15,000 RPM with 14.4 applied volts
• Required Voltage: 12-18 volts with negative ground
• Current Draw: 1.3 amp per 1,000 rpm
• Dimensions: 7.5″ L x 5″ W x 2.25″ H
• Weight: 2.9 pounds 

Versatility of Power Grid

To incorporate the expandable accessory boxes, racers can add stackable 4-port CAN-BUS hub strips, porting them directly into the Grid controller. Unlimited modular control permits the addition of any desired number of external accessories, as required by various applications. These may include a manual launch control (7751) and a Slew Rate (rate of acceleration) Timed RPM Control Module (7761). A boost Control Module (7763) and a Boost Retard Module (7762) are also available for boosted applications. 

Advanced Power Grid plug-in modules include a manual launch control (7751) and the Timed RPM Slew Rate control module (7761). The red component is one of the CAN-BUS hubs.

“We’ve finally bridged the gap between MSD and Racepak,” adds Pando. “If you have a Racepak data logger, we can send the Power Gird data to the Racepak thru a V-Net connection. Everything that the data logger records, they’ll see it in the Racepak. For the racers, that’s a huge benefit. Before, you’d have to look at the MSD, measure the time, and then go over to Racepak, measure the time, and flip back and forth. Now it’s all on one screen.”

With several years of broad field service under its belt, the Power Grid has proved to be the most versatile ignition controller ever.  Digital programmable 7 owners are able to convert to a Power Grid system via a plug-in harness (7789). Add a Hub (7740) and Launch control (7751) to adjust the Launch Rev Limiter, adjust the brightness on the shift light for day or night time racing and it will display the actual timing in real time. 

MSD Power Grid helps drag racers perfectly tune the ignition for almost any type of car and track condition.

Who would have thought there were so many broad applications for timing control? The Power Grid allows racers to address a multitude of tuning problems that were previously difficult to handle. Race engine performance incorporates a broad dynamic that calls for precision timing at every stage of the track. With its ability to adjust timing in milliseconds and make the desired adjustments according to time delay or gear usage, the Grid is one of the most powerful tools in the racers arsenal with its versatility and modular format. Racers will not have to buy all-new components with every major advance in ignition technology. Think of new ways to apply this technology, such as the long pull at Bonneville or the extended dragstrip-style of mile racing comes to mind. Or could this technology be applied to various circle track venues or off-road racing. The sky is the limit when it comes to precise timing control that the Power Grid delivers.