Editor’s Note: Since 1985, Ken Troutman of KT Engines (in Concord, North Carolina) has been providing well thought-out engine packages for various circle track applications. In this month’s interview, we bombard him with the same set of questions we’ve been using in this interview series and discover once again there’s more than one way to skin the proverbial cat.

How healthy do you believe the current engine builder market is right know and are you experiencing growth or just maintaining market share?

Well, right now I think the engine building business is still a bit rocky. There are still a fair amount of crate motors being used that is sorta hindering our growth. But on the other hand, at least the last year or so, we’ve experienced the building of a lot of new engines over what we’d previously seen. I know that sounds like it’s contrary to what I first said but, overall, I don’t think it’s as strong as it was several years ago before the crate motors appeared on the scene.

Do you feel that rule changes have also been in play to influence new business?

There are probably a variety of factors but I think a lot of guys have just decided they don’t want to run the crate motors anymore. Of course, there have been rule changes that probably affected the situation. For example, NASCAR now allows a 500-cfm carburetor which made the engine more competitive in running with the crate engines whereas before the 350 carburetor disadvantaged the non-crate engines. Of course, this change in the rules allowed us to concentrate on running the engines at a higher rpm, maybe as much as 500-600 rpm more, and that’s an advantage. Then you’ve got some people who like to have the freedom to work on their engines, if they want to.

Are you seeing new technologies appearing in the parts that you use and how do you account for this?

As far as what parts manufacturers are generally putting out there, we don’t see any really new technologies, at least in terms of the Late Model Stock engines that we primarily build. I guess you could say these engines, at least by comparison, are pretty much “antiquated” when it comes to the types of parts where you might expect new ideas to turn up. I mean, we’re still running cast-iron heads and 11/32 valves and floppy rockers and parts like that. We’re pretty much limited by rules and not allowed to use what I guess you could say are more advanced parts that provide an opportunity for innovation.

In order to meet the power levels required in the engines you build or rebuild, is it necessary to modify the parts you use or do they pretty much work right out of the box, so to speak?

Of course, as you’d expect, class rules have a lot to do with what we can do to the parts we use. Even so, and working within the confines of such rules, there are things that we do and have found to work that help us reach the power levels required for our customers to be competitive, at least insofar as the engine package is concerned.

For example, we have pistons made to our specifications that fall within the rules. We also have connecting rods made to our specs. So where we’re allowed to make changes or special parts, we want our customers to be advantaged by that opportunity. But I guess it’s fair to say that for just about all the parts we use, whether it’s for purposes of fitting or clearancing or having them made to spec, there’s some amount of “refining” that’s required. We simply can’t reach the power levels required to build competitive engines by using off-the-shelf parts. Anymore, and I hate to say this, but just because a product is machined using a CNC process, there’s no guarantee that the person operating the machine was as skilled as they should have been. So you can’t assume that a product was properly produced simply because it came off a CNC machine.

On another subject, what role do you see EFI having in the various circle track applications, both now and going forward?

I actually don’t think you’re going to see EFI going further than where it is right now at the upper levels for some time. Because in order for that to become more mainstream, racers are going to need to spend a lot more money, sanctioning organizations will need to make some rules changes, and then racetracks will need to spend money and find ways to tech the systems. So I really think, given the overall cost of getting EFI into the lower classes of racing, I don’t see it happening in the near future. I think a prime example of what can happen when electronics is part of the scene was when the ASA tried this approach and figured out really quick that it was loaded with problems (Ed. Note: ASA tried EFI in 2000). I mean there’s so many people racing that will spend money for an advantage that things which were pretty much undetectable, like traction control, were being used and the association couldn’t catch ’em.

As more is learned about the pros and cons of using E85 in the place of conventional racing gasoline, do you forecast its increased use or not?

Well, although I think we may see some use of E85 trickle down into the more general classes of racing, I believe the reason for this will be essentially to appease the “tree huggers.” If people really understood a little more about E85, I believe they’d know that you’re obviously going to burn more fuel, that’s a given. But a carburetor has to deliver almost twice the volume of fuel through a device that doesn’t do a very good job of atomizing fuel in the first place. The problems related to cylinder-to-cylinder air/fuel charge distribution in a single-plane, 4V manifold is made worse than with gasoline, and now you have an excess of fuel that tends to wash oil off a variety of bearing surfaces, including piston rings. Other than by popular demand, from an environmental standpoint, I don’t see its use trickling down into the lower classes any time soon.

Given the current status of circle track racing and the role your business plays in that community, what are your plans for the next five or more years?

We’re already on a track to give our customers competitive power at the most affordable price we can provide, it’s really that simple. Now I’m not saying this is easy, but it’s the philosophy we’ve adopted for now and the future. I guess the crate engine issue was somewhat of an eye-opener for a lot of engine builders. But at the end of the day, because of rules and other constraints, there are limits to what you can do to an engine. So, given these parameters, there’s just so much money a racer can be expected to spend on his engine. Of course, there was time when if you tried to be cost-effective and fair in what you charged a customer and there’s another builder down the street charging more, the customer got the impression that the more expensive engine was better than yours. So we’re trying to find a balance in all that.

What rules or rules changes do you think would benefit circle track racing the most?

From our standpoint, I think some things that would probably help would be to go to a four-barrel carburetor, across the board. Even though the front-end cost of doing this would be increased, I believe the racers would go for it. Maybe like the UARA guys who, although they’re using a late-model stock motor, are using a 390, 4V carburetor. I also think going to a roller camshaft would help, if for no other reason than to take away the failure problems associated with flat-tappet cams. This is really a problem. I mean, we’re using 40- or 50-year-old technology with the cams, and since you’ve got to be so aggressive with lobe design, I think this is really a rules change that needs to be made. And I honestly think they ought to allow shaft rockers as well. Think about it. When you add up the costs associated with good rocker studs, good guideplates, good rockers, good stud girdles, and parts like this, a shaft rocker assembly makes sense from several different perspectives, especially cost. Changes like this, especially when parts longevity benefits will, long-term, save racers money. It’s tough not to think this is beneficial. At least these are my views.