Mention the word crate motor at any racetrack in any town around the country and you will get one of two opinions. Either they're the best thing since sliced bread or they will be the final nail in the coffin of short-track racing. In the motorsports world, crate engines are the topic, a political hot potato that is the equivalent of healthcare, Iraq and social security all rolled into one.
Cost SaviorBy now you know the much publicized story, crates, a.k.a. sealed motors, are designed to save racers and sanctions time and money. The racer buys the motor from a manufacturer (GM, Ford and Chrysler all make 'em), drops it into his/her car and goes racing. The big plus is that the racer could get a 400-plus horsepower motor for about $5,000. That's significantly cheaper than a typical built race engine. Savings that big on something as costly as a race engine could help jump start an industry that is by many accounts flat if not shrinking. An extra $10,000 in the budget? Any racer worth his/her weight in 110 octane would kill for that.
Now couple that with the added benefit that the engines are virtually bulletproof and you've created a whole new level, an economical level of our industry.
"The whole premise of the program was to keep it affordable to get the guys back who had to drop out because of economics and to offer the young guys an opportunity," says Bill Martens, GM's director for the crate motor program.
Racers have claimed running the crate motors for several years and changing only the valve-springs. That kind of durability benefits the racer big time. The crates save money, time and labor which is exactly what GM intended.
Sanctions and tracks would benefit too. A factory sealed engine means that it is theoretically impossible for racers or engine builders to modify the engine thanks to the factory specific sealing techniques which include special bolts. This means that tech inspections would be expedited due to the fact that the motors are sealed. All the inspector would have to do is look for the factory seals and "BAM" the motor is legal. In addition, since sealed motors all produce at or near the same horsepower, racers would be on a level playing field, at least from the engine side. On paper it looked like a win-win for the racers and track owners alike.
ProblemAs crate racing grew in popularity, it didn't take long for the more creative in our sport to get...well...more creative. These racers started thinking if they could get in and out of the engine, gain an extra 10 horsepower without the tech inspectors knowing, they'd be laughing all the way to victory lane.
A pair of ASA Late Model Series cars race at Toledo Speedway. The ASALMS is one of the hig
They were right.
It started crudely at first with rumors floating around tracks in the early 2000s that you could buy cheater bolts on the internet. "I had heard that story forever," says longtime promoter and current Charlotte County (Fla.) Motorsports Park owner Bobby Diehl. "But (my opinion was) until somebody shows me those bolts, it's just B.S. Because nobody had shown me those bolts, I considered them (the engines) impregnable."
But gradually the rumors and hearsay turned into reality. Diehl remembers the encounter vividly. "It was in 2005, right before Christmas at Lakeland Speedway. A guy walked up and put the bolts in my hand and said 'here Merry Christmas.'" Now, Diehl had seen cheater bolts in the past, "The first ones I saw were rusty while the second ones were kind of shiny."
But his Christmas encounter was a different story altogether. "These had GM on it and it just so happened that this was the third week in a row that somebody put bolts in my hand that had the GM stamp on it that were brand new. At that point, I told my tech guys, 'it's over boys they've impregnated the impregnable.'"