I read your story in Circle Track mag about low-budget Saturday night racers. My son and I own a UMP Dirt Pro Stock and run at Fulton Speedway. After many years of struggles, he won his first feature this year. He went on to win three times this season and capture eight Second place finishes. The problem is we do this all out of our paychecks. I'm sure I don't have to tell you how tough this is. Even so, we finished Second in points this year.
However, the track has dropped our class for next year. So, we bought a northeast dirt modified that we will run in the Sportsman class but we are finding it difficult to come up with the money to buy a 602 GM crate engine and that's pretty much all we lack to get going again.
We are trying to sell the Pro Stock right now but no luck on that yet and we can't use the motor from that because you are required to have the crate engine in the Sportsman class. So, you talk about low-buck racing for the love of the sport, we are the poster child of that category.
Thanks for listening and keep the great stories coming,
A lazy tech inspector will...
A lazy tech inspector will assume that this motor is legal because of these seal bolts. Is he right? Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Last month we opened the can of worms that is The Crate Debate. We laid out the original concept of crate racing as well as the problems that cropped up once the tracks and teams began using sealed engines. This month we bring you part two of the debate where we offer our idea for a solution to the problem.
But before we do that, let's revisit the actual problem. The very heart of the problem lies with the seal bolts, their existence of the bolts has made it very easy for a technical inspector to get lazy. It's a simple process to lean over a motor check for the presence of the bolts and declare it legal because it is sealed. Why bother checking any deeper when you can plainly see that the engine is sealed?
True, but as the cheater bolts we showed you in last month's issue have gotten more sophisticated, it's made it easy to slide an illegal motor through the inspection line.
Who cares, cheating goes on everywhere?
Again, true. Consider this: IMCA has a crate motor option in its Northern SportMod division where you can also run a two-barrel open engine. It's the racer's choice. Brett Root, IMCA's VP of Operations, says that his inspectors catch more racers trying to cheat up the two-barrel motors than the crates. Perhaps because it's easier (and cheaper) to get into an open motor or perhaps because there is a bigger percentage of opens in that division, either way there will always be somebody trying to sneak around the rules.
That in and of itself is a problem, but we believe that there is only a small percentage of people doing the cheating compared to the overall racer population. Problem is, those cheaters, particularly those cheating a crate, are running the cost of racing up into the stratosphere.
The winning built engine in...
The winning built engine in Gary Parkhurst's car is now obsolete in his division because of a sanction rule change to a crate motor. Courtesy of D&B Photo
Whether legal or illegal, the bulk of the problem with crate motors and what to do about them falls squarely on the shoulders of one group in our industry, the racetrack owner. "My fear is that racetrack promoters see this crate engine as a gift from heaven that will automatically double their car counts," says Comp Cams' Scooter Brothers. "The only thing that I have ever seen to double a car count is to roll up the sleeves and go to work."
Brothers' fear is more of a reality than many people in the industry realize or even admit. Consider this recently received letter from a Circle Track reader, Gary Parkhurst out of Fulton, N.Y.
Ironically, in the case of the Parkhursts, the crate motor program has actually increased the cost of racing. When UMP switched the Pro Stock division from a purely open class to a purely crate class it obsoleted the Parkhursts' motor. So now they'll have a hard time recouping their original investment and will have to pony up more money for the new crate motor.
That is a problem that could reinvent itself in the future. "What happens when times get tight (for the manufacturers)?" asks Jack Jerovsek at Baker Engineering/Pro-cam. "What happens if say GM stops building the crates like it did with the EFI motor for the old ASA. As a sole source engine supplier you're gonna have a problem and there will be a lot of racers out there with useless inventory."
The DIRTCar UMP Sportsman's...
The DIRTCar UMP Sportsman's are making the move to crates in '08. Photo by Big Joe Alexander
Apply that theory to Gary's situation and you could effectively triple the cost of his motor program should the manufacturers bail on the crates.
At this stage, GM as well as the others are firmly committed to the crate motor program. In fact, GM's new 525hp crate motor was unveiled at the recent PRI trade show. That said, crate motor racing is here to stay.
The First Step
In a recent conversation with John Kilroy over at Performance Racing Industry he said, "The most dangerous thing about crate motors is that it changes the 'ecology' of racing. When the technological competition goes away, I think the sport is in danger of becoming boring to its original, hardcore audience."
Racing is driven by technological competition whether or not it is chassis, body/aero or engine technological competition is the foundation of the sport. Let's take the 2007 World of Outlaws Late Model Series as an example. In analyzing the final Top 10 points finishers we find five different engine builders. What's more is each of the five engine builders visited Victory Lane multiple times. That obviously can't happen with crate racing. The WoO Late Model Series is an example of Kilroy's ecology of racing theory. Solving or avoiding that problem or impending problem falls squarely on the shoulders of the promoter and track owner. However, we as industry participants cannot necessarily rely on those promoters and track owners to develop the programs to maintain that ecology of racing.
This is the epitome of a tech...
This is the epitome of a tech inspection. Promoters don't have to go to this level to ensure a fair crate race but they do have to do something. Photo by Bob LeSuier
While major sanctions like the World Racing Group which owns the World of Outlaws and DIRTCar sanctions in addition to UMP have the muscle to develop those programs, many independent tracks or smaller sanctions do not. But there are ways for the little guy to help in that process.
Solution #1: Just Tech It
"It's no different than the guy who says 'I don't like the 55 spec tire rule because they treat the tires,'" says Fasttrak President and Founder Stan Lester. "I told that guy, 'you don't like that rule because you're too lazy to do your job and punch a tire.'"
Lester's Fasttrak Series is one of the most prominent and well run crate racing organizations around and its success centers on that one philosophy of doing your job. The bottom line says Lester is "if people don't tech it'll never work."
Sanctions and tracks who blindly look the other way to the crates (or any cheating for that matter) need to wake up. If they let guys race cheated up crates from rogue engine builders are they really providing a mechanism for low-cost entry level racing? No. Not in the least. In fact they are contributing to the problem.
As a track owner or promoter, you have to have a solid tech inspection program in place, regardless. Since there are a whole number of tracks that do not, it may be incumbent on the industry leaders to develop some type of mechanism to do just that (Ed. Note: I know, be careful of what I ask for).
NASCAR's spec engine could...
NASCAR's spec engine could be a better alternative to crate motors. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Solution #2: Ditch the bolts
Make finding the cheated motors easier by ditching the seals. You can still have the crate motor come complete from the authorized builder or GM. Without the bolts, tracks and sanctions do not have an excuse to not peek inside the engine. Yes, this option is just that simple.
Solution #3: Spec It
"That NASCAR deal is an interesting concept," says Scooter Brothers referring to the spec engine that made its debut in 2007 in the Grand National Division. "They basically sell you a kit and then the engine builder gets to assemble it and throw his little pixie dust on it. It's still all the encrypted parts and you still have control over it. Yet every one of the engine builders believes he can do a better job than the guy down the street of putting it together. Now that's an interesting slant on the whole deal."
A spec engine could be the best solution of all. The manufacturers could offer kits with their own components. However, parts from aftermarket suppliers such as Comp, JE or others would be authorized as acceptable alternatives to the OEM components. On paper everybody wins with that one.
Obviously the answer to the crate debate is a complex one that could fill volumes and offering solutions in three short paragraphs may be, well, contrived. Obviously it is easy to sit here and write "here's the answer, now go do it." It's quite a bit harder to actually lay the road map for success. But since we opened this can of worms, and now that we've got three options, we're going to seek to lay out that road map and maybe we can all work together for the betterment of our great sport.