In heavily loaded applications such as a race motor, an oil wedge between metal parts such
It's simple enough. If you run a motor with a flat-tappet camshaft then you need to use the proper assembly lube, break-in oil and racing oil all the time. These lubricants should have enough ZDDP or other zinc additive to provide a sufficient buffer against cam lobe failure. Today's race motors have higher engine speeds, higher spring loads, faster lifter acceleration and more. We're using crankcase evacuation systems where there is negative pressure in the crankcase which is pulling all the oil away from the camshaft. All of these things add up to a tremendously harsh environment. If you aren't using the right lubricant package you're asking for trouble.
But be warned, you may have a buddy who has run standard engine oil in his flat-tappet motor and never experienced a problem. "There's a chance that he'll put it in and never have a problem," says Brothers. "It'll perform just fine, it'll break in just fine and he'll never have a problem. However, that all depends on where that engine falls in the performance spectrum and how lucky the guy is that day."
The risk isn't worth it, and there is absolutely no risk to using the proper oils. So, unless you like replacing expensive engine components, you should not be buying the motor oil for your race engine at Wal-Mart. But how do you know which oil is the best for your application? Ask. There are a number of manufacturers out there who produce and market oils and lubricants specifically for racecar applications, such as Brad Penn, Royal Purple, and Joe Gibbs Racing Oil. All of which have sufficient levels of ZDDP to ensure flat-tappet cam operation.
"Late in the '90s we first began to see the problem," says Lake Speed Jr. of Joe Gibbs Racing Oil. "With the reduction in phosphorous and zinc levels, we began to experience engine failures with our Cup series engines. Of course this was magnified by the fact we were trying to turn 9,000 rpms." At the time the team had a sponsorship from an oil company making it relatively easy for them to find and solve the problem. Their sponsor custom blended an oil formula for them that solved their problem. "We needed a lube system that would allow us to assemble and break in the engine so that we knew what we had," says Speed. Eventually that formulation provided the foundation for a whole business for Gibbs and now that race team sells the oil they use in their cars.
Like many performance oil manufacturers, Joe Gibbs Racing Oil makes an assembly grease des
Like Gibbs, American Refining Company offers a range of lubricants under the Brad Penn brand that offer high ZDDP concentrations for racing applications. American Refining Company is the oldest continuous running refinery in the United States. In addition, they are the only refinery in the United States that processes 100 percent pure Pennsylvania crude oil, which provides a unique cut off of the fractional tower. Now, refining crude oil into gasoline, butane, and motor oil is a complicated process, but suffice to say the fractional tower is a key machine in the whole system. The "cut" is oil industry speak that refers to the base oil taken from the refining process. Once a base oil is in hand, refineries can then begin to add other additives to develop a product that delivers optimum lubrication for a particular application.
American Refining's Dick Glady cautions that achieving the optimum lubrication for your race engine means balance. "The industry is attributing a lot of the problems with flat-tappet cams to the reduction of the zinc in the oil. That reduction upset the balance. Having a good balance of base oils and additives is the key in formulating a good race engine oil. For example, race engine oils need to have a range of 1,200 to 1,500 ppm (parts per million) of zinc. Our Brad Penn Grade 1 Racing Oils have 1,500 ppm zinc and 1,410 ppm phosphorus."
But having those levels of zinc and phosphorous are only half of the equation. You also need to consider the base oils. Pennsylvania crude oil, which is the base stock for Brad Penn Racing Oils, has a naturally occurring wetting agent that enables the oil to stay put and resist slinging for an extended period of time. That's important for critical areas such as flat-tappet cams and pistons/cylinder walls. After all, oil staying put means that it can better do its job of lubricating and protecting those internal engine components.