Keith Dorton is the owner...
Keith Dorton is the owner of Automotive Specialists, a winning race engine shop, and a trusted voice in the stock car racing community.
Keith Dorton is the owner of Automotive Specialists, a championship winning engine shop in Concord, NC. He's not only a trusted friend of Circle Track magazine, he's also a veteran of the racing industry with a wealth of experience in everything from Late Models to NASCAR's top touring series. Recently, he wrote us this letter, which because of its significance to the racing industry, we're printing in its entirety, unedited. - Editor
I have been pretty quiet about crate and spec engines for a while now, and events have developed to the point that I think it's time to get back up on the soap box. There is a strong push for these engines, but I think we need to take a look at all sides to make sure we aren't making mistakes that are going to hurt the racers in the long run.
Let's start with crate engines. There has been a lot said and written about them in the past few years. A great deal of that has been by yours truly, and many of my predictions have come true. The most significant of these are increases in cheating, decreased interest from the fans, fewer car counts and expenses for race teams that are the same or higher. There have not been many weeks in the last three years that I have not gotten at least one call from someone looking for counterfeit bolts for sealed crate engines. I just refer them to a friend that has been making them for quite a while. I must add he's doing quite well supplementing his income by making and selling them.
Built engines have seen a renewal in the Southeast in 2007, and I hope this trend will continue across the country. Crate engines, however, still seem to be most prevalent at tracks that give them a substantial advantage over built engines. Usually, it's something along the lines of a bigger carburetor along with a substantial weight break, and the advantage is so significant that racers have to run the crate engines if they are going to have any hope of being competitive.
The aluminum-block LS motors...
The aluminum-block LS motors may be a great design for road cars, but they are inadequate for competitive stock car racing. In my experience, I've found that the bores quickly distort, and current rules have no adequate fix for this problem.
Another thorn in my side is what is being referred to as "Sealed Engines." These engines are being used in a number of Late Model events across the country.
I'm not sure how sealed engines came to be in stock car racing, but they are designed to be operated at rpms significantly lower than normally seen on a race track. This means the engines use cheaper parts of lower quality than you would see in an engine built expressly for racing. In order to make up for the difference, the tracks sanctioning sealed motors allow a bigger carburetor to give the engine more horsepower.
The problem with this is the big carbs allow the sealed crate engines to make much more power than the built engines racers have been using for years. Why obsolete those engines? Why not make the sealed engine use the smaller carburetor that was already being run and use weight or some other measure to make them more equal? Instead, racers who have already invested in a built race motor that can last them several seasons with regular rebuilds have to basically throw those engines away and buy new sealed crate motors and the bigger carburetors so that they won't be trapped at the back of the field.
The lower initial costs of these engines may look attractive at first, but why penalize those racers who already have one (or more) race engines in their inventory? For example, I have a longtime customer that has been running in the USAR's Hooters Pro Cup Series. He also has a Late Model and recently wanted to run in the Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida. I suggested that we change the oil pan on one of his Pro Cup engines to fit the Late Model chassis. This engine is 360 cubic inches and makes about 600 hp with a 600 cfm carb. The promoters said he could run the Pro Cup engine with a 390 carb. This would cut the horsepower down to around 520. But the sealed engine makes a little over 600 hp with an 830 carb and 380-plus cubic inches. See where I'm going with this? Even though he already owned a perfectly good race engine, he had to go out and buy a new sealed engine in order to race. Isn't this program supposed to be saving the racers money?