Editor's Note: In the July 2008 issue of Circle Track master engine builder Keith Dorton wrote a letter to the editor concerning sealed or crate motors and their affect on short track racing. We published the letter in its entirety, unedited. We also offered General Motors a chance to respond which they did. Below is a letter from GM's Bill Martens, published in its entirety, unedited.
I have been quiet in print about the "sealed racing engine" situation, but I felt compelled to respond to some of the points in Keith Dorton's "Letter to the Editor" in the July issue of Circle Track. I have lived with the GM Performance Parts sealed crate engine program since shortly after its launch, up and through its maturity today. With this background, I feel highly, though not uniquely, qualified to respond to some issues raised by Keith.
Let me first open the history book to a time six or seven years ago when calls for a more affordable racing engine came from racers and promoters to GM Racing. Racers unable to pay the escalating price of custom-built engines were faced with a reduced racing schedule, or worse yet, parking the car and not racing at all. The promoters likewise were facing dwindling car counts and a widening gap between well-funded teams and those with more desire than money. GM responded with an offering of three versions of the small block Chevrolet that are powerful, durable, and affordable. The exact same scenario exists today: Racers and promoters alike are looking for ways to stay in the game, put on a good show, and not go broke doing it. Gasoline at $4/gal and diesel fuel at $5/gal is just reinforcing this fact of life. With costs of nearly everything increasing at double-digit rates, all but the fortunate few are cutting corners wherever possible. The racing game is all about numbers, guys. If promoters can't get an adequate number of cars, there are no fans. Without fans, there are no races. Game over, track closed.
Regarding sealed engines, this concept was in existence before GM entered the picture. A factory-sealed engine assures the racer that he/she is competing on a level playing field, at least as far as under the hood. With everyone running the same horsepower, give or take 2-3 hp, the difference is now how the racer (and crew) set up the chassis, as well as his ability to drive. In theory, the sealed engine prevents the more creative types from modifying the internal components and specs. So much for theory.
What we have today is the 80/20 rule, or more likely, the 90/10 rule in play. Ninety percent of racers, track owners, and sanctioning bodies are doing a good job of tech inspection, allowing only legitimate rebuilders to use original-spec parts when an engine needs to be refreshed. The other 10 percent are those that spend every waking moment (and a fair amount of money) trying to "get an edge." If a promoter doesn't diligently enforce the rules, check the engines, and DQ the offenders, you're going to be right back where we were several years ago. GM Performance Parts can assist with the parts and tech specs, but it is ultimately the track promoter or sanctioning body that is responsible for rules enforcement. GM cannot be the crate police.
That doesn't mean that we are turning our head to the situation. We believe, as we did in the beginning, that sealed racing engines have a bright future in short-track, grass-roots racing. In answer to the allegations of "counterfeit bolts," we will be announcing a new program later this year that basically makes "bolts" a non-issue. Our new CT525 (525 hp) racing engine will be the first to incorporate this new system that will feature a first-of-its-kind triple seal. It may not stop the cheaters, but its sure going to slow them down! Circle Track will be the first consumer publication to get the whole story.
I must pause to clarify a point: GM Racing and GM Performance Parts are in no way trying to eliminate "built" racing engines from the racescape. Check our catalogs, we offer a lot of "Bowtie-branded" racing components for everything from street stock through Sprint Cup. Rather, what we are trying to do is keep grassroots racing healthy, keeping the current players in the game, and allowing the next generation to give it a try without selling the farm. This applies to both racers as well as promoters. It's a vicious downward spiral when tracks close, as racers have to tow farther, or sell out. If you check closely, the most vocal opponents of the "sealed crate engine" concept are those that have built their business building custom $20,000 - $45,000 racing engines. That's great for those that have been in the sport for a while, but what about the aspiring racer or the veteran that wants to keep on racing without spending his kid's inheritance?
I guess the best thing to do is ask the man that races one.
Special Programs Manager
GM Performance Parts