Editor's Note: Circle Track recently caught up with master engine builder Jay Dickens and asked him to pen a list of critical tips that short trackers need to check on their motors before turning that first lap of the new season. In creating this list, we asked Jay to assume that the motor ran well in the previous season and that there were no major or obvious issues. We also told him to assume that the engine would not be rebuilt and that all the work would be done by the racer. So, without further ado, here are 21 preseason engine tips from Jay Dickens to help you and your motor get off to a healthy and strong start for the 2009 racing season. The tips are in no particular order of importance with the exception of No. 1. While you're performing the check of your motor, learn the limits of your engine and remember where they are. Keep in mind that if you ever have any questions during the maintenance of your motor, consult a professional builder like Jay.
1.TAKE YOUR TIME You will get out of it exactly what you put into it. I know that's a clich but you can always tell who spends the time and works on their stuff. From Hendrick Motorsports to Joe's Garage, those are the racers who rarely have failures. Maintaining your engine takes a lot of attention and time. Don't assume anything is OK. If you have any doubt about a particular component or system, take your inspection process a little further and check it out to make sure its OK. There's a lot you can do in the shop to prevent a failure on the track.
2. GETTING STARTED I like to start at the firewall and work forward. Make a list and keep notes that way you won't miss anything. Remember, if you have a 300-400 horse engine, you can get away with stuff that's marginal but the margin for error gets real small with a 9,000 rpm 15:1 motor. In those motors, you have to make sure everything is perfect. But in reality, attention to detail is important regardless of the engine you're running. Good habits are formed early, so if you get into the practice of being methodical about your 300 hp motor, when you graduate up the ranks to a high horse motor, you'll be ahead of the game.
3. QUALITY OF FUEL Never assume that the fuel you have stored in your shop is good. Even if it's sealed and capped in the proper container, the likelihood is that it has gone bad, especially if it has sat for any period of time. Some guys could have fuel sitting around for a couple years and think it's still good. This goes for the fuel in the tank also. Hopefully you didn't store your car over the winter with fuel in the tank, but if you did, you'll need to clean the whole system out before you turn the motor over. Bottom line: get new fuel for your new season.
Making a list is critical to not missing anything during your preseason preparations. John
4. FUEL LINES & FILTER Following on the quality of fuel concept you need to inspect all of the fuel lines and replace the filter. This is important even if you checked all of the lines in your post-season prep for winter storage. Inspect the lines for cracks, cuts, sharp bends, and/or crimps. Debris from the track can come up and damage those lines in spots that are easily missed by a quick glance at the track. Perform a detailed visual inspection of every inch of every line.
5. VENT YOUR TANK During storage, it's really important to cap your vents on the fuel tank to prevent debris or foreign material from contaminating the system. However, it's even more important to make sure there's a fresh clean vent on that fuel tank when it's time to go racing. Your fuel cell should have a vent at least #6 AN, preferably #8 AN. We had a customer who put a brand-new fuel tank in his car before the season but he forgot to put in a vent (it was capped). He ended up running the motor lean and burnt a piston. That one little mistake of not properly venting the system cost him several thousand dollars.
Never assume that the fuel you have stored in your shop is good. Even if it's sealed and c
6. OIL Like the quality of your fuel and fuel system, the same holds true for your oil. Fresh oil and filters are cheap compared to motor rebuilds. Don't forget to inspect the oil system lines as thoroughly as you did the fuel lines. Remember to use only a racing oil filter. Stock oil filters should never be used since they can't handle the pressure and flow of a racing pump. If you're using an O-berg-type inspection screen, it should be no smaller than 115 micron.
7. DRY SUMP Do you run a dry sump system? If you do, make sure you know the proper way to check the oil level. The oil level should be 65 percent of your tank's capacity with the engine running. Just because your buddy's car takes 15 quarts doesn't mean yours does. There's no required amount, every system is different.
8. CONNECT IT All of the connections need to be checked. This goes for all of the lines, fuel, oil, water, and so on. If any of the fittings look worn or damaged, replace them. Don't take any chances.
9. CARBURETOR Assuming you won't do a complete rebuild, you should drain any fuel and clean it out front to back. You want to start fresh. Replace the power valves, make sure the gaskets are in good shape, and recheck your float level. The float level on belt drive pumps should be set with the maximum fuel pressure the carb will see at max rpm. Also, thoroughly inspect the throttle linkage and the springs. There should be no binding, kinks, or other damage. If there's any sign, replace the component immediately. During the season, remove the carb and check the base plate screws every 100 laps.
Make sure there is a fresh clean vent on your fuel tank when it's time to go racing. Your
10. INTAKE BOLTS The intake bolt length should not be changed as this can cause pushrod interference.
11. VALVESRPINGS As part of the winterizing process some guys will back off the valvesprings and clear out the cylinders. If you did this, check your springs and lash to be sure they are at the recommended setting. You should plan on firing the motor a week or two before your first race/practice to make sure it's running smoothly.
12. FRESH PLUGS As obvious as it seems you should start the season with a fresh set of spark plugs. This is another one of those "too inexpensive not to" tips.
13. DISTRIBUTOR Inspect the inside of your distributor for corrosion in the rotor and cap. Some guys and gals will run the distributor for two or three years without checking it. Over that long time period they can canker up pretty good and will need to be cleaned and serviced before they cause a problem at the track.
Do you run a dry sump system? If you do, make sure you know the proper way to check the oi
14. ELECTRICAL CONNECTIONS Check the ignition and all electrical connections, make sure everything is clean and tight.
15. I LOVE MSD BUT ... MSD is a wiring deal that can cause you problems if you don't read the instructions. Its distributors are color coded along with the ignition boxes. The distributor has a purple/black wire coming out of it while the box has a solid purple one. Most people think that because there's purple on both you need to connect them. However if you put those two wires together you will add 30 degrees of timing to your engine, and that will melt your pistons 100 percent of the time. The purple/black wire needs to be connected to the solid green wire. That solid purple wire gets connected to the orange/black wire. If you put a new MSD system in your car be sure to read and follow the instructions to the letter.
16. TIMING BELTS Speaking of timing, your timing belt, as well as all of the belts on your car, should be nice and tight. You should also inspect them closely to be sure they are free of cracks or nicks. Replace them if necessary, remember a belt is another one of those items that is inexpensive enough to replace every season. Don't take any chances on a cheap part ruining your Saturday night. By the way, if you have a dyno session in the off season and find that you have to move the ignition timing after that session, then something is wrong. Go back and start digging.
Always check your float level. This float is bad, notice the fuel that has gotten inside t
Check your lash, especially if you backed it off during your winterizing process. Jeff Hun
It's one of the simplest things you can do, replace your plugs with new ones. Just don't f
Wiring an MSD can be a tricky task, always keep the instructions nearby and follow them to
17. WATER PUMP Like other external components a check of the water pump can catch a potential problem long before you get to the track. Ask yourself if you were running at ideal engine temps all season. If not you know you have to start digging into the cooling system. If you were, don't take that pump (or any other part of the cooling system) for granted. Check the pump for play in the shaft, inlet and outlet seals, and hairline cracks, especially near the bolts.
18. TIGHTEN UP Check all of the bolts that you can get to externally. In fact, check them twice. If they need to be torqued to a certain spec, re-torque them. You cann't recheck a bolt's tightness too many times.
19. A $30 FAN CAN RUIN YOUR DAY For the local racer I recommend replacing your fan each year. If you race at the national or even regional level, you should replace the fan 2-3 times each season. If those blades sling off, it can be bad. I had a customer who had a fan blade sling off. When it did, it pulled the water pump off the front of the motor. The force literally yanked the water pump housing in half. In another case, the fan blade came off and hit the rack. That one literally tore the rack and pinion in half.
20. HEADER CHECK! You should check your headers for cracks, especially if they are mild steel which are prone to cracking. Look at tabs and where the pipes are connected to the flanges. If you're running Tri-Y headers make sure that they are correct and matched to the firing order of your engine.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this motor needs a new water pump. But it
21. CHANGE All The Fluids Finally, when the motor as been gone through and you're satisfied that you're ready to go, change all the fluids, and make sure they are at the proper level. Start off fresh and plan for a winning season.
About Jay DickensJay Dickens was interested in cars from an early age, and actually built his first engine at the age of 12. During his high school years, Jay worked for the late Bobby Brown, helping to build racing engines for the likes of Bobby Allision and Grand Adcox. A few years later, Jay started working on engines in his garage at home on a part time basis. In 1991, his part-time business was on the grow and he built his first building dedicated to engine building. Finally, in 1994 Jay decided to quit his day job and officially went in to business with Jay Dickens Racing Engines in March 1994.
Based in the Northeast Mississippi town of Aberdeen, Jay Dickens Racing Engines (JDRE) has grown from a small company with a few customers into a large scale business with customers nationwide. Along the way, JDRE customers have picked up track championships, series championships, and countless wins. The JDRE customer base ranges from Dirt Late Model competitors to Drag Racers to competitors in NASCAR Sprint Cup racing.
Check your headers for cracks, especially if they are mild steel which is prone to cracking. If yours are like these on the left, then you need to make them look like those on the right. Rob Fisher