Back in late January the American Speed Association journeyed to South Africa for the inaugural ASA Free-State 500K at Phakisa Freeway (covered in the Aug. '10 issue of Circle Track). As the 24 competitors in the race took the green flag, there were two cars in the field that had something a little different beneath their hoods. Car numbers 98 and 900 both looked like typical full-bodied American stock cars, but their powerplants were anything but. Nestled between the tube frame chassis of these two stockers was the new ASA Transcontinental Series engine, a 500-plus horsepower electronically fuel-injected racing motor.

Built by Minnesota's Schwanke Racing Engines, the engine is what officials of the ASA are calling the future of stock car powerplants. It's actually an LS3-based motor that Tim Schwanke, owner of Schwanke Racing Engines, dove inside of to beef up and make suitable for oval-track competition. On the dyno it puts out 525 hp and 505 lb-ft torque on 94-octane pump gas-all for a price tag of just less than $15,000. That's not bad at all when you consider that some of the motors in the FreeState 500K were hand-built open engines with price tags north of $35,000.

The ASA Transcontinental Series Engine's price includes LS3 Vortec aluminum block assembly, GM LS3 aluminum heads, L92 truck intake and 90mm throttle body, 36-pound injectors, custom pistons and forged rods, 0.550 lift hydraulic roller cam, an ATI super damper, 85-amp alternator, steel dry-sump pan, Barnes single stage scavenge pump, KRC power steering pump, front motor mount kit, electric in-tank fuel pump kit, inline fuel filter and regulator, serpentine beltdrive, air intake and mass airflow sensor kit, throttle cable, 13/4-inch spec chassis headers, hydraulic clutch kit, steel bell housing, Spec 8-inch 26-spline clutch, low oil pressure and overheat protection, EFI PCM, a 7,000-rpm rev limiter, custom wiring harness, and an installation kit with instructions. That's a long and healthy list for a race engine that comes in with a price tag just under $15,000.

However, the motor is electronically fuel injected, a feature that is looked down upon by many in today's short track community. Many sanctions and promoters run scared of electronics in race motors, claiming that they are an open invitation to cheaters. But that's a fallacy says ASA Transcontinental Series (ASATS)Tech Director Mike Lemke. "All we need to do is change the 'brain boxes,' checking rpms as far as the rev limit, and measuring the bore of the throttle body. That's it."

The ASATS motor is sealed in an effort to deter creative mechanics but the programming of the ECU is the real roadblock. If a sanction were to randomly issue and/or swap ECUs between competitors, no amount of internal tweaking of the motor would add power. In fact, the ECU can be programmed to recognize whether or not anybody messed with the guts of the motor.

"You use the on-board automotive computer that is used to control the whole programming for ignition and fuel," says Tim Schwanke. "I just promote the idea of rotating that computer amongst competitors and that is pretty much the end of your tech."

Overall, Lemke loved what he saw from the engine in South Africa. "I am very encouraged by this engine package, especially from the cost side. In many of America's top racing series, teams are paying anywhere from $40,000-$50,000 for a 12:1 engine, where this package comes in at $14,999.99."

Dennis Huth, ASA President, had Lemke write the rules for the Free-State 500K so that these EFI engines could compete side-by-side with both open motors and crate motors. The goal was to encourage participation from stateside teams with the car's weight becoming the equalizing factor. Crafting rules that allow different motor combinations is a trend that our own Bob Bolles is seeing repeatedly on the AMSOIL Great American Circle Track Tour this year. For stateside tracks and sanctions, adding EFI to that mix should be an easy step to take when they realize all of its benefits.