In terms of what should be avoided during assembly, here're some things to think about. Even if parts are new, we recommend checking everything for fractures or cracks by Magnafluxing or a comparable method. Sometimes parts slip by with undetected defects, so performing these tests is just good insurance against potential damage later on. In fact, if you look at the upper-level race shops, everything is treated the same and checked to make certain a defect doesn't accidentally remain, even in a new part. It's just one quality control check after another.
Of course, there are things that you really need to make certain are acceptable. Like piston-to-valve clearance. Don't take this for granted. I recommend it be checked, by various means, more than once, as I previously mentioned.
Valve stem clearance is also critical. Especially with exhaust valve clearance, you can stick a valve and "launch" an engine real quick. Rod-to-camshaft clearance on some of the stroker-type engines falls into this category, along with crankshaft-to-oil pan clearance.
Piston-to-head clearance is another area of checking that can be done quickly and simply but also easy to overlook. In particular when we're using a domed piston, but other times as well, we check piston-to-head clearance without a head gasket.
CT: Let's step back from all this for a moment and focus on what you see in the near- and long-term future for these types of engines, particularly regarding induction systems, fuels, and that sort of thing. It's pretty clear there's a technology gap between what the OEM community is building for on-road use and where circle track racing appears to be today. And maybe beyond this, how do you view the use of renewable fuels in racing?
KD: You know, Jim, think back to when you and I first got into racing. Few of us had much money but we wanted to race. Where did we go to get our first parts? Remember? The wrecking yards. And you know what we found? Engines and parts that we could afford, or maybe trade for—that became how we built a racing engine. This was OEM equipment that we adapted to our needs. Sometimes we tried our own modifications to the cylinder heads or valve jobs, and it was all part of the learning process.
My guess right now is that this is the same landscape that young, potential circle track racers will include investigating today. As a result, they'll likely use electronic fuel injection, where rules permit, recognizing the convenience and familiarity of "tuning" these engines with a lap-top computer. I don't know how to do this and you probably don't either, but the fact remains that it's where we are today.
I also believe that these same young racers-to-become are more environmentally aware than we were back then. In fact, we're all more environmentally concerned now than then. Whether it's racetrack noise, on-track emissions, or simply the amount of fuel we use, it all seems related to the environmental impact on racing. NASCAR is addressing the issue, and I know the Circle Track G.R.E.E.N. project is going down a similar path.
Eventually, all this is probably going to happen. But I think it's a matter of what's cost effective, especially for those who don't have unlimited resources. Still, the carburetor is going to be around for a long time yet. EFI is like other electronics in that the price for using it is coming down.
CT: On the fuels issue?
KD: If we're going to get any public respect going forward, I think we ought to be considering the alternatives. Circle track racing should be thinking about changes that not only need to be made to this part of our sport but what can get it back on a track of growth.