The Heat Is OnGrowing pains are to be expected with any big change in a particular series, and there will be a few to iron out as the ASA season progresses. The most significant concern with the Vortec V-8 seems to be the heat, and that was evident at the season opener at USA International Speedway in Lakeland, Florida. Several teams experienced setbacks during the race that were associated with the engine.
First, spark plug wires were melting-a problem that could have been avoided.
"In testing the engine last year," says GM's Dan Engel, "we found that too much heat was placed on the wires because of how close they were to the header pipes. So, we gave up on that method and ran the wires from the coils to the back of the cylinder head, under the header pipes, and to the plugs. But a bunch of people didn't think that made sense, so 20 teams showed up with a better way to run the wires, and 19 of them had trouble throughout the weekend.
"We learned a lot from the testing we did with the engine. We found out how to keep the engine as cool as possible, and that's key. We passed the information along because we knew the heat could be a factor. You need to use metal clamps to hold the plug wires in place, and use a heat sleeve for the wires themselves."
Veteran ASA competitor Scott Hansen had problems with melting plug wires at Lakeland, but he did not have the heat sleeve and used plastic wire ties to hold them in place.
A bigger question mark can be placed on ASA driver Mike Miller's problems. "I don't know what happened. The engine just shut off four times during the race," elaborated Miller after the race.
The Lakeland race technical notes, provided by GM, showed Miller's car had many problems with the way parts were installed on the engine. It even showed issues with the shipment of the engine (the report stated that packing foam was found in or around the engine).
"That's the most puzzling thing of the whole weekend (Miller's problems)," says Engel. "We looked at the engine after the race, the critical sensors were fine, and after a quick inspection there were no apparent problems."
Gearing Up!Teams are faced with another challenge this year: How do you get the power to the track? Chassiswise, the setups are similar, but gearing is altogether different. "Basically, it's eight points different (shorter ratio) when it comes to gearing," explains St. Amant. "Last year the V-6s turned 8,200 rpm, and this year the rev-limiter is set to 6,500. That 1,700 rpm makes a big difference in gear selection.
"Driving the car is different, too. Last year we went from 8,200 rpm in the corners to 5,800, and that slowed the car down. This year the rev-limiter doesn't slow the car down as much. That means a lot more abuse on the brakes. So, we've run as much air straight to the brake lines as possible. We also put a recirculating system in, like you would see on passenger cars, to help cool the brakes."
Manufacturers War?General Motors is currently the only manufacturer to be involved with the ASA. There are Ford-bodied cars, but they are competing with GM engines. Will any other make step up to the table and join the fray?
"We welcome it," says Robbins. "There's nothing restricting Dodge, Honda, or even Ford. They would go through the same validation program as GM did. Right now, Ford says its interests are in Winston Cup and CART.
"Dodge, however, is a different story. I think you'll see an Intrepid by next year or even by the end of this season. They have a different approach. Dodge has no problem running the Vortec engine. It cares about the body styles, and I think other manufacturers will eventually wake up."
Wake up indeed, because the ASA could be onto something here. After all, which engine is in your car: carbureted or fuel-injected?
BFG + the Vortec V-8 = A New StyleFor ASA Executive Vice President Brian Robbins, abandoning Goodyear was simple. "There was a ton of problems with Goodyear tires ever since they moved their production out of the country to Chile. The quality was horrendous; one set would grow and another would shrink, and that had the teams guessing. Goodyear is based on NASCAR-the company has said that's its focus. It was not promoting the ASA, and we needed someone interested in helping the ASA grow."
Enter BFGoodrich. The tire manufacturer comes into the Stock Car oval-track world as a rookie, but the effort put forth by the company may help remove its yellow stripe rather quickly.
"Goodyear had one engineer for four or five ASA races, while BFG brings seven engineers to every race," adds Robbins. "Teams are ecstatic. They (BFG engineers) are handing them setups wherever they go, and that brings the little guys up with the big guys. At Lakeland, we had 40 guys within a second in qualifying."
A tire manufacturer handing out setup sheets? That's a unique approach to this new program-and it's working. At each venue, BFG distributes to every team packets that contain psi recommendations, spring rates, and shock suggestions.
"It's a good baseline to work from," says '98 driver Gary St. Amant. "It's incredible what they've done. Whenever you need information, an engineer from BFG is always there."
Adds ASA crew chief Alan Masengil, "The last couple of years has been a flop as far as tire information. This year is unbelievable. I've had the engineers in my pits during the race, analyzing my tires and making suggestions along the way."
During the 200-lap season opener at Lakeland, many teams changed two tires and went the entire distance without a hitch. "I put 186 laps on the right side tires in practice, and they looked fine," touted Mike Eddy's crew chief, Doug Smokestad.
Vic Getzloff is known around the ASA pits as a "tire god." He was the crew chief for Dick Trickle in two of his ASA championships and was a tire specialist with '99 champ Tim Sauter.
"The stagger stays consistent from set to set, and that is impressive," says Getzloff, who is working this year with Ted Musgrave's two ASA teams. "I was a Goodyear guy and a little unwilling to change, but now I know it was for the best. This is not a full-blown radial like Goodyear makes-BFG uses fiberglass in its tires, and they are closer to the bias-ply we've run for years."
BFG tires cost $175 each as opposed to Goodyear's $110 for the bias-ply rubber. Teams used 18 tires per race last year; this year they expect that number to dwindle to 10. The cost differential is nearly a wash, but the information teams are receiving this year, compared to the past, may be invaluable.