The strength of racing comes from its ability to fulfill needs for greater competition. The development of a new part, better technology, or greater opportunity would dominate any history of the sport. Along the way, racing evolved to open the doors for new classes. Some classes were fads that disappeared when the time changed. Others have endured and continue to grow.
The history of auto racing is strong when it comes to open-wheel cars. The true pioneers of the sport were found in Midgets and Roadsters long before many of the other types were even dreamt about. The Midgets may have taken a back seat in popularity at times and in certain regions of the country, but the concept has never diminished. The Midget provided the foundation for one of the fastest growing classes in the 21st Century.
Keith Iaia raced TQ (three-quarter) Midgets on the West Coast. During the heyday of those cars, it was common to see 35-40 cars in the pit area. Many of the drivers were names that fans would easily recognize. The TQ Midget was a steppingstone to bigger open-wheel cars and stock car success. Like many classes, though, it got expensive. Car counts were starting to decrease, and the heydays were replaced by the gray days. The Midgets were already more expensive. Cost was starting to limit the options for racers and creating a barrier to new talent development.
This is the stock 2L Zetec...
This is the stock 2L Zetec engine commonly found in Ford products such as the Focus. This engine serves as the basis for the racing engine that is used in USAC competition. S.C.R.E.A.M. of Harbor City, California, is the exclusive supplier of the sealed engines for the series.
As a racer, Iaia wanted to get cost under control. The first idea was the development of a TQ Midget with a Honda 1100cc engine. That suggestion received little support. The development of the Honda 1.8L B18 engine was put through the prototype and testing stages and showed promise. Factory support did not materialize. The company was strong on development, but the enthusiasm ended with the idea of competition.
Laia brought the idea to Hank Dertian, the engineering manager for Ford Racing Technology's Performance Parts division. The reception was swift.
"We had a good relationship with USAC already in the Midgets and Silver Crown divisions," says Dertian. "We met Keith at the SEMA show and he told us he had an idea for a spec Midget. He asked if we had an engine that would be suitable for that. He was looking for an engine that was reliable and lightweight, which describes the 2L Ford Zetec engine."
Laia took the program and developed the engine that would be used in the series. Inside, it's a standard 2L Ford Zetec engine commonly found in street cars like the Ford Focus (hence the name of the series). The engines are sent to Iaia's business, S.C.R.E.A.M, in San Miguel, California. As the exclusive distributor for the engine, Iaia is charged with keeping the engines as equal as possible.
The valvetrain in the engine is the "100,000-mile" self-adjusting type. The internal components are built to last one or more seasons with no more than routine maintenance. With some restrictions, competitors can maintain and calibrate the fuel, ignition, and lubrication systems. It allows competitors to develop the habits necessary to maintain an engine in a Midget or other USAC series.
The engine is sealed by S.C.R.E.A.M. to prevent modifications. Despite its "factory stock" internals, power gains have been realized with high-performance systems. The engines use Hilborn mechanical fuel injection. Additional power has been realized with the use of an aluminum flywheel. When it is all said and done, these engines can generate nearly 180 hp.
"We worked for 18 months to calibrate the systems and develop the best engine," says Iaia. "It took countless hours on the track and in the dyno room. We are intimately familiar with these engines. We know what they like and we encourage our customers to call us.