Editor’s note: Mac McGunegill built his first race engine in 1958, in the form of a flat-head Ford. Three years ago, and after decades of successful engine building ventures, he turned the business over to his son, DeWaine, so that the legacy of Mcgunegill Engine Performance will stay in the family for years to come. From direct involvement with the ASA to evolving as a leader in the sealed engine world, MEP has long been a mainstay in the circle track racing community. We recently caught up with DeWaine for his perspectives on the same question set we’ve been presenting to other engine builders. His responses are well-expressed and thought-provoking.

How healthy do you believe the engine builder market is right now and are you experiencing growth or just maintaining market share? Upon what do you base your response?

Personally, I think if you were to base an analysis of the overall market on a one-to-ten scale that it’s currently a seven or, maybe, an eight. I like to break down the engine building business for short tracks into two markets. You’ve got your Saturday Night racer that’s the guy who’ll spend his last dollar to go racing. In my opinion, that market is hurting right now because these racers just don’t have that extra cash to go racing with any consistent frequency. So I’d presently rate that market segment as a four or five. But, on the other hand, our biggest market is the Touring Series racer. This business is still going strong. I’d rate it at an eight or maybe even a nine. And I base this on the fact that many of these racers, or the people who are backing them, simply have the financial resources to go racing. Even when you see sponsor involvement, I think these are people or companies who have the funds to go racing. But we’ve still got to have the Saturday Night guys who are, I believe, the backbone of this type racing, certainly in the future. And even as we see the overall economy slowly improving, I think it’ll take some time to strengthen this part of the market.

Are you seeing new technologies appearing in the parts that you use and, if so or not, how do you account for this? In your opinion, is the technology you’re seeing in new parts headed in the direction that benefits racing?

I’m definitely seeing new technologies, particularly in our short-track racing engines and parts. In fact, one of the biggest areas of improvement right off the top is in the current valvespring technology. Valvespring technology alone has increased dramatically in the last four or five years. CNC cylinder heads is another area where we’ve seen significant improvements. In fact, today I can create my own CNC programs and have them run for a fraction of the cost we saw four or five years ago. The CNC machining centers and software programs are simply more affordable today. And as the number of these shops increase, the costs of their services decrease. As a result, we can now include CNC work in more of our engines, so it’s not just the NASCAR teams than can benefit from the technology and services. We’re also big into the hydraulic roller lifter technology. In just the past couple of years, hydraulic lifter technology has improved immensely. This represents an overall cost savings as well as improvement in overall engine durability. The durability is increased because we can run less valvespring pressure, and past limits imposed by hydraulic lifters can be overcome with the latest technology. Ongoing improvements in various parts technologies are responsible for increased engine durability and life.

I know it would take some work to check limiter boxes and make certain the rule is being followed, but I’m of the strong opinion that it’s well worth the effort

In order to meet the power levels required in the engines you build (or rebuild) is it necessary to modify the parts you use or do they pretty much work right out of the box, so to speak?

Actually, I think this situation is much improved over what it was a few years ago. Back then, I’d say we might have been modifying roughly fifty-percent of the parts to meet our build specs, but I’d say this is probably down to around 20 percent, so it’s clearly better now, and it’s largely a result of improved technologies. Of course, as do some engine builders, we have a number of parts manufacturers who build our components to our specifications. Parts like valvesprings and lifters are examples of what I’m talking about. And I think this all goes back to improved technologies, including parts production techniques, because it’s much easier today to approach major parts manufacturers and request parts that address our specific needs. I also think that part of why we can do this today is that the manufacturers need the business, they already have the machinery in place to do the work, and it’s not a good practice to have idle machines. Years ago if I wanted a special valvespring to meet a certain condition, it was a pretty big deal to get it done. That’s not the case today. It’s just a matter of the manufacturer ordering the right wire, adjusting the computer program in the winding machine and it’s a done deal.

What role do you see EFI having in the various circle track applications, both now and going forward?

Well, we’ve done some EFI work. But, I think it’s playing a small role right now and I expect somewhat of a small role in the future. The change-over from carburetors to EFI is expensive. When it comes to the chassis, racers are always looking for change. But when it comes to changes to major parts of the engine, they’re somewhat backward in their thinking. They don’t seem receptive to these type changes, so I don’t see EFI becoming very big in the near future, especially in the short-track engines. Now I can understand that younger racers coming into the sport who have never driven a car that didn’t have EFI might feel differently about the switch-over. I have a couple of employees in our shop that fit into that category. There is still a significant percentage of racers out there that are “old-school” thinkers, so I don’t see EFI growing rapidly in the near future. Once the trend changes there will be some engine builders that adapt and some that resist. We have invested in our R&D and there is always more to be done.

As more is learned about the pros and cons of using E85 in the place of conventional racing gasoline, do you forecast its increased use or not?

A year ago, I was not interested in E85. I guess just like pretty much everybody else, I was simply comfortable with using gasoline and methanol. But in the last year, we’ve done some extensive testing with USAC and some of their TORC off-road series and I’m gaining a new respect for E85. And the more we use it, the more I like it, and there are multiple reasons for this. First of all, it’s a “green” fuel, so people appreciate that in the non- racing community. It also runs cool, like methanol, and our Late Model guys like that because they can tape up the front ends of their cars a little more to increase down force. Fuel consumption with E85 is about 2/3 of what you’ll use with methanol. I’ve come to the point where I treat it a lot like gasoline instead of methanol, especially when it comes to carburetor calibrations and the overall fuel system. Now I’m aware there are different types of E85, but when you get the right blend, we’ve seen no corrosion in the fuel system and the cylinder walls maintain the same finish as with gasoline, which is not what I had thought before we began our research. I obviously like it a lot, and I see a big future for it in our type of racing. I also think that its overall cost will begin to come down as it becomes more popular and additional blenders get into the marketplace.

Given the current status of circle track racing and the role your business plays in that community, what are your plans for the next five or more years?

In the immediate future, I want to increase our dirt track presence. Right now, about 20 percent of our business is in dirt track racing, like the Late Models and Modifieds but I think that’s a really viable area of growth for us. We’ve also purchased a chassis dyno and begun a program we call “total tuning” where our engines make a certain amount of power on the engine dyno but fail to make relative power in the car. This occurs because a racer doesn’t have the correct air box, or exhaust system, or some other power-associated component or system that’s required to maximize the output of the engine itself. We have customers bringing us their race cars so that we can sort out the associated components and systems. We’re also now private-labeling parts that we’ve designed and are having them made by reputable parts manufacturers. We encourage our current and potential customers to check all this out on our website (www.mcgunegillengines.com).

What rules or rules changes do you think would benefit circle track racing the most?

The one thing that pops into my mind is requiring rev limiters. I’m a big proponent of this. It doesn’t matter what type of engine. You determine what that limit needs to be and stay below it because it’ll improve durability and, in the long term, it’s going to save money. I know it would take some work to check limiter boxes and make certain the rule is being followed, but I’m of the strong opinion that it’s well worth the effort. We’ve built engines that have limiters and some that don’t, and the life expectancy is almost doubled when a rev limiter is used. My sense is the promoters and engine builders could work together to make this happen successfully.