I have been quiet about how I think the way racing has been going for a few years now. The last time I wrote an opinion piece for Circle Track it was my thoughts on crate engines and how they aren't exactly the cure-all many people pretend them to be. That last article cause me and our company a lot of grief, so I want to make it clear I'm not targeting any specific companies or organizations.
I have been involved in the engine side of motorsports for 50-plus years and our business has been around nearly as long as well. My intention is to share my feelings on the path motorsports continues to take—especially stock cars.
I'm sticking my neck out again because I truly love what I do, and I want to do what I can to see that this great sport continues.
Keith Dorton with one of his winning 9.0:1 Super Late Model race engines. Dorton says that
Everyone knows that since Bobby Allison suffered that big wreck at Talladega in 1987, speed has been restricted at both Daytona and Talladega. A restrictor plate underneath the carburetor was a logical choice for a temporary solution. Engines in that era were producing approximately 650 horsepower open and 400 restricted. Millions of dollars have been spent on these special engines since then. It has been common for teams to spend a good portion of their yearly budget on these engines for just four races. I will add that, to my knowledge, none of this R&D into plate motors has been beneficial for anything else.
Today, new open, or unrestricted, engines can produce nearly 900 horsepower. These new engines have greatly added to the cost for this type of racing. And with that added horsepower, the speeds have increased to the point that we are approaching 200 mph on many 11/2-mile racetracks. These speeds have not made for a better race for either drivers or spectators. We can only be thankful for the vast increase in safety of the cars and tracks to help protect the competitors while they race at these speeds.
You might think, "The Cup teams have tons of money, who cares how much it costs them to race?" but these trends affect us all. I know I sound very negative, but that's just the way it is. Smokey Yunick told a lot of us in the business years ago, "Boys, you'd better find a way to keep the cost down or you will find yourself out of a job!"
Dorton preps a Chevy R07 block for a race engine build. The R07 is an excellent engine des
It has been my job to find ways to increase horsepower, and I have always tried to keep up with technology. And I have also never met either a driver or a crew chief that didn't want a horsepower advantage over their competitors. There are forms of motorsports that have a place for unlimited technology and horsepower, but that's not oval-track stock cars.
GM, Ford, and Mopar have all developed engines exclusively for stock car racing that share no real parts that are used in any of their street engines. But along with the cost of these new engines, they make so much power that you have to restrict them in some manner. NASCAR's Nationwide and Truck series both basically use the same engines as the Cup series but require teams to use a tapered spacer to cut down the horsepower. They are capable of producing 900 horsepower but the tapered spacer cuts that down to the 660 to 700 range.
Here's a real-world example: I recently finished an engine that will race at Daytona in the ARCA series. This engine had all the exotic parts normally seen at this level of racing, including a super-light crank, rods, pistons, and rings. It used a six-stage oil pump and an intake manifold that cost $3,500 alone. And for all that when you installed the restrictor plate required by the racing series it only made a little more than 360 horsepower at 7,000 rpm! That's a ridiculously small amount of power for an engine that came with the same cost as a Cup motor. All the competitors could have bought a new OEM engine for less than $8,000 that makes that much power.
Lots of racing classes allow an SB2 like you see here, but require a restrictor plate to k
It's my opinion that we shouldn't be building these obscenely powerful—and equally expensive—race engines if we're just going to add a restrictor to cut the output. It's just a waste of everyone's hard-earned money. From my experience, I believe that an engine with 660 to 700 horsepower and a maximum rpm of around 8,500 would be ideal for top-level stock car racing. And for feeder series that power output can be brought down to 600 to 630 horsepower with a carburetor change. And with the technology we have now, those engines could have a life expectancy far greater than what is currently being used at a dramatically reduced cost.
I think one good way to accomplish this might be to switch from a solid-lifter valvetrain to hydraulic lifters. A few years ago we were approached by the officials of what used to be the Hooters Pro Cup Series about doing a spec engine for their series. I didn't think much of the idea but realized that if we didn't do it someone else would. We devoted a year of R&D on this engine and a substantial expense. Since developing the engine, it has raced that series (now called the X1R Pro Cup Series), as well as the PASS South Series.
Our success with this spec engine has succeeded our own expectations for performance and longevity. The champion of the Pro Cup Series ran one of these engines more than 5,500 laps without any major maintenance or expense. One of the reasons we were able to do this was by using hydraulic roller lifters. In the recent past, you would never consider hydraulic lifters because you couldn't get more than 5,000 to 6,000 rpm out of them, but now that's not the case. By using high-quality hydraulic roller lifters you can get to very racy rpm levels, and best of all, the hydraulic lifters act as shock absorbers to protect the valvetrain. We've worked really closely with Crane Cams to develop a camshaft and lifter package that makes really good power while also being really easy on the valves and springs. This way you have a method to make good power without abusing your engine, but the hydraulic lifters still provide a reasonable method of limiting the rpm levels.
Plus, teching for hydraulic lifters is relatively easy. All you have to do is pull the valve covers and check to see that there is no lash between the rocker tip and the valve. Hydraulic lifters should be set with no lash, but solid lifters will require a few thousandths of an inch of lash. If anyone tries to cheat and run solid lifters with no lash the engine won't be very competitive.
The sealed spec motor that Automotive Specialists spent a year developing. It’s capable of
I don't mean to imply that I have all the answers but there are sure more logical ways to keep speeds under control and make for better racing than slapping restrictors on everything. Just cutting power to the engines isn't all that's required. With lower power numbers, if drivers can simply flat-foot it around the racetrack, the racing won't be improved. Changes to the chassis will also be necessary. Whether it is less aerodynamic downforce, harder tires or something else entirely remains to be seen. But we must try something.
And while we are talking about issues in racing that we should rethink, I can't stop without saying something about carburetors. Specifically the 390-cfm carburetors that have been a popular way for sanctioning bodies to limit horsepower. I truly can't understand why you would have a rule that requires a small carburetor to limit power but then allow racers to modify those carburetors to increase the horsepower.
Modifying a carburetor is a great way to spend a lot of money for sometimes a very substantial gain. In some racing series I've seen teams racing 390 carburetors that cost approximately $3,000 after they've been modified. But once they've had all that work done, the carbs are very fragile and sensitive, and most teams require multiple carburetors.
Why not just use a 600-cfm carb and require it to be stock? The carburetor costs only around $700 and will produce the same horsepower as the highly modified 390.
But if high-end, unlimited-technology race engines are harmful to the sport, on the other end of the spectrum I firmly believe that crate engines haven't done racing any favors, either.
I just never have seen the logic behind crate engines.
Dorton worked with Crane Cams to develop the hydraulic roller cam and lifter package that
Has short-track racing gotten better since crate motors have been shoved down our throats? As I have said before, I think there is a place for crate motors in oval-track racing. That's entry-level classes, higher level classes aren't well served by the momentum racing created by the low horsepower crates. I'm sure there are some racers, tracks and even racing series that have survived because they were able to cut their engine costs by going to crates, but I don't think there are many.
No matter what anyone tells you, cheating has been rampant since these engines came along. This, I must add, does not come without some expense. From what I understand, most places don't even check for seals anymore. I was recently told by one short track car builder, "Don't bother coming to a race with a stock crate motor." If cheating is that prevalent, then why even bother?
Did I ever cheat up a crate engine? Yes, I've made it public knowledge that I have. The first one I saw we improved it 35 horsepower and never got caught. We did this just to prove that we could. But since then it has gotten even more blatant. There is one manufacturer making no secret about its available upgrade for a crate motor. It brings the cost up to $18,000, nearly what a real race engine would cost.
Dorton believes that the best racing for both teams and fans happens when engine builders
Another issue I have with crate motors is their limited rpm range. Race engines should be able to turn more than 6,300 to 6,800 rpm. Who wants to hear a field of race cars all on the rev limiter by the time they hit the flagstand? More horsepower and more rpm most definitely makes for a better race for both drivers and spectators. Racing should be about learning throttle control, acceleration and deceleration and being able to work through traffic—not just flat-footing it all the way around the track like a box-stock go kart.
Before I close, let me explain that we all owe sanctioning bodies, tracks and racing series a big thanks. Without them taking the risks they have during these tough economic times, we probably wouldn't be able to continue to do business as we have previously. We at Automotive Specialists are very appreciative for this.
Why am I spending my time and gambling on offending those that make my way of living possible? Simple: I want racing to regain the excitement, the car counts and the full grandstands that we were so fortunate to enjoy in the past. I think that keeping the cost and speeds at a manageable level are a step in the right direction, but we must also make the racing exciting and enjoyable for both teams and fans.
I welcome discussion and debates on my feelings any time.