When it comes to entry-level racing--either on dirt or asphalt--there isno doubt that the Mini-Stock classes are among the most popular outthere. The costs are easier to contain, the cars are cheaper and not asadvanced, and the lower power levels compared to V-8s keep the speedsmanageable.

A second advantage of the Mini-Stocks is there is basicallyonly one engine out there. Yes, there are racers out there campaigningToyotas and Chevrolets, but by and large they are the individualistslooking to do things their own way and hate following the status quo.Ford's venerable little four-banger is hands-down the popular champ whenit comes to the Mini Stocks. The engines hold up well to racing stress.They were produced in the millions and can be found relatively easily.There's nothing fancy about them (which makes them easy to work on; it'seasy to source parts for them).

So it's interesting that while the crateengine wave came crashing down on us a couple of seasons ago, we haven'tyet seen a four-cylinder crate offering. Until now, that is.

A couple ofyears ago, the folks at Esslinger Engineering, one of the mostrecognized shops in the country when it comes to buildinghigh-performance four-cylinder engines for any application, introducedits aluminum CNC cylinder head for Ford's 2.3- and 2.5-liter engines.The head was not only an improvement over the stock unit; it was also aresponse to the anticipated shortage of cylinder heads that is now uponus.

"The cylinder head was a success,'' says Dan Esslinger, thecompany's president. Customers seemed to appreciate a complete cylinderhead ready to bolt on. The logical next step is a complete, turnkeymotor for racing. "If you look at the trend of just about everything inracing, the old-school racers are moving on and they are being replacedby guys that want to race and don't want to work on their stuff somuch," explains Esslinger. "And that's OK, because racing is the funpart.

"All the big manufacturers have jumped in with crate engines.Chevrolet, Ford, and Dodge all offer something, and even otheroperations are selling their own versions of V-8 crate engines. What wedidn't see available was something for the four-cylinder guys. Whatwe've put together we feel is a pretty good combination that providesgood power at a good price."

Indeed, Esslinger Engineering's two cratemotors are built using many parts that are purpose-built for racing.They include the CNC aluminum cylinder head, bigger stainless steelvalves, solid lifters with roller rockers, a gated oval track oil pan,Wiseco pistons, and Esslinger Engineering's own CNC aluminum water pump.

"What we tried to create was something that made good power but wasn'ttoo exotic. It may not be the perfect fit for everywhere and everycondition, but it will work very well in most places," Esslinger says."For us, everything we've done before was a custom engine. That was trueeven in the racing classes that required basically stock engines,because we spent so much time chasing the smallest power gains. Thiscrate engine allows us to build a really good quality race engine andlower the cost because eliminating all the custom changes really cutsdown on the man hours."