Having a durable engine that will run strong throughout the entire racing season is important to any racing driver for some very simple reasons. First, not having to fix an engine after every race helps keep your costs down, and most important, if youre running at the end of every race, your chances are that much better that youll win more.
Engine durability is not an accident. Plan your engine combination for the type of racing you do, how many races you will run and what you can afford. A Winston Cup engine may have the power you dream of having, but it is designed to last one weekend before a rebuild and requires maintenance every time it runs. This is not the engine for a Saturday-night racer who needs to run an entire season.
In order to give you some ideas on what you can do to your engine, Circle Track went to a few experts to get their ideas on what you need to do to stay in the hunt for the long haul. We talked to Dave Pletcher from Pletcher Racing; Charles H. Jenckes, formerly the engine engineer for Joe Gibbs Racing and now an engineer for Barry Grant Inc.; and Marc Boni, Wheeler Motorsports performance specialist, to get some answers. Check out the tips over the next few pages to help you through the season.
Start out with high-quality parts. Starting with better parts means your engine will be built better, which in the long run ends up costing you less. Using the latest, trickest part that doesnt have the track record of a proven part will most likely let you down. Let someone else be the R&D department. Valvetrain components are the most highly stressed parts in the engine and have a huge impact on performance. Work with a manufacturer and make sure that all the valvetrain parts are designed to work together.
Warm Your Oil
Before you start racing around the track, use an oil heater or let the engine run to warm the oil up to normal operating temperature. Cold oil is thicker and will not flow through the oil filter as easily, minimizing the lubrication of the engine.Dave Pletcher/Pletcher Racing, Inc.
Preparation and Records
Check everything. Do not assume that the parts you just received are the same as the last set you bought, and dont assume that anything is labeled correctly or is the correct size. Check and double-check to maintain high quality control. Measure everything twice: The wrong clearance or end gap can kill an engine. Keep a build sheet for every engine with all its critical dimensions clearly written. This type of record- keeping is basic, but can reduce variation and allow you to understand what affects your engine. Make sure you know how much time or how many laps or cycles each part in the engine has and replace the parts before their service life is over. This can only be done with good record-keeping.Charles H. Jenckes/Barry Grant Inc.
Check the timing before each race. If the timing is advanced too far, detonation will occur. The end result can be a melted piston. If the timing is retarded then the engine can run hot, creating overheating problems.Dave Pletcher/Pletcher Racing, Inc.
Check Valvespring Pressure
Valvesprings are probably the most taken-for-granted, misunderstood and abused part in any race engine. Valvespring maintenance is an important job that will help lengthen engine life and give you peak engine performance. Checking valvespring pressure should be a weekly task along with checking valve adjustment. Valvesprings will not retain their pressure year after year. The valvespring allows the valve to close and also allows the lifter to keep contact with the cam. It is important that the valve closes with as little bounce as possible and that harmonics associated with the valvetrain are minimized. If spring pressure is not maintained, horsepower and durability suffer.Marc Boni/Wheeler Motorsports
Check the valve lash on a weekly basis. This is a good way to detect if there is a bad lifter, bad lobe on the cam or some other problem. If there is a problem that keeps occurring, you should check further to see what the cause is before the entire engine is lost.Dave Pletcher/Pletcher Racing, Inc.
Keep it Clean and Lubricated
Dirt and debris will act as an abrasive and destroy or shorten the life of an engine. An engine can never be too clean prior to assembly. Work in a clean environment.
Use the correct assembly lube for each part. This is critical with valvetrain components. When in doubt about what assembly lube to use, check with the manufacturer. Observe break-in requirements. Dont skip this step if the manufacturer recommends running a cam with softer springs.Charles H. Jenckes/ Barry Grant Inc.
Check Your Oil Filter
One of the cheapest forms of protection a racer can have is to inspect the inside of the oil filter. This maintenance process should be done on a weekly basis. Cutting and inspecting your filter allows you to determine a problem before it becomes a major mishap.Marc Boni/Wheeler Motorsports
Oil, Fuel and Filters
Always use clean, quality oils and fuels and make sure your filters are clean. This is the cheapest insurance you can buy.Charles H. Jenckes/Barry Grant Inc.
Leakdown Test Your Engine
Valuable horsepower can be lost through piston-ring and valve leakage. Performing a leakdown test every three or four races will help ensure proper ring and valve seal. The first place you will notice a major loss in horsepower to leakage will be on starts and restarts of races. As the engine accelerates and the combustion temperature rises, the car is struggling to produce speed with no vehicle momentum. The steady increase in combustion temperature causes the engine to respond with varying degrees of negativity while the car has no momentum to carry speed with. You therefore get beat on the start!Sheldon Gecker/Wheeler Motorsports
Always inspect your engine as you tear it down. Look for unusual wear and witness marks. This will tell you when things are right and when theyre not, but only if you are willing to look.Charles H. Jenckes/Barry Grant Inc.
Remove Your Oil Pan
Removing the oil pan at regular intervals is a great idea. Checking rod and main bearing clearance on a regular basis gives you the opportunity to spot problems before they cost you a race. While you have the oil pan off, you should check your oil pump. Remove the cover and gears to check for any scarring or foreign material within the pump.Marc Boni/Wheeler Motorsports
Learn From Failures
If a failure occurs, find the root cause and keep records so it will not happen again. Keep parts or pictures with your records for future reference. Make sure you understand why the failure occurred and how the part must be improved to keep it from happening again.Charles H. Jenckes/Barry Grant Inc.