Driver Stephen Grimes has...
Driver Stephen Grimes has teamed up with Maurice Petty & Associates to field one of the first Dodge-powered Late Model Intrepids to hit the track.
In the October 2002 issue of Circle Track magazine, we took you inside the shop of Maurice Petty & Associates (MP&A) to show you the development of Dodge's new NASCAR Late Model Stock engine ("Dodge Takes on Saturday Night"). At the time, most of the development was complete-so we could show you major components and even a dyno sheet-but the engine had yet to find a home in a real-life race car.
Since that time, Late Model veteran Stephen Grimes has successfully campaigned the car four times at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, North Carolina, winning once. Grimes says that once they got everything on the car sorted out (both the chassis and engine were brand-new), he was so happy with it he decided to park the car and save it for the big money races at the end of the season. To find out if the promise of the Dodge engine package on the dyno matched up with its performance on the track, we met up with Grimes and the Pettys at a test session for Martinsville (Virginia) Speedway's $15,000-to-win Late Model race, the Taco Bell 300.
Mopar in Chevy-land "When you come to NASCAR Late Model Stock racing, it's all Chevrolets," says engine builder Mark Petty. "We are here at Martinsville testing against the best of the best, and there's maybe half-a-dozen Fords, three Dodges, and the rest are all Chevrolets (A record 107 cars were on hand at Martinsville for the test and 150 showed up on race weekend.). So, what it comes down to is everybody is chasing the Chevrolets.
"I'm real happy with this motor," he continues. "We are not dominating the Chevrolets, but our times are right up there with them. They've been doing this for years and years, so for us to be competitive right off the bat makes me very happy with the development of the engine. We haven't noticed any design flaws or problems with durability. The only problems we've had so far have basically been of our own creation.
The extra width of the Dodge...
The extra width of the Dodge heads and additional setback allowance from NASCAR required moving some of the upper frame tubes back to allow easy engine switches.
"We started off with the car at Caraway and missed it just a little bit the first night out," continues Petty. "We weren't expecting this thing to be as good as it is on the bottom end, so we had it cammed up way too much for bottom-end torque and it wouldn't run all the way down the straightaways. Once we got that straightened out, with a little more lobe separation it got to where it would run the length of the straightaway pretty good. It still gets up off the corners good, but now it won't give up going into the chute."
Clad in new Intrepid sheetmetal from ARP, Grimes' Late Model does have a close resemblance to its Winston Cup brethren. Its look is sleek and racey. Solid white with Petty-blue decals, it's definitely easy to pick out of the crowd.
Chassis Mods & Easy Switchover
A new chassis from Autocraft, also located in Asheboro, North Carolina, was specially built to suit the new powerplant. Because of the increased weight of the Dodge block, NASCAR allows a greater setback for the engine. Where Chevrolets are required to have the right-front spark plug in line with the right-front upper ball joint, for Dodge it's the front of the head. It's worth a couple of inches of extra setback. Because MP&A uses a motor plate, engine mounting is straightforward, but the extra setback and extra-wide Dodge heads required Autocraft to make some chassis changes. The support tubes running from the center of the car at the firewall to the upper framerails had to be moved back to make it easier to get the engine in and out of the car. Also, the firewall was moved back a full inch. Otherwise, everything else is the same as Autocraft's standard Chevy chassis.
As a concession to the added...
As a concession to the added weight of its engine, Dodge was allowed more setback than the Chevrolets. Where Chevrolet engines are allowed to be placed no farther back than the first spark plug even with the upper right-side ball joint, Dodges are allowed to move the engine back until the front of the head is even with the ball joint. (This is the same setback allowance given to Ford cars.)
If all goes well in the latter...
If all goes well in the latter part of the racing season, Grimes hopes to campaign his Dodge all season in '03 and try for the championship.
Grimes tests his sleek new...
Grimes tests his sleek new Intrepid at Martinsville Speedway in preparation for the $15,000-to-win Taco Bell 300.
Unfortunately, a wreck took...
Unfortunately, a wreck took Grimes and the Dodge out of contention in the third qualifying race for the Taco Bell 300, cutting short the Petty's opportunity to test the new Dodge engine against some of the best Late Model Stock competition in the country.
Grimes, who raced Chevrolets for years before switching over to the Ram, says making the switch didn't give him much trouble, either from the driver's seat or with the wrenches. "It wasn't a lot of trouble switching over," he says. "The clutches are the same; you run the same transmission. So, literally everything connecting the car to the motor is the same. The water system is plumbed the same. We are running the same radiator we used in our Chevrolets, and the oil system we treated just like we did with our Chevrolet back when we ran an oil cooler. We didn't run an oil cooler on the Chevrolet the last few motors we got, but we chose to go back to that system for this motor because it's a new combination and we don't want to take chances with it. So far, though, the temperatures are very similar to a Chevrolet. The motor runs fairly cool, and the oil temp has been outstanding. It doesn't seem to lose any power during the race and stays good and snappy the whole time.
"I think a driver can get out of his Late Model and get into a Dodge without any problems," Grimes continues. "I treat this car just like every other car I've driven. It gets up off the corner real well, and holds its power real well. We haven't raced it a lot yet, but so far it has been pretty dependable. As far as your (setup) packages go, we're running almost the same shock and spring package that we ran on the Chevrolet. We're just doing a little fine tuning. The engine is a little heavier, but with the extra setback it's not much of a problem. The motor also takes about the same gear as a Chevrolet would want. I think the Fords like a little more gear, so that might be something those guys would want to be aware of."
On Track At Taco Bell 300
Qualifying for the Taco Bell 300 was particularly tight. Grimes circled the 11/42-mile track in 21.900 seconds, which was only 0.350 off the pole-sitter's fast lap (21.550). Unfortunately, the competition was so tight among the 150-plus cars attempting to make the race that the extra third of a second put Grimes 56th fastest overall. That placed him ninth in the third of four qualifying races. Note: The top 20 times make the race, the final 20 cars for the main event are pulled from the top five finishers in each of the four qualifying races.
In the first six laps of his heat Grimes moved from ninth to fifth and was looking to advance further but got tangled with another car and spun. Damage to the front end of the car relegated him to the back of the pack, where he finished the race.
"We're disappointed we didn't get to see how the car would perform in the main event against some of the best drivers and cars you are going to find anywhere," said Mark Petty after the race. "Fifth is a dangerous spot to sit in the qualifying races, and Stephen was trying to move up a few more spots. Unfortunately, the car he was trying to pass came down on him and spun both of 'em out. It happens.
"From what we've seen though, we are pretty happy with the motor," Petty continues. "It's competitive, but it isn't a distinct advantage over the Chevrolets and Fords, which should make NASCAR happy. We've only been working on this engine for eight months, so we still have a lot to learn, but our goal all along was to give racers another legitimate option and I think we've done that. I think racers will be pretty happy with it too."