Before the Southern 500, David...
Before the Southern 500, David Pearson solicited Smokey Yunick's opinion on the health of his engine. Smokey's reply was "This one ain't gonna make it." Pearson was the race's first retiree, after 17 laps. The cause, a blown engine. Photo by David Chobat
(Editor's Note: Last month we promised you some insight from Circle Track's most legendary contributor, Smokey Yunick. So this month we went into Smokey's vault again and cracked open some advice for getting started building your first motor)
Did you ever wonder how long articles like this are written in advance of your reading them? This is being written in late September (1982) on a flight from Buffalo, NY to Daytona Beach, Fla.-all high-class stuff written above 35,000 feet.
This is gonna be addressed to the new racer. You aces who won last Saturday or Sunday can turn your 20/20 hindsight and reminisce, if what I have to say parallels what you went through. Everybody dreams of jumping in his first racecar and winning his first time out. In real life, it ain't that way. As I can clearly see with my 20/20 hindsight, a much better approach is to sneak up on that first win. In your first race you lack experience, regardless of your ability and courage. A racecar capable of winning, in terms of handling and power, can actually hurt you if you don't drive it right. Most good racecars handle well only when driven to their limits. Let's face it, as a beginner, you can't. So I'd say the best plan is to accept that it's gonna take a while; aim for a car that handles, has reliability, and isn't too powerful for your skill and experience.
You get experience from miles and miles of racing. The start, middle, and end of a race all need special skills, and you can't learn to dogfight the last two laps if you blew or wrecked in the middle. Your ego will get along a lot better, too, if you finish Seventh to Tenth rather than going out in the middle of the race while running Second, because they only pay for where you were running at the end. Progress is quickest if the car and driver come along together, each complementing the other.
The block is the foundation...
The block is the foundation to any good motor. Photo by Jeff Huneycutt
Don't wander off battling windmills on a crusade to be different. There's plenty of time for that after you hit Broadway in a couple of years. Run the engine and car configuration with the best reliability record as of now. For example, if you're a Ford or Chrysler lover, but Chevys are cleaning house week after week, go Chevy. Your route to success, fame, and fortune is shortest when you finish-slowly finishing higher and higher. This gets you good rides and good sponsors. If you get lucky and get into a good car too early and stuff it into the wall, you'll find you just took a giant step backward. Most newcomers don't get the good rides. They have to buy or build their own cars and do their own engine work. This is where I think I can help, especially with engine-building advice. By and large, most new racers over-every-thing; over-cam, too much compression, too big a carb or injector, turn the engine too tight, too much ignition timing, too much oil and water temperature, parts too light, and play fuel wizards. They jump at every speed secret rumor, play monkey-see-monkey-do, and spend fortunes going nowhere.
There are a tremendous number of considerations when building an engine to achieve the result of power, reliability, response, and proper matching to the application and track. I could just start out talking about each aspect of a racing engine, but that could fill an entire magazine. Instead, I'm just gonna touch on a bunch of different areas in hopes of stimulating your interest and curiosity. Let's take it from the top.
What about new versus used blocks: How long will a block really live? Where can it be lightened? Which is more important, high tin or high nickel content? Are four-bolt caps really necessary in all forms of racing? And so on and so on. Get the picture? You can dig into almost any component or part of an engine with similar questions.
I favor aluminum over cast iron every time. There are ways to stop heat loss, improve head-to-block sealing, prevent cracking, improve cooling, and add strength.