Tech Talk #10 – By The Book

DavidTechArticlesBy David Reher, Reher-Morrison Racing Engines

You won’t see my name alongside Stephen King and Tom Clancy on the list of best-selling authors, and my book is not likely to be reviewed by the New York Times. Nevertheless I’m very proud to have joined the ranks of professional writers. When the first bound copies of the two-volume Reher-Morrison Engine Assembly handbooks arrived at the shop, I felt the same sense of accomplishment that I get when we fire a new engine on the dyno for the first time.

I really can’t take credit as the sole author of this work. Like the Encyclopedia Brittanica and the Bible, the 433-page Engine Assembly books were a collaborative effort, albeit on a much smaller scale.

The project began several years ago when Bob Colesworthy of Education Technology Consultants (ETC) approached us about writing a textbook for a course on building race engines. Several key people at Reher-Morrison Racing Engines became involved – my partner Bruce Allen, along with machinists, cylinder head porters, engine assemblers, and dyno operators. Many of them are racers who know first-hand what it takes to win. We worked together, literally sitting around a table for hours, to make sure that what we wrote was accurate – and we racked our brains to make sure that we didn’t overlook anything essential. We took drafts home to read on weekends, and went through revision after revision with Bob. And when we were finally finished, I was proud to have the Reher-Morrison name on the books.

Writing is good discipline because it forces a person to think seriously about a subject before committing his thoughts to paper (or, in this era, a word processor). Even though I’ve worked on engines all of my adult life, writing a textbook made me really think about the basics of engine building. Our goal was to provide a solid foundation in the art and science of engine building. It’s like constructing a house: It doesn’t matter whether you have crystal chandeliers and gold-plated plumbing – if the foundation isn’t firm, the house isn’t going to stand very long.

We purposefully avoided including abstract theory and esoteric information. It wasn’t our intention to teach racers how to run six-second elapsed times and 200 mph speeds in Pro Stock – but I know that you can’t run sixes at 200 mph without knowing the basics of engine building. We wanted to write for the racers who run the brackets and heads-up classes every weekend at literally hundreds of tracks across the nation. These weekend warriors are really the backbone of the sport, and they’re the reason why companies like Holley, Crane, Jeg’s, Summit, and Reher-Morrison Racing Engines exist.

I wish that I had a book like this 30 years ago. Like most racers, I started out with a lot more enthusiasm than experience, more eagerness than equipment, and more optimism than money. I discovered drag racing when I was a college student, but most of my real education came at the School of Hard Knocks.

I learned how to build engines the hard way – by trial and error. Fortunately I had friends and fellow racers who helped me through some of the rough spots. Not everyone who gets involved in motorsports is so lucky, however. That’s why we wrote this book – to provide practical, accurate information on how to build racing engines. I wanted to create something with real value for sportsman racers. If a weekend racer who reads this book avoids just one mistake that would have led to a blown or damaged engine, I think we’ve accomplished my goal.

Talking to racers and customers, I’ve realized that drag racing lost almost an entire generation during the ’70s and ’80s. Many younger racers didn’t climb the same learning curve that people of my generation did. I understand why: When I was a teenager, my friends and I couldn’t wait to put a new cam in a ‘67 Camaro or bolt a set of gears into a SS396 Chevelle. But the effects of several Energy Crises and emission regulations meant that cars became simply transportation appliances when the next generation was growing up. They were more interested in computers and camcorders than camshafts and carburetors. Now that some of the members of this “lost generation” are rekindling an interest in racing, they need the basic information that my generation learned taking apart street cars in our driveways.

We also wanted to point out some of the common myths and misconceptions about high-performance motors. For example, I’ve seen dozens of magazine articles on supposedly “magic” connecting rod ratios. If you believe these stories, you would think that the ratio of the connecting rod length to the crankshaft stroke is vitally important to performance. Well, in my view, the most important thing about a connecting rod is whether or not the bolts are torqued!

If I had to make a list of the ten most important specifications in a racing engine, connecting rod length would rank about fiftieth. Back in the days when Buddy Morrison and I built dozens of small-block Modified motors, we earnestly believed that an engine needed a 1.9:1 rod/stroke ratio. Today every Pro Stock team uses blocks with super-short deck heights, and we couldn’t care less about the rod ratio. A short deck height improves the alignment between the intake manifold runners and the cylinder head intake ports, and helps to stabilize the valvetrain. These are much more important considerations than the rod-to-stroke ratio. There’s no magic – a rod’s function is to connect the piston to the crankshaft. Period.

What is important in engine building is doing the job right: selecting the parts carefully, preparing them properly, and assembling them correctly. That’s what this book is about. The fundamentals of internal combustion haven’t changed for 100 years, so I don’t expect any book about engine building to become a blockbuster. But I also know that the knowledge that my co-workers and I put down on paper will still be valid and useful 50 years from now. I’m not sure that I can say the same for the diet books and self-help manuals on today’s bestseller lists!