“The reality is that racing is a form of recreation for most participants.”
I don’t know whether absence truly makes the heart grow fonder, but I do know that it changes your perspective. After living on the front lines of the Pro Stock wars for nearly 30 years, I’m now enjoying some time away from the trenches. While I still respect the intensity of the competition in Pro Stock, I’ve gained a new appreciation for a side of our sport that’s sometimes overlooked by professionals: Racing is fun.
It was one of my sportsman customers who reminded me of this eternal truth. He said, “You guys don’t look like you’re having much fun in Pro Stock” – and I had to agree. Winning is certainly fun, but when you’re working 80-hour weeks and praying that you get the good lane in the fast qualifying session, it’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the big picture.
The fact is that the vast majority of racers in all forms of motorsports aren’t in it for the money. The cost of building, maintaining and racing a car almost always exceeds whatever prize money and sponsorship dollars that a racer can hope to bring in. The reality is that racing is a form of recreation for most participants. People enjoy the competition, camaraderie and sense of accomplishment that racing fosters. I imagine that people who are passionate about bass fishing, skeet shooting or golf would say the same thing about their sports.
What sets racing apart from other pastimes is speed. Going fast is definitely fun. For many racers, speed is an addictive adrenaline rush that leaves you wanting more. Without indulging in psycho-babble, I’ll simply make the observation that the need for speed and the competitive nature of drag racers have dramatically affected our engine business. We’re building bigger, more powerful engines for sportsman racers, and there’s no end in sight.
When we built our first “crate motors” at Reher-Morrison Racing Engines in the early ’80s, a 454-cubic-inch big-block was considered a big engine. But a 454 is a mouse motor alongside today’s giants. Now we’re building 747, 762, and 800+ cubic inch engines – and the only apparent restraint on this explosion in engine displacement is the availability of parts to build even larger powerplants.
What’s the impetus behind big-inch, big-horsepower motors? Racing that emphasizes having fun and going faster than your friends. Go-fast racing series are springing up nationwide, from Top Sportsman in the East and ADRL in the South and Midwest to Top Comp on the West Coast. There are more opportunities for racers to run with the gas pedal planted firmly on the floor, without throttle stops, stutter boxes, and indexes.
Several weeks ago I was out at Texas Raceway in Kennedale, an eighth-mile track near my home. There were more than 50 “outlaw” Pro Mods racing there, many of them running 3.90s and 4.0s. They were seriously fast cars – the e.t.s equate to low 6-second runs on a quarter-mile track. I hear similar numbers from customers in other parts of the country, with 48 cars qualifying for Top Comp in Division 7 and huge Top Sportsman shows in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas. Chassis builders and transmission manufacturers tell me that business in fast doorslammers and dragsters is booming.
This isn’t inexpensive racing. Big-inch engines aren’t cheap to build, and many of them are powering brand-new Pro Stock-style Cobalts and GTOs that were built specifically for fast sportsman brackets. They’re typically owned by people who have achieved a position in life that allows them to devote a big chunk of their disposable income to drag racing. Running on a dial-in keeps everyone in the game; a racer doesn’t have to go home if he doesn’t have the fastest car in the field. The competitive urge ensures that the elapsed times get quicker and the speeds faster every year.
Aftermarket manufacturers have stepped up to meet the needs of this new market. I’ve seen a clear trend recently toward aluminum blocks as racers look for ways to cut weight to improve their e.t.s. We’re using Dart’s new cast-aluminum big-blocks for many of our big-inch engines – along with Dart’s new forged billet aluminum blocks that can be custom machined in virtually any configuration.
Big engines can make big power even with a conservative combination. With the quality of currently available valve springs, it’s possible to use a full inch of valve lift, spin the engine to 7800 rpm maximum, and still make nearly 1500 horsepower and 1200 ft./lbs. of torque with a relatively low-maintenance motor. If a customer is willing to inspect and maintain the valvetrain regularly, increasing the valve lift to 1.2-inch can add 100 horsepower. Of course, big engines do require specialized components, from long-stroke crankshafts to block and cylinder head castings with 5.0-inch bore spacing. Big motors also need a large capacity oil tank and a high-volume pressure stage in the dry-sump pump to meet the engine’s appetite for oil.
Since we started building big-inch aluminum engines, I’ve discovered a parallel universe of sand drags, rock-crawlers and other forms of motorsports I never imagined. The people who compete in these arenas are just as passionate as the drag racers who are pushing the envelope in Top Sportsman and Top Comp eliminators. The common denominator is that racing is about having fun – and beating the competition.