Engine Control Needed and Q&A with Bob Bolles

Of all the rules related problems we have encountered over the years, specifying and matching different engines has been at or near the top of the list. Some sanctions just cannot get a handle on making common sense rules when it comes to what they allow for motors. And so, teams who get the setup right can often suffer from lack of performance on the engine side.

The problem is what is referred to in some circles as Balance of Performance. This is a common term in the old Grand-Am racing series, forever in NASCAR racing and now in IMSA racing as you incorporate different brands and configurations of motors. It is done to equal out the competition so that some teams do not end up with way more performance than the other teams.

That is all understandable as far as it goes, but what if they get it wrong. And what if there are politics involved whereby the tech official is swayed by one or more engine builders against other types of engines (insert crate motors here).

The crate motors have become very popular in circle track racing and save racers money. They nonetheless have disrupted an industry that includes motor builders and motor parts manufacturers and distributors. Can the two live together?The crate motors have become very popular in circle track racing and save racers money. They nonetheless have disrupted an industry that includes motor builders and motor parts manufacturers and distributors. Can the two live together?
The crate motors have become very popular in circle track racing and save racers money. They nonetheless have disrupted an industry that includes motor builders and motor parts manufacturers and distributors. Can the two live together?

And even where only one type of motor is allowed, there is sometimes differences in those motors power output (insert cheating here). A certain mid-west motor builder who has become very frustrated recently said in a Facebook presentation, that after much research he believed 40-50% of a certain brand of sealed crate engine “had work done” to them.

He went on to say that aftermarket companies readily offer cheater valve springs, cams, pistons, and cranks. And, the seal bolts and tags are also available. So, even if you have good intentions at your track or in a series or sanction, it still happens, cheating that is. This disrupts the Balance of Performance we want and need.

In at least one sanction in the Carolinas, when you bring a sealed crate motor to the track the first time, they ask you to remove the seals and bolts and leave the motor “open” for inspection. This is something I have advocated for many years now. Just remove the “sealed” from the description of those motors and let the tech officials have at it.

In another example, one track allowed the sealed crate motors into a class that had previously only had a spec motor allowance. To create a BoP, where the crates were at a horsepower disadvantage, the spec motor teams were asked to install a 6800 RPM chip when the motor was originally designed to run up to 7400 RPM. This then put the spec motor at a disadvantage to the crate motor because it dropped its HP down below that of the crate.

In the TUNDRA series in and around Wisconsin, you can run any approved motor you want. They can create the BoP by requiring you to have the engine dyno’d at a specified shop and certified as to the horsepower output. Then they have a formula for adding weight to the cars whose teams run the higher HP motors, and it’s not just adding 25 pounds that won’t really do anything, it’s more. For example, the GM 604 crate motor can run 250 pounds lighter than the built motors at certain tracks.


In this way, you are allowed to run your spec or crate motor and still compete without having to worry about the BoP. If the motor has been certified, it is legal if you meet the weight criteria. But, there is a cost some might point out. The teams have to pay the dyno shop around $400 for the certification.

As you can see from reading the above, things get messy in a hurry when you start looking into the motor situation in circle track racing. I’m not sure what the perfect answer to all of this is right now. I do know certain things that are indisputable. Here are a few.

Sealed motors need to be un-sealed. We know by now that up to half or more of the sealed motors are cheated up. Chipping down the maximum RPM of a spec motor designed to run efficiently at a higher RPM does not work well. Adding sufficient weight does. Cheater motor builders need to be caught and punished severely. And, the tech officials are the only ones who can make a difference with the cheater motor problem. Do your jobs.

GM and Ford have put a lot of effort and money into providing cost effective competitive motors for short track racing. Their plan was a good one whereby racers would spend less money for adequate performance. The only problem was that there is an entire industry built around engine builders making money building motors and engine parts manufactures making money selling engine parts.

Surely, we can understand how the crate motor program disrupted that industry and many who write the rules for short track racing are still trying to navigate through this mess without running anyone out of business. And it’s a difficult task. Just ask those who must decide.

The TUNDRA series seems to have found the perfect answer to all of this with their certification program.  I’m not sure other sanctions have the infrastructure to pull this off, but they would do well to try. Otherwise, we remain in a very convoluted situation that is in many cases unfair to the honest racer who just wants to race on an equal basis.

If you have comments or questions about this or anything racing related, send them to my email address: chassisrd@aol.com or mail can be sent to Circle Track, Senior Tech Editor, 1733 Alton Parkway, Suite 100, Irvine, CA.

Consequences Comment


That is a great article in the Feb 2017 CT.  The behavior young Mr. Nemechek exhibited isn’t new to NASCAR.  Dale Sr. made a career out of it.  Remember Bristol when on the last lap Dale was just going to get to Terry Labonte’s bumper and “rough him up a little bit”?  Or one of the last races on the ½ mile at the old Richmond track where I think Petty, Waltrip and Earnhardt took themselves out and Kyle Petty won his first race.  Or maybe you didn’t see Jeff Gordon win a dozen or so races with the “bump and run”?  And what got NASCAR on the map with the final lap of the first flag to flag coverage of the Daytona 500 in 1979? A classic, old school short track scuffle, that’s what.

We have two scenarios here to base this type of driving upon.  Back in the day when you earned your way into a ride and you were older than 25 by then to get a ride, racing still had a behind the scenes before cameras and social media didn’t capture every fart and utterance of a driver or race team.

That said, if you chose to pull that kind of crap and dish it out like a man (which you were by then) you had to take it like a man, which meant you had to deal with the other driver or the owner of the car kicking your ass.  If that didn’t resolve it then it got resolved on the track.  If you were a good enough driver or were as big or bad as a Buddy Baker, you could save yourself.  Sponsors only cared about where their logo finished the race because those were the only events that got media attention.  The key phrase here is “media attention.”  That used to be TV – if that.

No doubt you’ve noticed the empty stands at NASCAR’s big three traveling series as of late.  Butts in the seats aren’t paying the bills these days for racing purses.  Richard Childress Racing doesn’t have a competitive driver, they are all drivers whose families are footing the bill to buy them rides (Brendan Gaughan!).  Almost all of the trucks are being driven by those who bring their own sponsors (Nemechek Jr. drives for his dad).

The XFINITY series isn’t much better.  Justin Allgaier has got to be paying his own way. The point here is clear.  NASCAR needs any and all exposure it can get to attract sponsors and will therefore allow this behavior to continue, thereby promoting it.  Since most of these young drivers are now driving for their own sponsors, what risk is there to losing a sponsor?  Not much.  What did Joe Nemechek say to Jr. after this wreck?  In the trailer, behind closed doors it probably went like this, “Thank God we’re in the chase now”.

So it boils down to this, what is there to lose or gain by driving like this?  For Nemechek Jr.  it looks like it got him a sponsor.  There isn’t one in the picture in your article but there was soon after and into the chase.

 Mark Tustin


You make some good points. The politics dictate the consequences in many cases. So, understanding the behind the scenes goings on helps us to understand the events. I still don’t like the lack of consequences. Any publicity might be good publicity, but in the long run, it isn’t working evidenced by what you referred to, empty seats.

Consequences Comment II


Who do many fans and media say is the best NASCAR driver of all time, the Intimidator (Bully), Dale Earnhardt, Sr.  Richard Petty after exiting the Care Center at Darlington, a few years back, said on TV, “The wreck was my fault, I know better than to race with Earnhardt.”

When Dale wrecked Terry Labonte in turn 3 at Bristol (and won the race) he said, “Last time I wrecked him coming out of 4 and he won.”  Ken Schrader summed up Earnhardt’s approach, ” I just hit him; it’s his problem if he doesn’t have the driving talent to save it.”

If a young driver wants to be the best, he needs to model his driving style after the best.  Why should young Nemechek drive like his Dad?  Joe drove hard, clean and got the best out of his equipment.  He didn’t make millions of dollars or make anyone’s “all time list”. I completely agree with your article; however, the media and fans can’t have it both ways.

 Don W. Wolfe, St. Augustine, FL


I’ll refer your comments to the ones above. There were usually consequences in the pits after those actions. But for some reason, by that time, Dale and others seemed to be immune from retaliation, maybe because he had big guys like Chocolate Myers in his pits.

I guess the answer for short track racers is to never be first on the last lap! At Daytona for years, it was understood that if you wanted to win the 500 or the 400, you want to be second on the last lap and draft by for the win.

With the current bump and run tactics, the same holds true. Find a way to be second on the last lap, then bump and win? Something about that doesn’t sound right. Yes, you might win, but where is your integrity. More times than not, Dale, Sr. could and did get to the guys bumper and bump and ran. He did it with finesse and he didn’t wreck the other guy, most of the time.

We tend to only remember when it went wrong. Richard Petty didn’t win his last, 200th, race by bumping Cale Yarborough, he did what no one thought possible at the time. He drove his butt off to re-passed Cale in turn four after the master of “second on the last lap” Cale had drafted by going into turn three. That, my friends, is how it’s done.

Gear Changes


First off, I am a big fan of your technical articles. The design and proper setup of a race car have intrigued me since my late teens. I am in my late sixties now and not currently involved with a car, but still like to stay on top of the curve as much as possible. I have a question regarding your article in the Feb 2017 issue of Circle Track titled “Gear Selection Science”.

As a dirt track goes dry/slick you state that one should go to a taller (lower numerically) gear to make it easier for the driver to control wheel spin. Are there any easier ways to kill the torque the tire contact patch sees by engine tuning? Retarding the timing would help and is a lot easier and not near as messy as a gear change.

You also state that if lap times slow a lot because the track went from heavy/tacky to dry/slick, that would warrant a gear change to put engine back into its proper power band on corner exit. If the track has slowed for the main event due to going dry slick, hasn’t this in effect put a taller gear in the car because exit corner exit speed is now slower, or am I wrong with this line of thought?

I helped a number of drivers locally for a total of about 25 years in my younger years. We didn’t have quick changes in the classes involved. Attempts were made to throttle linkage geometry to have as much pedal travel as was comfortable for driver and also progressive, meaning the first half or two thirds of application happened at a slower rate than the remaining amount.

Also your article on anti-squat in same issue also helped me understand some missing pieces that I had wondered about for many years. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge and experience.

Brian Ratzlaff, Merced, California


The article was about gearing, but yes, there are other ways to deal with lack of grip on dry slick tracks. The first that comes to mind is unhooking the secondary throttle bodies and only running on two instead of four barrels. That is a trick many successful dirt teams have been doing for years.

Yes, when the car slows down, it would seem that the RPM changes into a range out of the maximum power range. But, when it is dry and slick, it is easy to break the tires loose, even in the lower RPM range. With the higher gear, the wheels will spin faster and the situation gets worse, which negates what I said in the first place.

I like the idea of the progressive throttle and actually discussed that with a racer at PRI this past year. That and throttle control and having plenty of throttle throw to work with are the most effective ways to deal with slick conditions.

The post Engine Control Needed and Q&A with Bob Bolles appeared first on Hot Rod Network.


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