The Popular Hot Rodding Engine Masters Challenge is an open forum, meaning anyone who's got the guts to enter could. The doors closed on entry at the end of March, which means potential engine builders had from the time we announced the contest (in December '01) until April 1st to get involved.

The very first entry sheet we received was from Tom Nelson of Nelson Racing Engines. We met Tom at the PRI Show in Indianapolis where we announced the contest. He was enthusiastic about it from the moment we began discussing it with him. We weren't surprised to receive his application, but we still had not heard too much about the young L.A.-area engine builder.

We thought it would be cool to profile his efforts. First, because he was very organized and had a very good idea what he was shooting for, and second, because his "racing" engine shop actually specializes in hot street engines designed to run on pump gas. Immediately, we felt this would make for a great story, as a young, relatively unknown builder was prepared to take on the pros. This is a guy who started building performance powerplants out of his grandmothers garage, and did so for almost two years before moving into his own shop. Now, after six years in business and with a team of trusted partners, he wants to make a bold statement.

His research into street-flavored combinations could only help, and Nelson told us he'd recently completed a customer engine that was painfully similar to what we were after. We think he's got a good shot at the prize money, and sharing his buildup ideas should give readers a good idea what to expect in the contest and also some education in the intricacies of streetable superiority.

The best part about this plan is how Tom wants to offer the Engine Masters Challenge design small-blocks as crate engines to customers. "I'm developing a budget package here, and I should be able to get an affordable version together for anyone that wants one. I'm keeping the budget between 10-15 grand, and even if I don't win this contest, I doubt there will be any less-expensive engines readily available to the public finishing with more power than mine."

That sounds like a dare, Tom. We hope all the other engine builders read this and respond in kind.

Tom chose to build a Chevy-based engine, but the theories and dimensions he's working with are universal to powerplants of this nature. Let's take a look over his shoulder as the combination comes together. Although none of the dimensions are iron-clad (Tom will still do plenty of fine-tuning once the engine is running), we got a good taste of what Nelson Racing Engines is serving up.