2006 The Engine Masters Challenge - Big Block Vs. Small Block
Who's got the stoutest 434-cube pump-gas street engine in the land? 29 of America's top engine builders duke it out for top honors.
From the February, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Steve Dulcich
Photography by The PHR Staff
Not long after the headers had coole from last year's event, the stage was set for this year's 5th Anniversary Engine Masters Challenge. We ran small-blocks in the debut year, followed by big-blocks, and then flip-flopped from small- to big-blocks in the two subsequent years. Popular Hot Rodding Editor Johnny Hunkins and I had been contemplating the basic configuration for the next competition, playing out the potential scenarios in typical gearhead jawboning fashion. The natural question we had been hearing from the competitors was whether it would be big-blocks or small-blocks for 2006. A little contemplation brought us both to the same conclusion: Why not run both?
The trend in custom performance engines is to make them bigger and bigger, a phenomenon made possible by the current breed of aftermarket parts. Today's small-blocks typically exceed the classic displacements of yesterday's big-blocks. The blocks, cranks, rods, pistons, and heads are all there to make it happen on a routine basis. It made us wonder what was better, a traditional 427 big-block, or a small-block built to the same dimension. Who knows, maybe the basic engine architecture wouldn't even prove to be the key factor in deciding superiority. We chose the 434-cube displacement to put it right in the range of possibility for any production big-block and well within the reach of a modern small-block stroker. We were in for some surprises when we were ready to play.
The Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge is a competition unlike any in motorsports. Here, engine builders are allowed a chance to showcase their abilities and expertise like in no other venue, running heads-up on the dyno versus their rivals in a battle of all-out power production. The competition is open, and we consider all applicants on an equal footing, whether they are recognized professional championship builders or privateer hobbyist and enthusiasts who want to prove their mettle. Here, above all, recognition is a result of talent, and even a relatively unknown builder can be thrust into the national limelight if he proves his stuff against the big boys.
Competition engines are built to comply with a detailed set of rules, essentially designed to regulate the engine components away from exotic race-only equipment, favoring off-the-shelf components, and potentially useable by the street enthusiast. Since the inception of the challenge, the engines have been required to run on spec 91 octane pump gas, a requirement fulfilled by Shell V-Power gasoline this year (see sidebar: Fueling the Fire). A major change in the guidelines for 2006 was the addition of a compression ratio limitation of 10.5:1, in contrast to no limitation in the past. Though our instinct is to allow the builders as much room for innovation in the engine's ultimate specifications as practical, we caved to criticism of the true practicality of 13:1 compression ratios in real street engines.
The Engine Masters Challenge is not a battle for the biggest peak horsepower number-that would be too easy. This contest is about the engine's full power curve over a specified rpm range. Using the DTS engine dynos at our host site of World Products, we can measure engine power over a broad rpm range. We specify the street rpm range from 2,500-6,500 rpm, and an engine's ranking in the score is based upon its horsepower and torque production over that whole rpm range. To be a contender, an engine needs to be a monster at the rock-bottom end of the rev range, fat in the mid-range, and a screaming powerhouse up-top. The sum of the average power and average torque over the full rpm range determines the score.
Gentlemen, Fire Your Engines
Gorgeous autumn weather greeted us at World's facility, and a high barometer loads the cylinders with atmosphere and taxes the more edgy combinations with increased cylinder pressure. The crew at World was infinitely dialed-in, and as the doors opened for the first qualifying day, all three dyno cells were already loaded with engines ready to run. The day's subsequent competitors were already staged on quick-deploying DTS dyno carts, which allow engines to be rolled into the cell and linked to the dyno with remarkable speed and efficiency. DTS had sent technicians in advance to verify the dyno calibration in each of the three cells, and validated their consistency with a test engine run back-to-back at each station. Custom selections of Snap-On tools, neatly arranged in Snap-On tool chests, waited at the ready for competitors at World's engine-assembly stations. We couldn't have been more prepared to run.
The competition opens with four days of qualifying, with a ladder based loosely in rank favoring former competitors and leading finishers from previous years. The opening day's field consists primarily of new competitors to the Challenge, and as such it can hold some surprises. The first day of qualifying showed a mixed field, with the Caverly Pontiac, Hinkle's small-block Mopar, an FE Ford by the Texans from TLI, and three small-block Fords, the Revolutionary Performance entry with the Jeg's/Kaase Windsor heads, and the Reincarnation and Performance Unlimited entries both sporting the Australian CHI 3V Cleveland-style top end. We saw both carnage and success in the first day, with Hinkle's Mopar dropping a valve, and the TLI Ford FE succumbing to a broken rocker shaft. Meanwhile, the two CHI-equipped Fords of Performance Unlimited and Reincarnation sizzled with scores of 1,027.2 and 1,054.5, numbers that set the pace early in the game-and set a precedent which would see the Windsor/CHI combination dominate the show.
Small-block Fords were out in force again for the second day, with the conventional Windsor of Littleton Performance, a pair of Windsors fielded by C&J Racing and McKeown Motorsports sporting those CHI 3V heads that showed so strong the previous day. A 400M block with the same CHI top-end configuration was fielded by the M6 Miller family. From the other manufactures, we had the Iron Horse Pontiac, an AMC from Kustom Kemp, while representing Mopar, Cory Short brought a Chrysler Hemi, and Troy Short came wielding a small-block Mopar. The attention-getting Hemi retired with a DNF when time expired on the allotted tuning period before the team could complete a cam-timing change attempt. Troy Short's small-block Mopar made a strong showing, but by far the stand-out of the day was McKeown Motorsports' Windsor/ CHI combo, posting a 1,054, within half a point of the current leader, Reincarnation, which ran the same basic small-block Ford combo.
When Performance Unlimited...
When Performance Unlimited ran on Day 1, we could see in the 1,027.2 score that the Ford Windsors with Australian CHI Cleveland-style heads and intake were going to set the pace for the event.
The capable Texans from TLI...
The capable Texans from TLI brought a healthy FE Ford, but it expired due to rocker failure. It would turn out that valvetrain issues would be the single greatest point of attrition in the event.
Day 2 of qualifying brought...
Day 2 of qualifying brought out a variety of machinery, and there was a great deal of attention on Cory Short's serious looking Chrysler Hemi. A play to change the cam timing in the 20-minute tune-up period fell short, leading to a DNF as time was called.
Engine Masters is as much...
Engine Masters is as much about the people and their personal stories as the engines themselves. There is a great spirit of camaraderie and teamwork surrounding any individual effort. The Miller M6 team out of Texas relied on the whole family.
The School of Automotive Machinists...
The School of Automotive Machinists brought another Windsor/CHI Ford small-block, and it was the strongest engine in qualifying on Day 3, holding on to Sixth Place overall in the finals.
Surprisingly, there was only...
Surprisingly, there was only one small-block Chevrolet entered in the Challenge, the Traco engine. Leaky rocker studs swamped the chambers with oil, killing power during eliminations. This is the heartache of the Engine Masters competition.
There were several big-block...
There were several big-block Chevrolets in the field, such as the stout Shavers Specialty entry, but the big Chevy proved not to be the combination to take out those pesky little Fords in this year's event.
Tony Bischoff and Richard...
Tony Bischoff and Richard Kolb from BES Racing seemed to be metaphysically aware of their engine's every want, bringing by far the strongest version of the Windsor Ford/CHI combo. In the finals, the team tuned in 5.3 points, turning the heat up on the final competitor, Jon Kaase.
It was jubilation for Tony...
It was jubilation for Tony Bischoff and Richard Kolb when the score hit the board, showing the BES engine finishing a single point ahead of the Kaase Pontiac. The guys from cylinder head manufacturer CHI also had reason to celebrate.
Day three was also heavy with a variety of Ford configurations, with Randy Malik, and the MPG Heads' team fielding 385-series big-blocks, while Blair Patrick Racing brought an FE big-block. The School of Automotive Machinists chose the Windsor/CHI Ford small-block combination that had previously proven to work well in qualifying. Day three also brought out two Chevrolets, the big-block entries of Adney Brown from Performance Crankshafts, and the Bower's entry. Dick Miller brought the only specialty brand of the day, with his gorgeous Oldsmobile. With two Ford 385s, an FE Ford, a pair of big Chevys and the Olds, it was a day heavy in traditional big-blocks squaring off against the small-block CHI-topped Windsor of the SAM team in a big-block versus small-block showdown. Miller's Olds retired with a blown rocker, and once again the Windsor/CHI combo proved indomitable, handily taking the top spot of the day with a score of 1,026. After the third day of qualifying, these small Ford combos had a firm grasp on the top spots in the rankings.
The final day of qualifying brought some of the familiar names in the Engine Masters Challenge, and a great deal of anticipation for those who had run and were waiting to make the bump into the finals. All of the competitors on this day were Engine Masters' veterans, and they brought a wide variety of engine types. Ford was well represented with Barry Rabotnik's FE big-block, John Lahone's 385-series big-block, and Tony Bischoff sporting the deadly Windsor/CHI combination. Chevrolet was the choice of Ron Shaver and Charles Williams with big-block engines, while Larry Salisbury brought the competition's only small-block Chevrolet. Rounding out the field on the last day was Mike Phillip's Buick, and Jon Kaase's Pontiac. Williams and Salisbury both suffered engine troubles hurting their score, while Kaase and Bischoff turned in the big numbers to take the top two qualifying spots, overall, with scores of 1,082.3 and 1,075, respectively. With qualifying completed, these two competitors had a substantial leg up on the field going into the finals.
There was no denying that one engine combination dominated the 2006 Engine Masters Challenge: the Windsor Ford small-block topped with CHI's 3V heads and intake. As it played out, five of the six finalists made use of this combo, and it definitely paid off. Bischoff, Reincarnation, McKeown, Performance Unlimited, and the School of Automotive Machinists all recognized the potential of this deadly setup, and they were rewarded with a spot in the finals. Ironically, the number-one qualifier was Kaase, getting there with a Pontiac engine. In the final rounds, the ladder would run in the reverse order of the competitor's qualifying score, with the top qualifier running last.
Opening the finals was the School of Automotive Machinists. Though the team did no tuning in qualifying, it came out of the gate with a jet change. During the warm-up, this CHI-headed Windsor looked strong. Taking advantage of the 20-minute tune-up pulls, the SAM team made changes to both the total timing and the ignition curve. Power seemed positive in the tune-up pulls, and a final tuning change was made before the money pulls. Something in the settings hurt the team's score as the scored pulls unfolded, and surprisingly, the engine was down on power compared to the numbers turned in moments before during tuning. The effort ended with a 1,026.4 final score. Performance Unlimited came in with a tuning strategy, addressing both the fuel and ignition. Several adjustments and tuning pulls were made early in the tuning period. For first-time Engine Masters competitors, this crew accomplished plenty by making the final field, showing skill and poise in tending to its Ford Windsor entry. The tuning leaned toward flattening the early portion of the torque curve, but the numbers were slightly down from qualifying, resulting in a score of 1,027.7. The score locked in at least a Fifth Place finish.
Team 37 consisting of Reincarnation High Performance, Pacific Engine Rebuilders, and AD Performance Parts, combined its three businesses and specific talents to build its Windsor Ford entry, and the plan seemed to work. Those talents were again revealed when the team tuned-in some power, gaining 5.9 points from qualifying to finish with a composite score of 1,059.9. A great deal of engine building talent and knowledge went into this effort, and the added score gained in the finals would play well for this group in the final standings. As it stood, the team had at least a Fourth Place finish locked in.McKeown Motorsports consists of a husband-and-wife team whose motto is "scientific performance," and this duo took advantage of modern innovations like no other. Working with programmed ignition and their own mixture monitor, it seemed like the pair was ready to tune-in some serious points. With the initial changes, their score was already on the way up, with over 1,066 points showing. Then something totally unexpected occurred when a replaced oil filter lost its seal to the block, spilling most of the contents of the lubrication system onto the cell floor. The clean up ate significantly in their 20-minute tune-up period, and resulted in a loss of reference for the oil level in the sump, possibly leading to an overfill. McKeown ended with 1,059.2 points, putting them behind team 37, with two more entries yet to run.
BES Racing was next in the cell, and these guys are experienced at extracting the most from an engine. With the Ford Windsor/CHI combination, Bischoff extracted more of what this setup had to offer, finishing eliminations with a higher score than any other team using this combo. The only question in the finals was how far to push the engine to try and take the overall win. With 714 peak horsepower, the BES entry was a little behind Kaase on the top end, but had a definite advantage at the bottom of the rpm range. Bischoff remained cool in the tune-up period, deciding to make minimal tuning changes, and save the engine for the money pulls. The strategy paid off with a solid 1,080.3 score, a gain of 5.3 points from qualifying. The only question was whether it would be enough to hang on for the overall win. At this point, it would come down to one competitor. As was the case last year, once again the top position in the Engine Masters Challenge came down to the last pull, on the last day, with real tension in the air. Once again it came down to what Kaase's engine would do. Five of the six finalists had run, and the event's top qualifier was up to bat. Without a doubt, the standings-right down the line-were dependent upon the performance of Jon Kaase's Pontiac. No one understood this fact better than Tony Bischoff of BES Racing, who was sitting on the top spot with one more player to run. Tony had posted a score of 1,080.3, and was well aware that the Pontiac had shown its ability to run at that level or better.
If the mighty Pontiac had one weakness, it was in the initial roll in at the bottom of the rpm range, where Tony's engine maintained a clear advantage. However, at the top of the curve, the Pontiac was the stronger motor. How these factors played out in the final three pulls would be the decider in this event. The ever cool BES team maintained a poker face as the Pontiac pulled down for the first of its final series of three scored runs. It was apparent as the dyno dials spun that the Pontiac came in a little under the performance turned-in minutes before during the warm-up. Some power slipped away at the extreme low-end, but would it be enough? No one could say for sure which way this would end, but it was going to be extremely close. BES racing had taken the event with a 1,080.3 score to Kaase's 1079.3. The event was decided by a single point.
Saturday, the six winning competitors returned for tech inspection. Although rumors had been in the air all week, and many of the competitors fretted the compression ratio measurements, all were ruled legal by our expert tech inspector, Wesley Roberson. This closed the competition with the standings as listed. The event was overwhelmingly positively received by our top six finishers, as well as the participants and visitors. The top six finalists earned a total of approximately $95,000. With the power, glory, and money on the line, and one of the most exciting finishes ever, this year's event will go down as one to remember.
When it comes to making the most pump-gas power in a competition such as the Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge, the actual fuel becomes a vital consideration, particularly when attempting to create an absolutely level playing field for the competitors. Fuel specifications vary regionally through geographical areas, even on a seasonal basis, not to mention the dramatic differences in fuel quality and content that can be found from brand to brand. Here we enlisted expert assistance from Shell, which served to provide oversight in all aspects of fuel supplies.
With the variations possible in fuels, we eliminated a variable by specifying Shell V-Power unleaded pump gasoline. To allow competitors to tune to maximum advantage before the event, Shell provided the builders with the exact formulation of the fuel used in the event for pre-event testing. Meanwhile, at the World Products test facility, drums of V-Power pump gas were delivered and quarantined for use in the actual competition. Shell even graciously provided our competitors with gas cards for free fuel to ease some of the costs associated with transportation to World's Long Island, NY facility. That a major petrochemical company would go through all of this effort to support a high-performance engine event illustrates Shell's commitment to motorsports.
Shell V-Power is the most advanced fuel Shell has ever developed and contains five times the minimum amount of cleaning agents required by government standards. Shell V-Power actively cleans your engine as you drive by removing carbon deposits that can build on critical engine parts, specifically intake valves and fuel injectors.
Not all gasolines are the same, and the use of low-detergent gasolines can allow deposit materials to build up on your engine's intake valves and fuel injectors. This material can cause less efficient mixing of air and fuel and results in incomplete combustion in some cycles. Tests prove that, with regular use, Shell V-Power can remove the deposits that low-detergent gasolines leave behind.
Tony Bischoff and the BES Racing team have been strong contenders in the Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge since 2003, and have consistently been a team to watch. Tony has built a reputation as a winning engine builder in competitive racing venues, and though his BES Racing entry has placed in the top ranks in prior competitions, an outright victory had eluded him until now. We congratulate Tony and his crew on bringing this year's phenomenal Ford, and earning the title of Engine Master for 2006.
Tony is not a guy who wants to swim upstream with an oddball combination or some "magic" trick. Tony's magic is applying years of race-engine experience to get the most from a proven combination. This year, Tony went with a 9.500-deck Windsor Ford, using the awesome CHI 3V cylinder heads and intake to provide the airflow. Plenty of fellow competitors had the same basic plan, though the results prove that BES Racing nailed the execution.
The bottom end was built around a World block, and Tony describes his combination as nothing fancy. Though the short-block had numerous modifications as we've seen in previous Engine Masters events, there was nothing that we'd consider unconventional to be found downstairs. Tony disclosed: "It had 302 Ford mains, and Honda rod journals, and an Eagle crankshaft. This is the first time we turned the counterweights down a bunch, just to get a short counterweight, but it doesn't come out lighter, because you have to put so much heavy metal in it to balance it, since the acting radius is so much shorter. Whether all that helped or not, I don't know. We put 6.200-inch Eagle rods for the Honda journal in it, and bang-for-the-buck, they are really nice pieces, and they weigh next to nothing, 490 grams or something. The clearances were fairly tight to keep from blowing all kinds of oil all over the place. The rings were SpeedPro 0.043/0.043/3mm Pro Series." Tony continued, "The light-tension ring package in that Pro-Series ring set is a hard thing to beat, and I run a pretty narrow skirt on the piston for a friction advantage there."From a conceptual point of view, Tony wanted to do a bigger stroke than bore for once. "If you look at it, every time someone has won the contest the last three years, the guy has drastically favored the stroke. I think these longer stroke combinations are a lot stronger at 2,500 rpm. Exactly what the physics involved are will run you in circles thinking about it, but that's what wins the contest every year. I know I didn't win by much, but I'm sure if you compared airflow between mine and Kaase's heads, he would have just annihilated me, especially in the mid-lift range, but he had a small-stroke/big-bore, and that's where I outscored him, at 2,500 rpm."
One of the key components to making power was the cylinder heads and induction. The Cleveland-style CHI cylinder heads and intake manifold are just hard to beat, with nearly the ideal valve angles and cant to make a smaller-bore combination breathe. CHI has the port sizing and form nearly optimized for this displacement class and rpm range, and the design features many of the improvements that had been incorporated into the original Cleveland heads over decades of racing development. Tony found the CHI intake needed very little work, requiring only a port match and a little cleaning of the casting. Tony says, "The intake manifold itself was probably the most perfectly sized manifold. After four years, I finally figured out what size the manifold wants to be and I thought it was perfect. Last year I spent a lot of time trying to get the O2 sensors evened-out, and this one, out-of-the-box with no work, was more even than my big-block with days and days of work." Tony reworked the heads with a proprietary valve job, and developed a porting profile, concentrating on high-lift flow. Peak intake port flow was reported to achieve over 380 cfm.
| SPECIFICATIONS BES RACING 434 WINDSOR|
|Displacement: || 433.5 ci |
| Bore: || 4.0565-inch |
| Stroke: || 4.186-inch |
| Compression ratio: || 10.4:1 |
| Camshaft: || COMP solid roller |
| Cam duration: || 256/264 degrees @ 0.050-inch tappet rise |
| Cam lift: || .846/.799-inch |
| Rocker ratio: || 1.8/1.7:1 |
| Lobe separation: || 106 degrees |
| Installed centerline: || 100 degrees |
| Top ring: || SpeedPro Moly, .043-inch |
| Top ring gap: || .018-inch |
| Second ring: || SpeedPro Reverse-Twist Taper 0.043-inch |
| Second ring gap: || 024-inch |
| Oil ring: || 3mm |
| Piston: || 21cc dish; 0.927-inch pin |
| Quench clearance: || 035-inch |
| Block: || World Man-O-War, 9.500-inch deck |
| Crankshaft: || Eagle, cut-down counterweights |
| Rods: || Eagle 6.200-inch |
| Main journal: || 302 Ford 2.250-inch |
| Rod journal: || 1.888-inch |
| Bearing clearances: || .00180-inch (rod/main) |
| Cylinder head || CHI 218 3V; ported |
| Peak intake flow: || 380 cfm |
| Intake valve diameter: || 2.200-inch |
| Exhaust valve diameter: || 1.600-inch |
| Intake manifold: || CHI 3V Dominator, ported |
| Carburetor: || 1050 Holley Pro Systems |
| Header: || Hooker, 1 7/8-inch |
| Ignition: || MSD |
| Final Standings |
| Place || Team || Team Leader || Engine || Score |
| 1st || BES Racing || Tony Bischoff || SB Ford || 1,080.30 |
| 2nd || Jon Kaase Racing Engines || Jon Kaase || Pontiac || 1,079.30 |
| 3rd || Reincarnation Motorsports/Pacific Engine Rebuilders/AD Performance Parts || Scott Johnston || SB Ford || 1,059.90 |
| 4th || McKeown Motorsports || Mark McKeown || SB Ford || 1,059.20 |
| 5th || Performance Unlimited || Bob Lathrop || SB Ford || 1,024.70 |
| 6th || School of Automotive Machinists || Judson Massingill || SB Ford || 1,019.20 |