Its crazy really, like who would ever think of racing engines on dynamometers? Popular Hot Rodding, that's who! And the idea has proven to be so popular that we've just completed the third annual Engine Masters Challenge with help from Jeg's Performance, World Products and many other generous sponsors. The stakes? A cool hundred grand in cash and contingency prizes. Like last year's Challenge, fuel is restricted to 92 octane unleaded gasoline (graciously supplied by Shell). But unlike last year's big-block competition, this year contestants were limited to OEM-style 410-inch small-block configurations.

Aside from the exclusion of non-OEM cylinder head designs, non-steel connecting rods and multiple carburetion, there weren't many restrictions. Sick roller cams, aluminum blocks, sky high compression ratios and 4500-series carburetors were all legal (log onto www.enginemasters.com for specific rules). No doubt, PHR rulemeister Scott Parkhurst figured the 92 octane bogeyman would be the ultimate determiner of what goes and what blows. And he was right. Detonation proved to be the numero uno obstacle to power, but those crafty Engine Masters managed to balance a tolerable level of rattle antics with insane power.

The Test Procedure
If you're new to the Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge concept, here's a quick rundown. In a nutshell, it goes like this. Each team's motor is carefully loaded onto a DTS engine docking cart by the World Products crew. Like berserk shopping carts brimming with horsepower, these carriages have easy rolling wheels and push handles that are the ultimate in loading and unloading convenience. One by one, each team is summoned to enter one of World Products three dyno cells and the engines are connected to the power absorption unit. The engine is started and given five minutes to warm up. Then three mandatory medium speed (330-rpm per second) warm-up pulls are made from 2,500 to 6,500 rpm.

Assuming all systems are still functioning, a 20-minute tuning period begins in which time teams can make as many partial, or full, dyno pulls as they choose. These pulls do not count toward qualifying or eliminations but allow an opportunity for last-minute fine tuning for peak performance. Here's the rub: tuning adjustments are strictly limited to jet changes, air bleed changes, emulsion changes, float level manipulation and ignition timing changes made only by moving the distributor. These teams had better have their act together 'cause that 20 minutes goes by fast.

At the end of the tuning period, the engine is once again run at idle until water tower temperature reaches 160 degrees and oil temperature hits 180. Then three competition pulls at medium speed (330 rpm per second) are made in rapid succession from 2,500 to 6,500 rpm. The average, not peak, horsepower and torque figures from each pull are averaged together then added together for a final score. The higher the score, the higher the rank on the official performance scoreboard. The two top-scoring contestants from each of the three dynos qualify for the final eliminations round.

Needless to say, because scoring is based on average output between 2,500 and 6,500 rpm rather than absolute peak numbers, builders concentrate more on the area under the curve than on making skinny spikes on the dyno chart. And to weed out the one trick ponies from the thoroughbreds, the top six qualifiers at any given point of competition are impounded so crews cannot perform maintenance. It truly is an endurance test of each motor as well as a display of engine building and tuning talent unlike any other.

The Eliminations
After a week-long battle between 39 of the country's best engine builders, six emerged as the top dogs in the 2004 Jeg's Engine Masters Challenge. The finalists were the Los Angeles-based Pasadena City College (PCC) Chevy 409, the Anaheim, California-based Coast High Performance (CHP) Ford 409, the Englewood, Colorado-based MPG Heads Ford 409, the West Harrison, Indiana-based BES Racing Engines (BES) Ford 409, the Newport News, Virginia-based W. Enterprises Chevy 409 and finally the Jon Kaase Ford 408 from Winder, Georgia.

If some of these names sound familiar its because many competed in last years Engine Masters Challenge, more specifically, Jon Kaase won it and W. Enterprises finished in second place. Guess what, they did it again this year with Kaase taking the overall win and W. Enterprises once again in the second spot. But let's not get ahead of the story of how these six finalists used their wits, plus a little luck, in their one-day battle for a chunk of the hundred thousand dollar purse.

Race day dawned with a heavy fog lingering in the brisk fall air and more than a few jitters among the sleep-deprived contestants. Though plenty of spirits flowed at the Engine Masters banquet the night before, the sleepless night had nothing to do with partying. These guys were up into the wee hours formulating their strategies and making mental double checks of the condition of their quarantined motors. Remember, no maintenance or repairs of any kind are allowed during this competition.

By 8:00 am the World Products crew had dyno cell number two ready for the grueling battles that would crown the ultimate Engine Master. The rule book says the last-place qualifier goes first, so Jason Spohr and his 409.89 PCC Chevy rolled into the dyno. Recapping Jason's sixth place qualifying shot of the previous day, the motor made peak numbers of 652.9 hp and 595 lb.-ft. and averaged 460.2 hp and 528 lb.-ft. between 2,500 and 6,500 rpm. Adding the horsepower and torque averages produced a score of 988.2 points.

Going in, Jason, an automotive instructor at PCC, confided to this writer he was worried about his valvetrain, saying, "I hope I can get away with a minimal amount of running time. The Brodix heads move the pushrods for better intake ports and require offset rocker arms. But I had to make my own pushrod guide plates and didn't have time to have them heat treated. So now the Manton chrome moly pushrods are wearing them away. I hope they hang in there." During the warm-up period, the Chevy's oil temperature increased very slowly prompting competitor John Beck to say, "He's gotta have that thing coated to hell!" Sure enough, Jason uses no fewer than three different piston, bearing and block coatings, but how were the pushrods and guide plates getting along?

Once the coolant and oil temperatures had finally reached the minimum values, DTS' Matt Boyer, the official dyno operator, subjected the raspy 12.77:1 Chevy to the three mandatory warm-up pulls where an audible detonation could be heard below 3,500 rpm before the roar of the engine drowned it out. Despite the rattling, power was good and the valvetrain seemed happy. During the 20 minute tuning period Jason said, "Detonation was a problem yesterday but thanks to the fog, now there is 10 percent more humidity and that's great for keeping detonation down." So he entered the dyno cell and decreased the 4150 Holley's high-speed air bleed size from 40 to 36 and added one degree of ignition timing for a total of 27 BTDC.

The final competition pulls got underway and the first two pulls delivered slightly improved power numbers. But during the second pull, a loud crackling noise erupted within the dyno cell. Had the guideplates finally been bullied by the pushrods and led to a failure? After a quick hands-off inspection it turned out to be a blown header gasket and the final competition pull was made, exhaust leak and all. Jason beamed when race coordinator Mike Simpson announced a final score of 1,004.5 points, a 16.3-point jump over his qualifying score. Suddenly the last place guy was in first place. The cool morning air had indeed been a benefit but more importantly, Jason was sharp enough to know exactly how to take advantage of it.

Watching anxiously as the PCC Chevy crested the magic 1,000-point mark, frequent PHR contributor, Richard Holdener and his Coast High Performance Ford 409.2-inch Windsor were up next. Richard knew he'd need to make major improvements over his fifth-place qualifying effort to stay in the game. Richard's qualifying numbers were 579.7 hp and 581.6 lb.-ft. peak output with 457 hp and 534.6 lb.-ft. averages for a total of 991.6 points.

Sporting 11.95:1 compression, Richard was also concerned about detonation asking, "If I hear detonation, can I ask the dyno operator to back off?" The answer was yes, but only during the 20-minute tuning period. Richard stated he was concerned that the motor hadn't been responding to changes in ignition timing like it did during testing back on the West coast. "At Westech, we could bump it from 24 to 31 BTDC and see a 40-point gain. But during qualifying I couldn't get the same results." Complicating things was the fact that the cool morning fog had burned off and air quality was changing for the worse.

During the 20-minute tuning period, Richard requested numerous full and partial pulls as he made frantic adjustments. First the jets went from 84/82 to 86/84, then ignition timing was bumped from 24 to 29 BTDC, then number 32, 25 and 29 air bleeds were tried. Richard was just buttoning up the work when Parkhurst shouted, "30 seconds." Though the Ford sounded healthy during the three final competition pulls, the numbers were down. Peaks were 566.9 hp and 568.6 lb.-ft. with averages of 447.4 hp and 524.0 lb.-ft. The 971.4-point total put Richard in a very tenuous second place. After the last pull he said, "The timing light was hard to read and I'm thinking the distributor gear or camshaft may be wearing. It just didn't respond."

As Holdener's Ford was wheeled out of the dyno, the stage was set for the fourth-place qualifier from MPG Heads to enter the ring. A fascinating powerplant, the MPG entry was basically a huge Boss 302 Ford, displacing 409 cubic inches that took advantage of a loophole in the rulebook. The book prohibits non-OEM style hybrid engine combinations like putting canted-valve Cleveland heads on Windsor blocks but thanks to the legality of big-bore aftermarket blocks, the MPG boys built a low deck, Cleveland-headed Windsor citing the 1969 / '70 Boss 302 as the OEM precedent for such a combination. It worked. Of course the stock Boss block was replaced by a super-thick Dart 8.2 inch deck height, Siamese-bore replacement (watch for a full feature on this big Boss in an upcoming issue of PHR).

In qualifying, the MPG Heads 12.2:1 mega Boss peaked at 657.2 hp and 585.8 lb.-ft. and averaged 461.9 hp and 530.6 lb.-ft. to earn a fourth-place score of 992.5 points. Not bad at all considering this Colorado team had to test at 6,000-foot elevation then basically guess how the combination would perform in New York's sea-level air.

Just before the finals, MPG's Bob Moore said, "Our biggest concern is the high barometer reading. We're pushing the edge of compression and this heavy air could nudge the motor into detonation unless we enrich the jetting to make up for it." But how much jetting was needed was going to require some expert guesswork thanks to the meager 20-minute tuning period. The guys went from 88 to 91 jets and set timing at 28 BTDC. The results were peaks of 660.3 hp and 585.3 lb.-ft., averages of 462.6 hp and 531.3 lb.-ft. and a final point total of 993.9, putting team MPG in the second place spot ahead of Richard Holdener, who sat on the third-place bump.

The crowd of spectators pushed to the front of the observation area when Tony Bischoff, Richard Kolb and Geoffery Breeden rolled past with the BES Racing Engines Ford 409 Windsor. The third-place qualifier made 652.6 hp, 593.4 lb.-ft. peak numbers, and averages of 469.6 hp and 542 lb.-ft. for a total score of 1011.6, and the audience sensed that the heavy action was about to begin. It was interesting to note that the BES mill used standard Windsor cooling instead of a trendy reverse-flow system. Bischoff told PHR: "I've never tried reverse cooling but worry that the external plumbing could trap air pockets and make the electric water pump cavitate on the dyno. Done right I think reverse cooling could be a slight advantage but I just didn't have time to explore it properly for this contest."

Reverse cooling or not, with qualifying points solidly in excess of 1,000, team BES had Holdener on the edge of his chair. It would take a major tuning gaff or component malfunction to keep him in the running. As the 12.8:1 BES Ford idled lazily during warmup, Tony mentioned that every team should make use of the dyno's oxygen sensor hookup so accurate air/fuel ratio data can be used to help tuning. He did warn, "But be careful because oxygen sensors are delicate and can become inaccurate if they're dropped. If the A/F data you see differs greatly from the numbers you see on your dyno, suspect a bad sensor and maybe disregard the data because you can't trust it."

During the mandatory warm-up pulls, audible detonation shook the dyno but the heavily-coated 409 seemed to take it in stride. The pre-race tuning period consisted mainly of setting the timing at 25 BTDC and making sure all spark plug wires were firmly connected. When race controller Parkhurst saw the BES crew touching the wires he reminded them, "You can't pull 'em off but you can push 'em down."

When the hammer was dropped for the competition pulls the BES Ford responded with 657.5 hp and 601 lb.-ft. peak numbers, 475.0 hp and 547.6 lb.-ft. average power and a total score of 1,022.6, putting team BES in first place, bumping PCC to second, MPG to third and eliminating Holdener.

Next up was the Chevy team of W. Enterprises, whose 12.5:1 compression, 409-cube motor had qualified in second place with 670.8 peak hp, 595.6 lb.-ft. peak torque, and calculated averages of 479.8 hp and 552.3 lb.-ft. for a total score of 1,032.1. Having runner'ed up in last year's big-block contest, W. Enterprises looked to be a formidable contender for the big bucks.

Going in, team member Charles Williams said, "I don't have any big concerns about the engine and I'm not going to second guess myself. The motor ticked a little bit in qualifying from spark rattle and all we have left to play with today are timing and air bleeds. I hope we can put a little more timing in the motor without rattling it harder than it already does."

Like the BES Ford, the W. Enterprises motor does not use reverse-flow cooling. Williams says, "If you do reverse flow you push the coolant down from the heads into the block and can get hot spots. If you fill from the bottom up, you don't get hot spots." We did note, however, that the block has supplemental coolant hoses that tap off the electric water pump and carry coolant to fittings located in the middle of the water jackets. The goal of this "stereo" cooling concept was to offset the increase in coolant temperature as it moved from the front of the block to the back by admitting an external source of lower-temperature coolant.

During the warm-up pulls the motor knocked and rattled plenty but the team wasn't concerned--even with a staggeringly aggressive 35 BTDC ignition timing! Williams says Calico and Swain coatings are used extensively for protection. Still, it was easy to get the impression this motor was built specifically to survive massive amounts of detonation. After some minor air bleed adjustments during the tuning period, the moment of truth arrived.

Despite scary levels of detonation, the big Chevy cranked out three nearly identical competition pulls. In fact, there was a mere 6/10 of one horsepower variation between the three pulls and it was virtually impossible to distinguish the three printed dyno curves from each other. Team MPG knew they were officially out of the running when the numbers were announced. The crazy-rattling Chevy had generated peak numbers of 667.8 hp and 596.7 lb.-ft., average numbers of 479.2 hp and 552 lb.-ft. and a total of 1,031.2 points to wrestle first place away from team PCC. All that was left to see was if last year's champion, Jon Kaase, could unseat W. Enterprises.

Jon Kaase is no stranger to the world of ultra high performance engine building and the incredibly slick Ford 408 Cleveland he brought this year was by far the most exotic mill in attendance. With its Australian CH1 Cleveland heads, AMC six-cylinder main bearings and .5-inch thick copper head spacers, it was number one qualifier with peak readings of 698.2 hp, 619.6 lb.-ft, average power readings of 485.9 hp and 557.3 lb.-ft. and a staggering 1,043.2 points.

We asked Jon if there was anything left in the 12.4:1 compression Ford Cleveland to be unleashed for the final rounds and he said, "I've got the timing back as far as it will go (24 BTDC) and still make power so jetting is all that's left." During the warm-up pulls the motor easily made in excess of 650 hp despite audible levels of detonation. During the tuning period Jon had his hands full. Not with the engine, of which he declared, "No tuning required," but with the TV cameras and an interview with Speed TV's Ken Stout. Stout was there taping an episode of the upcoming series "Lucas Oil...On The Edge" and Jon spent several minutes talking about the Engine Masters Challenge while the silent Cleveland cooled off prior to the final competition pulls.

With the Hollywood action out of the way, the motor was started and the competition pulls commenced. The amazing result was peak output of 691.2 hp and 616.2 lb.-ft., average output of 485.9 hp and 557.3 lb.-ft. for a total score of 1,043.2 to win the Engine Masters Challenge. Sharp readers will note that Kaase's qualifying and eliminations point scores are identical. It's no typo, Kaase was the only contestant to get the hat trick. Coincidence or not, it earned him the nickname Kaase the Konsistent.

For his win, Kaase took home a check for $77,500, second place winner W. Enterprises snagged $26,000 and third place finisher team BES got $14,000.

2004 JEG'S EMC SIDEBAR ARTICLES

2004 JEG'S EMC QUALIFYING HIGHLIGHTS