Power Struggle at the 2005 Engine Masters Challange
The 2005 Engine Masters Challange crowns a new king -- and queen
From the February, 2009 issue of Popular Hot Rodding
By Steve Dulcich
Photography by Johnny Hunkins, Steve Dulcich, The PHR Staff
With the wrap-up of the 2005 Engine Masters Challenge, we mark the fourth season of our engine building compe-tition with a new champion team: Lennart and Birgitta Bergquist of Autoshop Racing Engines. The handshakes have been made, the checks presented to the three money finishers, and, before we pack our bags, editor Hunkins has the photo-graphy sorted. We organize our notes, tapes, and spec sheets while the last of the competitor's engines are boxed up for the return ride home. It seems kind of lonely at World Products Headquarters late Saturday afternoon, as a light rain begins to fall and Jon Kaase loads his mighty Pontiac entry into the back of his Ford pickup for the long drive back to Georgia. Kaase is the last competitor to leave. The former champ finished Fourth in this year's event, after having taken the top spot in the last two of the previous three years of competition. This man's engine-building talent brought with it a pervasive fear of a virtual hammerlock on the number-one position. Right to the end, it was a wild and exciting week of racing engines.
On opening day, it was anyone's game. The Engine Masters Challenge is run over the course of a week, taking advantage of the three DTS dyno cells built into the back of Bill Mitchell's World Products engine facility in the heart of Long Island. The receiving area of World Products was alive with activity as the engines were uncrated and prepped for their round in the preliminary qualifying runs. Long before the competitors arrived, World had prepped the facility for the onslaught. Inside, assigned DTS dyno-docking carts awaited in rows, and Mitchell's normally busy engine-building stalls were cleared. The crew from DTS also arrived in advance, and each of the three dynos were calibrated and confirmed by running a test engine in each cell. To aid in acquiring tuning data, the latest Lambda air/fuel ratio acquisition instrumentation from Exhaust Gas Technologies was added to the battery of data-gathering equipment feeding the DTS dyno computer. On Monday morning, the place was prepped and ready for a rumble--and so were the competitors.
The Stage is Set
Under the rules for the 2005 Challenge, the engines were carbureted big-blocks running on 91 octane Shell V-Power pump gas, with a displacement limit of 509 ci--the fattest displacement ever for Engine Masters. There was no doubt this year's event would shatter the power levels seen before; the big question remaining was who would finish on top. The qualifying sessions would provide some insight as the engines showed their numbers. The top two competitors in qualifying from each dyno cell would earn a place in the finals, and these six finalists would duke it out for a piece of the healthy $160,000 purse and the prestige of a podium position.
This year's Engine Masters is scored by a combination of the average horsepower and average torque over a set rpm range, 2,500-6,500 rpm. After the engine is fired up, it is run to reach an operating temperature of 160-degree coolant and oil temp, or for a maximum of five minutes if those temperature levels are not met. The dyno pulls immediately follow. First comes a series of three warm-up pulls run back-to-back over the entire 2,500-6,500-rpm range. Sound simple? Consider it from a builder's perspective. There is no tuning allowed through the three back-to-back warm-up pulls, giving no real opportunities to "test the waters," so to speak, on how the engine will respond at wide-open throttle under the local conditions. An error in judgment on the initial settings of fuel mixture and timing can prove disastrous.
Detonation is always the limiting factor in this pump-gas war. Cylinder pressure is torque, and torque production equates to power output, so it is no surprise that pushing cylinder pressure to the limits is part of any serious competitor's program. With 91-octane fuel, the limit of cylinder pressure is constrained by the level at which detonation has the engine feeding upon itself rather than making power. It's a fuzzy, ill-defined limit that can vary greatly with atmospheric conditions of barometric pressure, temperature, relative humidity, and vapor pressure. The high barometric pressure and October air served to accentuate cylinder pressure and aggravate the potential for devastating detonation. This would prove to have quite a bearing on the competition's final results.
In the qualifying rounds, many competitors found themselves with a lump in their throats listening to unexpected and brutal detonation on the first warm-up pull. Unfortunately, by then the point of no return has been crossed. Under the rules, the builder has no recourse but to let things ride and suffer through two more pulls in rapid succession, or withdraw from competition. With the heat added by each subsequent pull, the tendency toward detonation is amplified. By the third pull, the detonation can become disastrous. Too aggressive a tune-up out of the chute stung more than one competitor in qualifying. Needless to say, the dyno procedure is no walk in the park, with the low 2,500-rpm starting point and back-to-back protocol conspiring to exact a brutal toll on these edgy pump-gas mills.
The testing is brutal, but it's a fitting punctuation to what it takes just to make the show. These are the private stories of the builders that don't get told or captured by the camera, the months of planning, building, hands-on wrenching, and testing that goes into an Engine Masters effort. Every builder who made it to the event survived the trials of building and the inevitable setbacks. For some of our competitors, component failures in testing prior to the event meant `round-the-clock repairs eating into precious testing time. In other instances, holdups in parts availability had the entire engine programs changed and rethought at the 11th hour. All our builders had lived the competition for months prior to the final showdown at World.
By the first day, pre-event attrition had brought our field down to 19 competitors for the qualifying rounds. The anticipation was high for the first day of competition, with two engines scheduled for qualifying attempts. The opener was Donald Williams, son of two-time Second Place finisher Charles Williams of Newport News, Virginia. Donald's engine, fielded under the Pump Gas Performance banner was actually the very same mill run by his father in the `03 Engine Masters Challenge, reconfigured to fit within this year's 509ci limit. There was no doubt this was a well-developed powerplant, as proven by its performance two years ago. However, the first up for qualifying was also the first to succumb to savage detonation and the unforgiving testing regime. Donald's engine finished the qualifying session, but the damaging detonation compromised its potential. It was a scenario we would see repeated throughout the competition. For the second and final competitor of the day, Gary Blair of Blair Racing, the event ended in a much more decisive fashion, with an unlikely failure involving a seized distributor shaft stripping the distributor drive gear. This dashed Blair's hopes of success with his big-block Ford in the most disappointing way--ending its bid before the engine could even flex its muscle.
It was clear from the experiences of the first day's competition that the test conditions would undoubtedly take a toll. The lineup for day two included six hopeful entrants, beginning with the Chevrolet of Lennart and Birgitta Bergquist of Autoshop Racing Engines. Veterans of last year's events, the Swedish duo seemingly sought a detuned effort, with their 11.5:1 compression big-block. While the quietly confident, reserved, and methodical Bergquist went steadily about the business of preparing the mild-appearing engine on the dyno, there was little to give away the display of power to come. Lennart, aware of the critical nature of detonation tolerance, defied convention by performing his pre-event testing on 89-octane fuel. Even so, in view of the experiences of the previous day's competitors, Lennart conservatively backed timing out of the engine prior to qualifying. The big-block laid down a staggering 844 hp and 740 lb-ft of torque, and a qualifying number of 1285.33--a number that would stand at the number-one spot until the last day of qualifying.
Next up was the Cadillac entry of Donovan Harrison and John Wallace of Torque Inc. The team made a valiant effort to make the show, burning the midnight oil to repair damage incurred in prior testing. Pre-event dyno testing had shown this big production-based Caddy entry made the power for a strong showing. Despite the hard work, the engine experienced bearing problems and possibly a down cylinder in qualifying, leaving the team with the tough decision of withdrawing after the second scored pull, or risk total destruction of the engine. Reluctantly, they left with a DNF. Automotive Machine and Performance's Buick fared better. The Buick, essentially a street engine destined for a customer's car, was built to showcase the Buick's potential in true street trim. The big Buick was obviously fully prepared and ran flawlessly through the regime. Mike Phillips and Dave Wink handled the tuning chores with precision, tuning to an 1138 score, while delivering as much as 713 hp.
Tony Bischoff's entry was next, and Bischoff is always one to be taken seriously. This engine was clearly a powerhouse, and Bischoff was determined to get the most from his combination. With the assistance of Richard Kolb, Tony beat on the Chevrolet relentlessly during the tune-up phase of the competition in an effort to find the optimal carb and timing settings. The downside of this strategy is that the engine will retain heat, which would be sure to hamper the output during the scored qualifying runs. Nevertheless, with the engine producing as much as 834 hp and a final qualifying score of 1265.67, Bischoff was no doubt confident the entry would make the finals, so inevitably, it was time well spent in exploring the limits of his healthy Chevy. The extensive experimentation during qualifying would give Bischoff an edge in knowing how the engine would respond to tuning changes going into the finals.
Dove Performance, followed by Cadillac Performance Parts, would finish out the day. Dove, well known in FE Ford circles, had encountered parts-delivery problems, which curbed its development program on an all-new engine. This forced the team to field a well-seasoned and somewhat undersized 488-cube FE, originally built back in 1991. With tuning, Jim and David Dove scored a 1029 from their second-string mill. The Cadillac entry of Richard Potter was next and possessed the purposeful look of a real contender. Its debut was much anticipated, creating a buzz at the World shop as Potter prepared to run. Potter is intensely competitive and a true gentleman. By the number of custom mods readily apparent in this entry, Potter had seriously raised the bar on Cadillac engine development for this competition, no doubt an effort entailing endless late nights at the workshop. Apparent disaster struck when the harmonic balancer split the hub and launched from the crank snout on the second warm-up pull. As allowed by this year's rules, repairs can be made during the tuning period, and Potter was able to source a replacement damper from withdrawn competitors Torque Inc. A frenzied effort had the balancer replaced in the allotted time. Nevertheless, in the process, all of the available tuning time had been devoured. Potter had no choice but to run the engine in its baseline tune agonizingly lean of the required mixture. Hampered by a lack of fuel, the engine posted an 1130.33, well short of Potter's expectations and the performance the engine had proven capable of in pre-event testing.
Day three opened with the only Mopar entry of the event, the B1-headed wedge of Monroe, Wisconsin's T&B's Performance Machine. Tom and Brenda Foley built the engine to reflect the real street potential of a Mopar wedge and, in fact, this very engine was built for a customer's car, rather than as a definitive dyno-race exercise. The husband and wife shared equally in the building duty, with Brenda having ported the cylinder heads. The team, along with their four young children, made the trip to Long Island a family event, and their pleasant and warm attitude added immeasurably to the friendly and inviting spirit of the competition. The Foleys were pleased when the Mopar made numbers on par with their testing at home, posting a solid 1173 composite score, and making as much as 732 hp.
Following the Mopar was the strongest Ford showing: The 385-series big-block from Livernois Motorsports of Dearborn Heights, Michigan. John Lohone and crew calmly and methodically undertook to tune the serious Ford via air bleeds and timing, and found the powerplant capable of 817 hp and 733 lb-ft, delivering a composite average score of 1251. The Livernois engine was one of the few that showed power progressively gaining with each of the subsequent qualifying pulls, indicating this engine setup was far from the ragged edge. A sharp tuning aid employed by Livernois was the use of a knock sensor to indicate detonation. The total score put the Livernois team deep in the running for the finals.
Another Ford, and the second FE big-block in the field, was Barry Rabotnick's West Bloomfield, Michigan, entry. Rabotnick, a long-time Ford man and a well-known aftermarket industry insider, entered the competition as a privateer. The initial plans were for a much more radical FE, but as with the Dove FE Ford effort, parts delivery was to prove elusive before the required deadline. With resolve, Rabotnick realigned his program to a more conservative effort, rounding up the required FE parts to affect a build in time for the competition. The 505-cube engine, topped with Blue Thunder heads, delivered 752 hp, which was more than Barry had expected based on preliminary testing and a strong showing from a very practical Ford powerplant.
As the Rabotnick Ford was dismounted from the dyno cell, yet another Ford, the 385-series engine from Englewood, Colorado's MPG Heads was fired up in the next dyno cell. Scott Main and Bob Moore had determined ahead of time that the air conditions in their native Colorado differed significantly enough from those at World, and that relevant testing would have to be done away from their local facility. The engine was tested in Iowa just prior to the event and was seriously damaged in the process. Leak-down testing showed compromised cylinder sealing, and the engine was triaged upon delivery at World. The most apparent problem was a destroyed valve-seat insert. Scott and Bob actually machined and replaced the insert at World prior to the preliminaries and managed to make it to qualifying. However, the damage to the engine proved more extensive, as the power was down and declining, while a metallic knock signaled the need to withdraw for a DNF.
Mile High Performance's big-bore big-block Chevy was to be the last engine tested on day three. The entry, built in conjunction with Pro-Built engines, looked to be a well-developed piece, and the crew of Jay Kidwell, Wayne Gill, and Fred Morgan worked with amazing coordination and competence in the cell. Their abilities were really put to the test when catastrophic sounds of destruction rang from the dyno cell on one of the warm-up pulls at the top of the rpm range. A check of the damage revealed that the flywheel ring gear had been thrown and lodged between the block and flywheel. It would have appeared that their day was done, but with unreal determination, the trio set upon the engine to make a repair using the tune-up period. Remarkably, the Mile High team had the Chevy disconnected from the dyno, rolled back, the flywheel removed, the offending ring gear dislodged, and the engine planted back onto the DTS in the time allotted. Back in the hunt, but with every scrap of tune-up time consumed, the engine ran for a score of 1196.67, which would prove to be enough to make the finals.
It wasn't all sunshine as...
It wasn't all sunshine as the minutes ticked down after months of preparation. Scott Main of MPG works to remove and replace a valve seat in his wounded warrior, but engine damage would lead to a DNF.
Some of the competitors had...
Some of the competitors had to make last-minute adjustments to meet the exhaust requirements; however the Williams' experience had executed the needed system perfectly.
It was anyone's game on opening...
It was anyone's game on opening day of the 2005 Engine Masters Challenge. Our host, World Products, was fully prepped for the onslaught, and the World crew tended to loading the competitors' engines on the DTS dyno carts for the powerfest to come.
Gary Blair (right) of Blair...
Gary Blair (right) of Blair racing was the only other competitor to run on opening day, with a big-bore Ford combo. Engine Masters has evolved into an event with unwavering camaraderie amongst the competitors. Randy Malik (left) also competing with a Ford, was Blair's corner man, offering advice and assistance.
Blair's Ford effort fell to...
Blair's Ford effort fell to a bizarre failure when the distributor shaft seized, stripping the drive gear bare of teeth. It was a painful and unexpected end for Blair, and marked our first day's end with two DNFs.
As Lennart and Birgitta wheeled...
As Lennart and Birgitta wheeled the Autoshop Racing Engines Chevy into the dyno cell to launch our second day of qualifying testing, few expected the team to set a high-water mark that would last to the very end.
Fired up and run through the...
Fired up and run through the warm-ups, there was little fanfare early in the competition as the Autoshop Chevy posted its massive numbers on the DTS dyno.
Experienced FE Ford specialists...
Experienced FE Ford specialists Jim and David Dove brought a 15-year-old back-up motor well under the cubic-inch limit at 488 cid. Even so, the team showed their tuning skills in the cell, reading plugs for mixture reference and posting 646-peak hp.
Automotive Machine's Mike...
Automotive Machine's Mike Philips fielded the lone Buick, a high-end flat-tappet street engine. It performed flawlessly, punctuating the ability of the Buick to make power, but not at the level of the purpose-built engines.
Tony Bischoff and Richard...
Tony Bischoff and Richard Kolb tune the BES entry at a mind-boggling rate, flogging their Chevy in the qualifying tune-up period like no other team.
Disaster struck the Potter...
Disaster struck the Potter team when the balancer spit a hub and launched across the cell during the warm-up pull. Potter was able to secure a replacement from eliminated Torque Inc., and with a frenzied effort, made the repair just in time.
Brenda Foley of T&B Performance...
Brenda Foley of T&B Performance wheeled the company's Mopar wedgeto meet the DTS dyno. Having performed all of the porting work, then machining and assembling the engine with her husband Tom, Brenda had an integral role in the effort.
Barry Rabotnick, who decided...
Barry Rabotnick, who decided his engine was running so well it didn't need any tuning, fielded another FE Ford entry. Barry's buddy Tim Young handed him a mallet and suggested going to work with that. The FE put out a peak of 752 hp, a number that is a strong showing in anyone's book.
Jay Kidwell from Mile High...
Jay Kidwell from Mile High brings years of carb-tuning experience to the Mile High/Pro Built Chevy team. The well-organized group made the finals with a 1,196.67 score.
Bad luck struck the Ford 385-series...
Bad luck struck the Ford 385-series entry of Randy Malik when an unresolved cooling issue sent temperatures through the roof, forcing the resignation of this formidable Ford.
Traco Engineering's big-block...
Traco Engineering's big-block Chevy was an exquisitely detailed showpiece. The company's sole representative, Larry Salisbury, handled the wrenching duties with the deft precision of a surgeon.