Qualifying--Day 4
Day four would mark the final day of qualifying, and the drama was only accelerating. With the qualifying ladder loosely based on reverse of the competitor rankings in previous competitions, some of the heaviest hitters were going to make their bids to qualify on the final day. Randy Malik, running a 385-series Ford under the RM Competition banner, would start the day's events. Malik is a cool and competent builder, an expert with the large Ford, and experienced in the Engine Masters event. In other words, he's as dangerous as a Cobra to the competition. With the help of fellow Ford competitor Gary Blair, Malik was ready to do battle. Soon after starting the engine, however, a cooling problem became apparent. Under the rules, there is a strict time limit allowed to fire the engine for competition. The erratic readings of the temperature probe suggested an air lock in the engine curbing the precious flow of cooling water. Malik immediately went to work to determine the cause of the problem, but it remained unresolved. The dyno crew set upon the cooling system, only to confirm water present at the engine's junctions. With the exact reason for the problem undetermined, time was called and Malik was in the unenviable position of having to run his engine with the cooling systems function unconfirmed. Under the load of the dyno the coolant temperature became critical, forcing Malik to withdraw.

Hubbard, Ohio's Clayton's Performance has been a competitor in every Engine Masters Challenge since the inception, and its hopes were high for a strong showing with the company's small-bore, long-stroke, short-rod, big-block Chevy. Neil Clayton and Ron Mathews used the limited tuning time attempting to wring out the best jetting and timing setting to extract the most from their engine. The team had little development time before the event, and was disappointed to be short on their power goals, scoring a 1099 in qualifying. Neil related, "We were just way too short on development time on testing the combination for this year's event. This was the first time I had put together a long-stroke combination, and I'd never do it again. I didn't like it and it didn't like me." Always the competitors, we expect these guys to be back.

Next into the fray was Traco Engineering's big-block Chevy from Los Angeles. The engine looked like a showpiece, exquisitely detailed in every way. Larry Salisbury was alone to tend to the engine's needs, and the man went about the duties with deliberateness and precision that defined an intensely cool and unwavering professionalism. The engine was not purposely built as a dyno competitor, but more representative of an endurance road-race-style engine. On pump gas, detonation proved to be a plague, undoubtedly costing power. With a score of 980.47, the engine fell short of qualifying for the finals.

Another Southern California entry followed, again a big-block Chevy, this one fielded by the well-known Sprint Car engine specialist Ron Shaver of Shaver Specialty Co. Shaver brought a serious piece with sights set on a top finish. The modestly over-square engine at 12:1 was an edgy piece and tuned just outside the bounds of dangerous detonation. Shaver's engine was clearly ready for the games, as the veteran competitor had his engine up and running with no undue hang-ups. After the warm-up period, the duo of Shaver and Tom Masik took advantage of the tune-up period to make some fine adjustments to the mixture and timing, and the engine was let loose to throw down a score of 1233.33, making as much as 822 hp in the process. With that performance, Shaver had locked a place for himself in the finals.

Earning the second-to-the-last qualifying spot based upon two consecutive Second-Place finishes in the last two events, Charles Williams was also fielding a big-block Chevy entry, based upon an under-square smaller bore combination. Competing in cell two for one of the two qualifying spots, Williams was under the gun to deliver big numbers. An odds-on favorite, the Senior William's 12.5:1 compression effort fell to the ravages of detonation. Although the engine delivered as much as 827 hp and a 1239 score with the first qualifying pull, the engine was clearly suffering the effects of detonation-induced damage and losing power, leaving Williams to make the only available decision and withdraw.

As the time came for the final competitor in qualifying to make the show, the crush of the crowd filled the floor in front of the dyno with standing room only. As Jon Kaase made his way into the ring, the collective thought of the crowd had to be whether this master of engine building could do the unthinkable and sweep the competition for the third year in a row. Kaase and his well-respected Winder, Georgia, enterprise Jon Kaase Racing Engines selected a Pontiac engine for this year's event, but what a piece it was. The 508-cube powerplant was built on an Indian Adventure's block from All Pontiac, which Kaase considers bulletproof. Kaase explains, "They're built by Roush, so that says it all. I think they're awesome. Four-bolt cap, Siamese bore, the machine work is impeccable, the cast-iron quality is really nice." Capping the block are no ordinary Pontiac heads; the All Pontiac castings feature large raised runners and were extensively massaged by Kaase. Expectations were high as the Pontiac was lit in the dyno cell.

After the three warm-up pulls, Kaase and IHRA Pro Stock champ John Nobile moved into the cell to give the engine its competition-ready tune. All of the plugs were inspected and timing adjustments were dialed in. With that, confident in his engine's abilities, Kaase was ready to let it fly for the qualifying round. With the first pull, the engine delivered a 1291 score with peaks at 811 hp and 764 lb-ft of torque. The two subsequent pulls yielded 1285 and 1282 scores, respectively, for an average composite score of 1286, just a fraction of a point higher than the qualifying score posted by the Bergquist team of Autoshop Racing Engines. It was interesting to note that Kaase's first pull was the best, and the score dropped nine points by the third pull. In contrast, the Swedes' Chevrolet started with a 1284 and improved to a 1286 in the second and third pulls. Kaase's powerplant could throw down a serious number out of the gate, but its staying power seemed to trail that of team Autoshop. The event was shaping up to be a real showdown.

The Final Countdown
The field for the finals was heavy with experience and proven talent, with Mile High/Pro Built, Shaver, Livernois, Bischoff, Autoshop, and Kaase making up the field. The finals are run in the reverse order of qualifying scores, so the most powerful engines in qualifying would earn the honor of running last. The advantage here is knowing just where the competition had scored, and how much to roll the dice in setting up the engine for the big numbers. Push it too far, and disaster is always there to greet you. First up was the team of Mile High/Pro Built, whose tuning time in the qualifying eliminations was lost to the flywheel failure. This raised the question of whether there was significantly more left in the big-block Chevy entry. The double-edged sword here is that Jay Kidwell and his team would go into the finals without having thoroughly explored the effects of tuning changes in a prior session. With a lot of unknowns, the crew spent the entire tuning period working to dial-in the combo. The Mile High/Pro Built team tweaked the mixture and added timing advance, coming out with a final score of 1197.67.

Shaver's entry put down a strong showing in qualifying, and the experienced builder knew there was some catching up to do for the finals. After the warm-up pulls, Shaver and Tom Masik studied the data from the dyno intently, planning their moves. During the tune-up period, Shaver added timing and jet, and adjusted the air bleed size in the carb, looking to extract more from the powerful Chevrolet, making several trial pulls to gauge the progress. Shaver was finding power throughout the curve, and at the end of the tuning session, all eyes were on the display screen for the results in the final pulls. The engine seemed comfortable with Shaver's tune, pulling cleanly through the rpm range with very little detonation, scoring a 1246 with the first pull. Subsequent back-to-back pulls, however, saw the score decline mildly, as heat effects and detonation down low robbed valuable points, giving Shaver a final average score of 1239.67. Shaver was pleased with the performance of his engine.

While big Chevrolets made up the field early in the day, the purposeful Ford of Livernois was next to take the stage. During the warm-up, light detonating was apparent, but John Lahone and Chris Goeble knew it would take an aggressive tune to place in this field. Tuning with even more timing and a larger air bleed showed impressive gains in the trial tune-up pulls. The team decided to simply shut the engine down and wait out the remaining time of the tune-up period. The strategy was to let the engine rest. Upon firing up for the scored runs, power was down on what had been seen in the trial pulls. Allowing the engine to sit may have unintentionally created a heat-soak situation, costing valuable points. Detonation was definitely present and easily verified by the knock sensor display employed by the Livernois team. Despite detonating, the sturdy Ford seemed to survive unscathed. The final score was a solid 1258, placing Livernois in the lead.

Bischoff's Chevy was mounted to the dyno after the strong Ford. Tony confided that his strategy was not to do a whole lot, hoping the extra humidity would help on the score. With the extensive flogging accomplished during the qualifying tune-up period, Bischoff was fairly certain the engine was dialed-in for maximum power. The plan was to run the same tune-up as in qualifying. After the warm-up pulls, Bischoff surveyed the data, and stunned the crowed by electing to forgo the tune-up period altogether and move straight into the final scored pulls. The strategy was to take advantage of the temperature drop in the intake manifold from the previous run. Tony explained, "I was trying to keep the manifold chilled. There's a lot of temperature in the room and it was starting to draw back into the motor; oddly the chilled manifold hurt the low-rpm numbers, but picked up at the top." Bischoff posted a new leading score of 1265.67, and with just two competitors left, was assured a podium finish.As runners-up by just a fraction of a point in qualifying, Lennart and Birgitta were certainly feeling the pressure as the Autoshop entry was readied on the dyno. The stakes were high, but you'd never know it from the stoic Swede. The pair's demeanor was as calm and measured as the pressure was high. Following the three warm-up pulls, the team briefly surveyed the numbers and then moved into the cell for their tune-up. At this stage, a nervous competitor may have gambled heavily with an aggressive tune-up in the form of more timing and a leaner mixture. Lennart went straight for the valve covers. It was clear that the team from Florida had contemplated their move with a long and thoughtful process well before the final round. Rather than risk a crushing fall to detonation with a ragged top-end tune, Lennart chose to loosen the intake lash in a bid for more bottom-end grunt.

With resetting the lash, the engine was allowed to cool for the entire tune-up period prior to the final-scored pulls. Inside World, the crowd's attention was riveted to the action at the dyno as the engine was fired for the scored pulls. Once at operating temperature, the signal was given to begin the final scored runs. As in qualifying, Autoshop's Chevy pulled up the rpm range cleanly, with nary a trace of detonation, turning the torque meter with tremendous force. The first pull netted a 1289, an improvement of 3 2/3 points. Lennart and Birgitta looked on with quiet focus as the engine was loaded against the DTS dyno's absorber for the second pull. A 1287. With the next pull, the engine repeated within a tight range, scoring a 1288.

Although the Autoshop team had seen the raw numbers and score tallied on the dyno sheets, the crowd waited anxiously for the composite score numbers to flash on the scoreboard. Applause broke out when a 1288 appeared on the screen, the highest score in the competition so far. However, it was not enough to ease the tension the husband and wife team was experiencing, as Lennart was clearly hoping for more from the lash change. With a 1288 score and the lead, it all came down to what Kaase's engine would do.

The Moment of Truth
Kaase was in control of the situation as the Pontiac was wheeled into the dyno cell. With all the scores in front of him, there was no ambiguity about what needed to be extracted from this potent mill. As with any true competitor, Kaase had played out every possible scenario in his head, and the score put down by Autoshop was formi-dable. Kasse's tuning partner, John Nobile, was absent on the day of the finals, with a racing commitment taking precedence. Fellow competitor and friend Ron Shaver stepped in to offer assistance to the two-time champion. Everything was riding on the events to unfold, and the crowd filling the floor was braced for a real showdown as Kaase's engine was fired for warm-up. The Pontiac was run through its required three warm-up pulls; Kaase and Shaver reviewed the numbers as the sheets came off the dyno's printer. The veteran engine men could see it was going to be close, with the initial pull being enough to cover the competition, but the score declining with the two subsequent warm-ups, as temperature effects took hold of the Pontiac.

After studied contemplation of the dyno data from the warm-up pulls, Kaase and Shaver moved into the cell to set the tune. The timing was bumped forward, while the carb's air bleeds were opened up. Apparently, Kaase was playing for the win. With the Pontiac's characteristic dropping of score through subsequent pulls, the engine needed to come out strong to make a sufficient average to take the win. Following the tuning change with a test pull, it seemed Kaase had found what he was after. Although the engine detonated going in, as seen only by Kaase, Shaver, and the officials working the dyno, the aggressive tune had added healthily to the score, surpassing the 1,300-point level. Still, there was worry in Kaase's face. He knew the detonation seen at the roll-in could prove costly in the back-to-back final pulls. We overheard as Kaase and Shaver conferred over whether to pull back some on the timing. In the end, the decision was made to let it ride. With over 1,300 showing in the test pull, it was just a question of how well the engine would hold on as heat and detonation effects whittled away at the output.

Kaase chose to allow the engine to sit for the remainder of the tune-up period, while the tension in the air continued to rise in anticipation of the final pulls. As the clock on the tune-up period expired, the officials called time, and the Pontiac was fired. After the mandated warm-up, DTS dyno operator Matt Boyer opened the throttle, loading the Pontiac at 2,500 rpm to begin a pull. Moderate detonation could be heard as the engine worked up the rpm range. Kaase received the sheet from the printout--a 1,290 score on the first pull, over 10 points down from what had been seen only minutes before during the non-scored tune-up pull. Heat soak while sitting idle cost points on the first money run. Going into the second pull, the Pontiac had gained even more heat, detonation was more evident, and the score reflected the situation, dropping to 1,256. By the final pull, the Pontiac was succumbing to the effect of detonation and retained heat, factors which feed one upon the other, causing the score to spiral downward to a heartbreaking 1,221. There would be no repeat for the returning champion this year.

While Kaase and those in the cordoned-off dyno area had seen the numbers, the crowd of spectators and competitors had to await the posting of the results on the official scoreboard for the tally. Within minutes, the final score flashed, a 1,255.67, putting Kaase in Fourth Place. The ecstatic Livernois team reacted with excitement, as the unexpected problems with the Pontiac entry had allowed them to finish in the money with Third. Emotion also ran high with the Bischoff crew, as Tony's cool-handed play of just laying down a safe number in the finals paid off with a Second Place finish. For Autoshop's Lennart and Birgitta, there was relief and jubilation as the couple embraced to celebrate the success of nearly a year's effort at putting together their mighty Engine Masters Chevy. The tall Swede from Florida has proven to the world that his engine-building talents rank among the very best as a new Champion reigns in the Engine Masters Challange.