As the last engine is crated up at the University of Northwestern Ohio, and the DTS/SuperFlow dyno carts are stowed away until next year, my thoughts turn to next year’s AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge. By the time you read this, we will have decided the rules for next year’s competition, but right now things are very much up in the air. Will we hold over the same successful format as 2011, or will we change it up to keep readers excited, and competitors inventive? It’s a win-win either way, but irrespective of that, I’m more stoked about who might submit an application, and what they might bring.

This evening, I’m embroiled in a message board debate that is both fun and frustrating. The topic is the EMC, and there are both competitors and noncompetitors laying down their opinions and beating the war drums. Opinions are all over the place, but there is one common dividing line: there are folks who have competed in the EMC, and those who haven’t. Among those who invested a year of their time building and testing their EMC engines, there is a fraternity—an esprit de corps—that comes from wrenching, competing, sharing, helping, breaking, and swapping war stories about their engines. It doesn’t matter if it’s Tony Bischoff, or some unknown guy building a small-block Chevy in his garage. When the handle gets pulled on your motor, everybody in the joint is in your corner. You can’t know how that feels until it happens to you.

Then there are the noncompetitors. Many of them get it, and would jump if they could make it pencil financially. But there are some guys who make it a mission to pick apart the rules, cry foul, and generally cook up conspiracy theories about how we’re crunching our boot down on the neck of one brand or engine family, while giving another one an outrageous advantage. I say put up or shut up. To be more politically correct, I want to invite you to participate, and join the family of EMC competitors past and present.

It’s about showing your chops with the cards you’re dealt, and making the most of it. It’s about flying your freak flag high…

As hokey as it sounds, it’s not about winning or losing. Everybody’s a winner, because to the last competitor, everybody who comes says it’s worth it. The message board guys I’m currently debating say they just couldn’t be competitive with their favorite motor, or a budget south of $50K. They don’t get it. It’s about showing your chops with the cards you’re dealt, and making the most of it. It’s about flying your freak flag high, whether you’ve got a Y-block Ford, a first-gen Hemi, an iron-head small-block Olds, or an FE out of a garbage truck. Our competitors know that. When Mike Phillips shows up with a badass Buick that you could eat dinner off of, everybody goes over for a peek and the jawboning commences. I mean everybody—Jon Kaase, Ed Iskendarian, Nick Arias, it doesn’t matter. Mike Phillips has never won the EMC, but the respect he’s gotten from the Buick community—just like others have from their respective brand or budget camps—is immeasurable.

As in years past, we had a handful of new competitors, ranging from full-service engine shops, to privateer hobbyists. One guy struck me in particular: Randy Ferbert. He’s just a regular guy with a day job who built an iron-headed 383 small-block Chevy with GMPP Vortec heads. Talk about bringing a knife to a gunfight. Ferbert could’ve stayed on the sidelines, clacking on a keyboard like any anonymous flamer, but no, he was actually at the EMC, walking the walk. When dyno man Sidney Bonnecarrere pulled the handle on his immaculate small-block Chevy, it uncorked 605 hp on an honest dyno with unleaded VP fuel. Holy crap!

No, Ferbert didn’t “win,” but he won the respect of everybody there at UNOH because of what he did with what he had. On his first competition, he finished barely out of the money by a gnat’s ass—just 8.6 points. For the foreseeable future, Ferbert’s mill will be the benchmark by which all iron-head Vortec motors are measured. Could you be the next Randy Ferbert? Look for the 2012 rules and entry form on www.PopularHotRodding.com today, and watch for a feature on Ferbert’s bitchin small-block later this year.