Going into the 2008 Jegs Engine Masters Challenge, we built on the foundations laid in the 2007 event, looking to refine and improve the previous year's contest. Certainly, the fundamental program remained unchanged-a competition open to any factory OEM bore and stoke engine combination (with a tolerance), using a cubic-inch formula to iron out a head-to-head scoring system for engines of widely varying displacements. The objective here is to find the engine that is inch-for-inch the most powerful of them all, and the builder who can make it happen. Last year's event closed with a classic Ford versus Chevy battle, with the 400 small-block Chevy of Tony Bischoff narrowly edging out the rival 400 Cleveland Ford built by Jon Kaase.
One year gives a person an awful lot of time to contemplate, refine, test, and improve. With the essential rules of the Challenge left unchanged, there was little doubt that the competitors would enter this year's fray ready to unleash power on an unprecedented scale. Sitting at the ready were the two DTS engine dyno test cells at our host venue, the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH). These dynos were verified and qualified by DTS technicians prior to the event, running a 502-cube big-block Chevy crate engine from Pace Performance as the certification engine. Crews of capable student assistants were organized from the UNOH High Performance Motorsports program to handle every operation, from uncrating the competition engines, to mounting and dismounting engines on the dyno, and even assisting PHR editor Hunkins in the photo studio.
The Battle To Qualify
Thirty competitors are chosen from the many applications we receive, and the Challenge unfolds with four days of qualifying, in which each engine is tested on the dyno to narrow the field to the top six finalists. Scoring for the Challenge is the sum of the average power and torque over an rpm range from 2,500 to 6,500 rpm, divided by the actual cubic inches, times a constant of 1,000. Day one of qualifying saw a diverse lineup, including a pair of 340 Mopars fielded by Hinkle Performance Engines and BH Performance, two Dove Performance teams with 352 and 427 FE Ford big-blocks, a 429 Ford late big-block by RM Competition, and a 455 Buick built by Automotive Performance and Machine. When the dust cleared at the end of the day, the BH 340 Mopar was holding the top spot, with a score of 2,351.7, while the Hinkle Mopar was disqualified on a rules technicality, marking the first of what would be several unfortunate DNFs to come.
Competition was fierce during...
Competition was fierce during the four days of qualifying. The dyno cell comes alive with activity as Power Shop Racing completes preparations on their 302 Chevy entry. The engine ended qualifying on the bump spot at number six, and finished in fifth position.
The roster for our second day of qualifying read like the honor roll of muscle car-era powerplants. The most unusual of this pack was the Boss 429 built by Adney Brown of Performance Crankshaft. This Semi-Hemi Ford engine was originally developed at the peak of the muscle car era, and has until recently been virtually extinct due to rarity. The recently released Boss top-end package for the big-block Ford from Jon Kaase Racing Engines has changed all that. Jon tells us that the decision to reproduce these components was a direct result of his own desire to run such an engine in the Engine Masters Challenge. The rest of Tuesday's field consisted of the Semco Pontiac 400, Weingartner 350 Chevy, Revolutionary Performance's Chevy 327, Survival Motorsports' Ford 427 FE, BTR's Olds 400, DCI's Pontiac 455, and a little 307 Olds from Robinson Analytical.
Obviously, the competition was heating up, with the Boss, Pontiac 400, 327 Chevy, Olds 400, and 427 FE Ford all besting the top performance of the previous day's qualifying. Bill Trovato's Oldsmobile handily took over the top spot, with a score of 2,423.5, marking the first competition engine to crest the 2,400-point mark.
We entered the third day of qualifying with a Chevy-heavy field, including the Stine 350, Kauffung 305, Coates 327, Weingartner 400, Porting Dynamics Chevy 302, and another Chevy 302 from Traco. Chevy small-block entries hit a high point on this day, but unfortunately, attrition hit a high point as well, and this too was disproportionately concentrated on the Chevy entries, with the 305, 327, and both 302s falling out of the competition as a result of mechanical problems or rules infractions. Of the six Chevrolets scheduled, only the Stine 350 and Weingartner 400 completed qualifying, though the scores were not enough to threaten the leaders of the previous day. The non-Chevrolet remainder of the field was made up of Fords-a 351 Cleveland from C&J Racing, and a 406 FE from Blair Patrick Racing, which scored an impressive 2,396.3 points to gain Second Place at the end of day three.
Within the time constraints,...
Within the time constraints, working under pressure while keeping a cool and clear head is a key to success in this event. Here, Mark McKeown works at dialing in the air bleeds of a Dominator carb.
We were feeling bruised from the previous day's attrition coming into the final day of qualifying. While the previous day brought out mostly Chevrolets, the roster for our last day had Ford's 400M in four of the seven spots, with engines by MPG Heads, McKeown, School of Automotive Machinists, and Jon Kaase. The Ford 400M is essentially entirely neglected in the general aftermarket world, but by virtue of the fantastic CHI Cleveland cylinder head and intake, it has proven to be extremely powerful in the Engine Masters Challenge. The rest of the qualifying field consisted of last year's championship team: BES Racing with a 400 Chevy, a Chevy 302 by Power Shop, and a Boss 429 built by Kaase.
Unlike the previous day, all of the engines finished in qualifying, and finished strong. In fact, every one of the six finalists came from the final day's qualifying field, including Power Shop's 302, MPG's 400M, Kaase's Boss 429, SAM's 400M, BES Racing's Chevy 400, and Kaase's 400M. The minimum qualifying score of those who made the cut for the finals was 2,491.3, scored by the Power Shop entry, with the high score coming from Kaase's brutal 400M showing 2,592.1. To catch the performance delivered by the Kaase 400M, the rest of the field would need to spend a sleepless night trying to figure out where to find a substantial chunk of power.