To The Finals
It all came down to the last day of competition, where the top six qualifiers duked it out for standings, and their share of the $92,000 in total possible contingency dollars. The finals are run in reverse order of qualifying, with the top scoring team running last. In previous years, the scoring was announced as the competition worked through the final field, giving those up the ladder the advantage of knowing the score of the previous competitors, and therefore the top qualifier went in knowing the number to beat. This year, the scoring throughout the finals remained secret until the last competitor's engine was run, meaning there was no holding back.

First in the dyno cell was the sixth-qualifying Power Shop Chevrolet 302. This engine was by far the smallest in the final six, but it had the output to bump many a larger engine in qualifying. Power Shop's Joe Carrol and crew worked smoothly through the final pulls, but the overall score was down fairly significantly compared to qualifying, with a 2,475.6. This would be a reality affecting every one of our competitors in the finals, but since the new rules kept competitors in the dark about the scores as they unfolded, no one knew whether they were the only one down on power.

MPG Heads was next to the cell, with a refined version of the 400M Ford that brought a heart-breaking DNF in last year's event due to a camshaft failure. As with the Power Shop engine, the MPG engine was also softer in the finals than in qualifying, but the point loss was just slightly greater than that of Power Shop, and the team finished with a score of 2,475.5, just one tenth of one point behind the little Chevrolet. Kaase's Boss 429 entry was next. This engine had actually caught fire in qualifying, due to oil mist escaping the breather and igniting on the header. Fortunately for Kaase, the up-top spark plug wire position of the Boss meant the engine was not damaged, and was able to complete the qualifying pulls, one of which while it was ablaze! (What, no photo, Steve? I thought engines on fire were your specialty. -Ed.) The Boss was substantial in output, scoring 2,506.1, putting it in the lead with three more engines to run.

The final three included the SAM's 400M, Bischoff's Chevy 400, and Kaase's 400M. In qualifying, the Kaase Ford was substantially ahead of the pack, and going into the finals the SAM team had Kaase's qualifying number in mind as the score needed for an outright win. What the SAM's team did not know due to our silent scoring through the finals was that all of the engines run so far were down compared to qualifying. The team, like the others, saw their numbers down in the warm-up pulls, and worked to make up the ground during the tuning period. In the end, SAM's Ford engine pulled a 2,502.8 score, just a few points behind the Kaase Boss.

It came down to the last two competitors, both two-time former Engine Masters Challenge winners-last year's champ, Bischoff with a 400 Chevy, and Kaase with his CHI-headed 400M Ford. Bischoff entered the finals a fair amount behind Kaase in qualifying score, but this wily racer can never be counted out. Bischoff was concerned when the score rolling off the dyno during warm-ups showed a loss of score compared to his qualifying effort. The team went in effectively during the early part of the allotted 15-minute tuning period, and then decided to let the engine cool for the remainder. With a score of 2,550.4, Bischoff was handily in the lead position, with only Kaase left to run.

Of all the final competitors, you could feel that Jon Kaase could taste victory, and wasn't about to let it get away. In qualifying, this 400M was convincingly ahead of the pack, with incredible power across the board. We saw this Ford deliver an insane 515 lb-ft of torque right at the bottom of the power pull at only 2,500 rpm. That is torque you'd expect from a diesel tractor, not a pump-gas performance engine. Low-end power is important for making the big averages in the Engine Masters Challenge, but what it does from there is every bit as important. What Kaase's Ford did as the rpm piled on was swing the torque needle on the dyno readout like it came unhinged. The engine peaked at 618 lb-ft. Consider that at 401 cubic inches, that's a specific torque of 1.54 lb-ft per cube. Frankly, you just don't see that kind of output from 400 inches of single four-barrel, 10.5:1 compression, flat-tappet street engine, but there it was, making 654 horsepower at only 6,200 rpm.

As the final pulls rolled off the final engine of the 2008 Challenge, Kaase had it clinched. A score of 2,587 sealed the deal, interestingly showing the least drop in score from qualifying of any of the engines in the finals. In fact, looking back, the winning Kaase engine is inch-for-inch the most powerful engine we have seen in eight years of EMC competition, even when compared to previous events where compression ratio was unlimited and roller cams were allowed. What it took to win in 2008 was fully 138.8 points beyond the levels seen in the 2007 Challenge, and in fact every one of the six finalists was ahead of last year's winning numbers. Kaase's execution in building this year's engine certainly marks a high point in the competition, and only raises the bar while also raising the question of just how it might be outdone next year.