Surveying the dyno facilities at the University of Northwestern Ohio (UNOH) the last Sunday of September, the scene was alight with activity. Inside the expansive receiving area a group of engine builders were busily unloading the crates containing their competition engines and essential parts. UNOH student team members selected to serve as assistants worked steadily prepping engines, carefully mating them to their assigned dyno docking carts. Stacked and ready for the festivities to begin were pallets of AMSOIL synthetic engine oil, and the necessary drums of VP 100 and VP Q-16 fuels. Down the hall, the adjacent dyno rooms were silent. The first of the competition engines for the morning start of the 2012 AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge had already been married to the SuperFlow/DTS Powermark engine dynos and were ready to run. Over the course of the next five days this would become the epicenter of horsepower, where a collection of 32 determined engine builders put their talent and reputations on the line in a battle of power supremacy to claim the title of "Engine Master" in their respective division.

As initiated for the 2011 event, the competition was separated into two divisions: Street and Xtreme Street. These two categories come with their own unique set of build specifications and rules, very different in hardware and power output, but are equally challenging within the confines of the competition rules. In order to outperform the competition in either division, an engine builder must excel at the craft, taking engine-building know-how, tuning ability, and power output to the limit.

In the Street Division, the emphasis is making the most of the street-style parts, parts that a typical hot rodder might use. Here we employed restrictions on parts configurations, maintaining compatibility with production-based components. Compression ratio was limited to a street-friendly 10.5:1. Mechanical beltdrive water pumps were mandatory. Carburetor-equipped engines were restricted to a single four-barrel of a specified maximum dimension and a cast two-plane intake manifold, while EFI setups had to make use of a single throttle body and commercially available components. Hydraulic lifters were required, operating in conjunction with an OEM-style valvetrain. The engines would be tested in a 2,500- to 6,500-rpm range, with scoring based upon average horsepower and torque over the entire rpm range. This isn't simply a contest to see who can tag the biggest top end number, but rather a challenge to see who can produce the most grunt all the way through the engine's entire powerband. A cubic-inch factor takes into consideration the varying engine displacements to arrive at a final score.

As you may have guessed, the Xtreme class pulls out all the stops on what is allowed, opening the door for some truly serious parts and combinations, with even more radical specs than last year's Challenge. This is the venue for multi-carbs and tunnel-rams, serious "pure-race" cylinder heads, and big solid-roller camshafts spinning in giant roller-bearing equipped cam tunnels. In the Xtreme Division, compression ratio is only limited by what the builder is willing to run on the octane-rich VP Q-16 race fuel. Scored in the same way as in the Street Division, the Xtreme engines operate at a much higher rpm range, with scoring in the 4,000- to 8,000-rpm range-an engine speed unprecedented in the history of the AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge.

Qualifying

With the first day of October came the first of four days of qualifying eliminations. Only the top three scoring competitors from each Division would advance to the Final Eliminations to be held Friday. Once an engine is at the ready on its assigned dyno, the engine builder must verify that the engine is ready to run, signing off on a detailed checklist to ensure nothing is overlooked. This is the point of no return, when what is often months of preparation comes down to delivering the goods in competition. The engine is fired and preliminary timing is set to the builder's satisfaction. A 27-minute clock then begins to countdown. In this period the builder is required to make three scored competition pulls. The builder can use the time period to make any legal mechanical changes, adjustments, and test dyno pulls. The only requirement is that the three official scored pulls are completed in the allotted time. To be considered a scored official pull, the builder must declare it as such prior to starting the dyno run.

Day one of qualifying would see only Street Division competitors scheduled for qualifying eliminations. The roster of seven competitors was widely varied, with engines as small as the 308ci Ford Boss 302 entry of Tony Bogovich and the TNT Engineering team, to the monster 545-cube Ford Shotgun Hemi from TM Enterprises. Other makes were well represented with a trio of small-block Chevrolets from Robert Peters, The University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and Henderson Power Sports, at 363, 403, and 407 cubes, respectively. Rounding out the field were Kustom Kemps, on the schedule with the lone AMC in competition, and Ray's Dyno and Machine with the only Pontiac entry.

As the first engine up in qualifying, the pressure and anticipation must have been high for the Peters team. The injected Chevy's tune was way off the map and no amount of input at the computer seemed to improve the situation. The team struggled to get the engine through the required three pulls of qualifying session; it was clearly not going to be their day. With the UNC Charlotte's high-tech fuel-injected Chevy at the ready in the adjacent test cell, things were looking good early in qualifying. A considerable power drop before the final qualifying run was indicative of a problem that dramatically compromised the score. The carbureted TNT Boss followed, working cleanly through the required qualifying session, but finishing with a modest score.

In the test cell as our next qualifier was the monster Ford Shotgun motor from TM Enterprises. Sporting what looked like an illegal dual-plug arrangement, the auxiliary plugs were actually a clever mock-up, showcasing the capabilities of these new heads from TM Enterprises, while remaining within the rules. The big injected Ford belted out over 750 hp at peak, with 707 lb-ft of torque on tap, but owing to the huge displacement, the score wouldn't be enough to put the team in contention. Running their very basic iron-headed AMC combination, Kustom Kemps completed the qualifying session with respectable output, but short on score. Ray's Dyno and Machine's carbureted Pontiac performed flawlessly, with strong output, showing a peak of 546 hp from 408 cubes, but not enough score to match the leaders. Our final engine of the day, Chris Henderson's AFR-headed Chevy proved to be the stoutest piece run in the first day of testing, delivering as much as 612 peak horsepower, and closing the first day of qualifying with the high score of 2,298.2 points.

This is the point of no return, when what is often months of preparation comes down to delivering the goods in competition.