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New NASCAR Engines Make Media Debut In Charlotte
By John Carollo
I recently attended the NASCAR Sprint Media Tour hosted by Lowe’s Motor Speedway spending the better part of a week seeing what and who are new for the upcoming racing season. For we writers who are actually gearheads, the highlight was Ford’s new motor, the FR9. It’s already received the green flag from NASCAR and is the latest motor in the cycle of new ones that have come quickly since the Chevy R07 that came out in 2007.
Normally, a brand or OEM builds a new motor about every five years. But lately, they’ve been coming out faster than bailout checks from D.C. They kinda have to if they want to be competitive or what we call, “sporty.” Going hand in hand with that, NASCAR has had to pull the reins in on some of the specs for new motors and in some cases, back those specs up.
It all seemed to start when Toyota came into NASCAR with its Truck engine. I remember seeing that motor for the first time in the garage at Daytona and actually thinking, “This changes everything.”
That new motor didn’t have an ounce of excess metal on it anywhere. There were nooks and crannys in the block and heads where they whittled away anything that didn’t need to be on that motor. And yeah, the others would have to play some serious catch up.
When Toyota came into the top level of NASCAR, their Cup motor was just an evolution of the truck motor. All the other OEMs started up new motor programs, using some of the evolution tricks and adding a few more of their own. And that’s when the frequency sped up, too.
Some folks point out that first Toyota motor but it’s really all of them. You give a racer a half an inch, and he’ll try to push it a foot, right? So those new motors just flew out of the OEMs in a game of leap frog catch-up.
That new Ford FR9 is a good example. They tell me they started that one over three years ago. At that time, the rule was you could build a new block OR a new set of heads, but not both. So Ford started on a new block and right in the middle of building it, NASCAR changed the bore centers for all new motors. Ford had to start all over and by then, the Dodges, Chevys and Toyota already had their new motors scooting around the track. That made this new FR9 the last of the new motors.
That may help Ford as they have the freshest motor and they had one of their best years last season. And with Detroit in recovery mode these days, we don’t see too many new motors coming down the pipe. These may be it for awhile as thoughts are the OEMs will be reducing their NASCAR involvement.
The technology of these new motors is something to behold and it plays out like this: the OEMs are responsible for building just the block, heads and intakes. Sometimes they farm out some of those parts. All the other parts come from the vendors that supply NASCAR and racing in general. When Dodge got back into NASCAR back about ’01, they built their new motor the first one out of Detroit that was a racing-only motor to be a blend of the usual one-off racing stuff AND production technology (One Chevy builder laughed at the floating bores, telling us they’d never stand up to racing.).
Dodge also used aftermarket parts in a new way, working with their designers to make better parts. Pretty soon, all the pieces on a new motor were getting a makeover. They made them smaller, lighter and even moved a few around to get them lower on the motor. And yeah, they made ’em work better, too.
When Toyota made their new Cup motor about three years ago, the factory designers worked even closer than Dodge with the vendors to make sure the auxiliary parts were on board with the new motor. We heard the word “seamless” a lot.
Remember, all NASCAR cars and trucks have a minimum weight of 3,400 lbs. But anytime you can cut out some of the weight off the front and from above the centerline of the car, you can put that weight somewhere else where it will help the car run faster. It means creating all-new chassis set ups that are harder than Chinese algebra to figure out. But it will make that race car run faster.
To cut to the chase, the new Ford FR9, like all the other motors, has some cool new pieces on it. The new power steering pump is about as big as a man’s fist. So is the new alternator. The multi-stage oil pump got smaller, too. It signals the next round of reduction of size, mass and weight of auxiliary parts just like they did with the block and heads.
So what do the new motors mean to Joe the Engine Builder in his shop? Well, a couple of good things. One is that all those old engines are for sale real cheap, too, when you compare what they used to cost when new. If you want to offer your customers something REALLY different with like, 750 horsepower, how about a real live NASCAR motor?
The other is the treasure chest of all those new auxiliary parts. Anyone who has an engine built for their hot rod, wants something different hanging on it, right? Imagine the WOW factor of one of those little steering pumps or alternators. I know. I bought a steering pump for my hot rod and now it hides behind the pulley. Check out the new NASCAR motors.
If you have a question about NASCAR motors, send it to me. We’ll try to get you an answer.
John Carollo is a Cleveland, OH, based freelance writer and columnist immersed in the racing and hot rod lifestyles, with expertise ranging from NASCAR to Street Rod engines.