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One of Fisher’s real talents is being able to pro...
A Million Here, A Million There – Fisher Racing Engines Builds Winners
Charlie Fisher brings a multitude of skills together to accomplish his successful race engine building operation.
By Bill Holder
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First, Fisher’s a former winning sprint car driver running with the top-gun World of Outlaws and All-Star groups.
Then, there’s the fact that he’s got the mind of a skilled surgeon when he probes the innards of his engines looking for more performance.
The guy is a graduate engineer (Ohio State 1975), but his resume is really measured by the success his engines have provided for national level drivers. And he’s accomplished it with both carbureted engines for Dirt Late Models and injected powerplants for sprint cars.
Fisher began his illustrious sprint car driving career during the 1970s and continued racing until 2000. He was always known as a great qualifier and established many track records back in the day. He’s also the uncle of retired Indy Car driver Sarah Fisher, and helped her during her early open wheel career.
Since his retirement from active racing, Fisher and his team have produced wining race engines for some extremely well-known racers as well as for up-and-comers.
“Our customers are mostly 410 outlaw sprint car people and 360 ASCS racers,” he says, “but about 10 percent are dirt late model motors. We’ve done some asphalt, we’ve done NASCAR (then Craftsman) Truck motors, we’ve built ARCA engines, we’ve built asphalt super late model engines and we’ve even done drag motors. Tony Stewart has driven our motors. It’s turned into a little bit of everything but our bread and butter has been sprint motors.”
His three-man operation consists of son James, who definitely has the old man’s genes, and Daryl Lester. “We’re a three man shop with two additional part timers but we build about 80 motors a year.”
They prepared carbureted engines for superstar dirt late model driver Donnie Moran when he was at the top of his game during the late 1990s and early 2000s. During that period, Moran won the World 100 at Eldora as well as gaining a number of wins with the Hav-A-Tampa series.
“We won the World 100 a couple of times; we’ve won the King’s Royal; we won the Dream we’ve pretty much won every major race in dirt racing,” explains Fisher with undeniable glee. “This year, our engine won the Knoxville preliminary nationals.”
The biggest prizes, according to Fisher, have been building the winning engines for the sport’s biggest races. “Our shop won the richest dirt late model race in the history of the sport the Eldora Million with Donnie Moran in 2001; then the richest sprint car race was won with our engine at the Mopar Million in 2003 by Jack Haudenschild, also at Eldora.”
Engine Building Expertise
“The first engine I built was in 1992 and it’s still active today,” Fisher says. “It was a 305 injected small block and it made about 400 horses. It was a far cry from the 930 hp engines that we’re building today.”
During the mid-1990s, Charlie became associated with General Motors when the advanced Chevy SB2 engine was introduced to NASCAR. “I think I had one of those engines on the track before NASCAR,” he says.
Fisher explains, “I was very interested in the SB2 cylinder heads which were similar to the 18-degree heads I used on my race engines. I felt that the SB2 could provide better flow numbers at low lifts and it was easy to get 16:1 compression ratio with the engine’s small chamber volume. The engine also had a more balanced burn.”
Fisher was able to make the engine compatible with both injection and carburetion with only minimal changes to the engine. Now, he explains those changes over the years have been subtle, yet incredibly important.
“There hasn’t been all that much difference in the engine components during those years,” he says. “The changes have actually evolved from the improvement in material strength and manufacturing technologies. Those advances enable us to handle the 9,000 rpm capabilities of today’s high horsepower engines.”
Success breeds success, and for Fisher, it’s been something of a double-edged sword. “For the past six or eight years we’ve had to turn down business we simply can’t do everything people ask us to do. We like to stay small we like to get an A+ from our customers on our work. We haven’t focused on volume but on product performance.”
Don’t cry for him, however. “We’re happy,” Fisher says. “During that period we’ve been able to control our profit and continue to buy equipment. We run lean, but our goal is to buy one new piece of equipment a year.”
According to Fisher, you need great equipment to maintain performance. His immaculate 6,000 sq.ft. facility in the Columbus, OH, area is outfitted with some top shelf equipment.
“We use a Rottler F68A 4-axis machining center, a CWT Multi-Bal 5000 balancer, a Newen Contour BB seat and guide machine and a Winona Van Norman centerless valve grinding machine,” says Fisher.
“We have a Winona Van Norman head facer, as well,” Fisher says. “My brother Dave Sarah Fisher’s father changed the feed and speed of the machine, built custom tooling and changed the multi-head cutter to a single PVD coated CBN cutter to achieve a mirror finish. We took a great machine and updated it to cut like a brand new machine, spending very little money to keep a great machine competitive.”
Fisher and team use a Sunnen hone and do their own hot honing. “We believe it’s a worthwhile procedure for us it’s the thing to do,” he says. “We also have a Sunnen rod hone.”
The shop uses a MagnaFlux magnetic particle inspection testing center and Sunnen flow bench.
In addition to the Kansas Instruments cleaning center and Grease Monkey ultrasonic cleaning center, Fisher developed a homemade cleaning setup that pays big dividends.
“We have a monorail system that we can use to pick up the blocks, then roll them into what you might envision as a big shower stall. We’ve affixed an engine support system to the wall. We can actually do a lot of deburring in that room and clean at the same time. Then the drain goes to a “grey water” holding tank that I have pumped out twice a year at a very minimal cost. Our shop is very aggressively a ‘green shop.’ We have nothing going into the ground.”
Fisher points out that creative methods of assembling and purchasing equipment means the latest technology isn’t the birthright of just the largest shops anymore. “We just acquired a Spintron valvetrain testing machine we got it from the Menard Indy Car shop in Indianapolis. It just shows that even the little guys are at that point in the industry today.”
Not every machine in Fisher’s shop is state-of-the-art, however. “Another machine we have that’s pretty neat is also pretty old it’s our Tobin Arc rod length and bend machine. It tests the connecting rods for length, bend and twist. It’s quite cool,” he says.
Once the engines are built, they’re tested on the shop’s DTS engine dyno. “We installed it to our own specifications,” says Fisher. “Obviously it’s not a million-dollar NASCAR engine dyno room, but we have an extremely sensitive setup for an ‘under $200,000’ dyno room.”
Fisher explains that some of the NASCAR Sprint Cup teams are looking for a quarter of a horsepower in their dyno cells but that precision comes at a huge investment.
“We’ve worked within our financial means to get into the 1-2 horsepower range. The more money you spend the finer you can get but it gets to a point where have to address how much your industry really needs,” Fisher says. “We’ve optimized within our financial ability what we felt our industry needs.”
Fisher’s team basically wrote its own installation manual, with great success. “We’ve had several parts manufacturers in the industry come and use our engine dyno room,” he says. “They said they were very impressed that they were able to, for example, change the air bleeds in a carburetor one number and see the change on the dyno. To acheive such praise and precision at our level is a big deal.”
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