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A Million Here, A Million There

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.”

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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.

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“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.”

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

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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.”

Meeting Customers’ Needs

While yesterday’s and today’s engine components may, at first glance, look the same, it’s important to understand the differences. “It’s hard to distinguish a 40 year-old valve spring from a modern one. But with the better metal in the newer version, it will withstand over twice the load,” says Fisher.

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In the earlier years, he says, the ratio of injected versus carbed engines was about 70/30. Now, he says, it’s about 90/10.

As with the stock cars, he has also had great success with injected sprint engines through World of Outlaw sprint drivers such as Joey Saldana, Craig Dolansky and Dale Blaney.  

With his experience directed mostly to the sprint car injected engines, he thinks he will continue that emphasis in the years to come.

A lot of attention has been given to the fact that NASCAR’s top series will be implementing fuel injection starting next year. Fisher believes that should have little to no effect on the short track dirt stock cars.

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“NASCAR has a lot of money to police them, something that isn’t present with the short track groups. I don’t think that the dirt stock cars will go with injection,” Fisher says.

Keeping his shop up-to-date mechanically has enabled Fisher to achieve precise tolerances and accuracy. But in order to keep up with the real needs of today’s racers, Fisher actually took his research a step further.

Ever the investigator, Fisher actually went back to racing in 2010 for a short stint after being out of racing for a decade. But the reason for racing this second time was different: “I felt that the feel of the engine in a sprint car could provide certain insights for my engine building.” The results? He hadn’t lost his driving skills – in fact, he brought home a couple of first place finishes during that time.

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“One of my customers who has a few of my engines offered me a ride. I took it as an opportunity to try some things under the hood to make my engines more user-friendly. The sport changes, what’s necessary changes as well,” says Fisher.

“For example, the 410 sprint cars recently went to a tire (Goodyear) that has different characteristics than they used to run (Hoosier),”?he explains. “The new tires have given engine builders new challenges – it stirred the industry up so that the cutting edge builders like myself had to find a different power curve to make the engine more competitive.”

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According to Fisher, the old Hoosier tire would grow on the left rear, but the Goodyear tire has a different sidewall – the circumference doesn’t grow at the amount or the rate the Hoosier did “The new tire gave us  the challenge of developing a flatter torque curve in the engine,” he says.

“The challenge no longer is ‘who can build the most horsepower,’ it’s ‘who can build the most driveable engine,’” says Fisher. “It’s challenging for all of us. The airfoil people, for example, have different needs, because now the racecar has to be stuck on a different tire. In our case, with sprint cars, it’s the right front that needs to be stuck more. All those little things add up to us having to look at engines with a different rpm window, a different torque curve and, in today’s world, the engine has to last longer.”

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If you don’t think that’s a challenge, wait until you hear the kicker. “Plus, we have to hold our prices or reduce them while offering more options,” Fisher explains.

The price the customer pays covers not only Fisher’s experience on the track but his expertise AT?the track as well.

“I’m at a track every weekend,” Fisher explains. “Building engines is my passion – but my job is to maintain the communication and relationship between the driver/owner and our engine shop. I feed back into my boys and our system what we need to do and what our customers need.”

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With customers in so many different racing series, Fisher says it really forces you to get around and understand that there are different needs in different places of the country. “The guys who run Knoxville every week need a different motor  than the guys who run Attica, OH,” he says. “You have to be aware of that and give them power accordingly.

“If you’re running Knoxville every week, we need to give you a motor that builds a lot of torque, because you’re running a 5:1 gear. If you’re running Attica, we need to build a motor that builds rpm quickly, because we’re running a 6:1 gear,” Fisher says. “It’s the same racecar – but there’s no such thing as a generic 410 sprint car engine anymore. There’s an application for every track and for everyone’s pocketbook.”

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Fisher says that despite his successes, he still looks forward to doing more. “It continues to be a challenge, with the excitement and the passion that I have. I still have great fun doing it, and can’t wait for the season to start in Florida. My customers feel my enthusiasm and I enjoy that.”

With Fisher?Racing Engines, the teamwork is palpable.

“I’m on the podium during the winter months when I tell them what we’re accomplishing with their engines,”?explains Fisher. “Then in the summer,  THEY’RE on the podium, hopefully with our engines!” a view of charlie fisher in one of his sprint cars. during his days behind the wheel, he competed wheel-to-wheel with the best drivers and was a great qualifier.that
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