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Engine of the Week

Big Block Chevy Nitrous Engine

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, TRE Racing Engines survived a shop fire three years ago, and is now back to building top-notch drag racing engines like this big block Chevy nitrous engine for X275 drag radial racing. Click to find out what the shop went through to survive disaster, and how this engine came together.

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Three years ago in February, the guys at TRE Racing Engines were busy building engines, machining parts and testing engines on the dyno. It was a day just like any other day at an engine machine shop. However, for owner Taylor Lastor and the rest of the employees at TRE Racing Engines in Cleveland, TX, this particular day would end much differently than the typical day.

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“We were dynoing a 10,000 rpm, Comp Eliminator engine and the steel flywheel exploded during testing, cutting the fuel lines on the dyno. It happened so fast and erupted the dyno room into flames,” Lastor says.

Fortunately, no one was injured in the incident, but unfortunately, due to TRE’s location in Texas, it took more than 30 minutes for firefighters to arrive, leaving the entire shop in a pile of ashes.

“By the time fire trucks arrived, the fire had already spread from the dyno rooms to the main shop and that’s when it got bad,” Lastor says. “At that point, the firefighters didn’t want to go in, they just wanted to keep the fire from going anywhere. The fire took everything out. I had two dynos, five CNCs, two honing machines, two seat and guide machines, mills and lathes and tools my dad had from the ‘80s. It was all scrapped. Hundreds of engines, thousands and thousands of dollars worth of parts – all lost.”

TRE didn’t waste any time, however. The shop immediately moved into another building Taylor owned that was being used for assembling and maintaining racecars, but the space wasn’t nearly big enough for the long term.

“I bought a machine shop out that was struggling,” Lastor says. “Now, we have a new dyno, we have a new CNC for doing heads, and we can do the stuff we used to do. We even have a manifold department. It’s just tight. We’re crammed into 6,000 sq.-ft. and I used to have 11,000 sq.-ft. We’re going to be all right, but for a while there I didn’t know what to do.”

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It didn’t help that in the three years since, Lastor hasn’t been able to get financial aid from the insurance company and is still working those issues out. The subsequent costs have been coming out of his pocket.

“Companies like Brodix and COMP Cams came through to help us a lot to get back going again,” he says. “We had a lot of people do a lot of stuff for us. The old shop is still a leveled slab. We’re a rebuilt company and I don’t have as much staff as I used to. It’s not starting over, but its kind of like starting over. We’re not what we were, but we’re still ridiculously busy.”

Taylor’s dad Jack opened TRE in 1987. Jack owned a fairly big mail order parts business at the time called USA Performance Center, and he wanted to start selling engines through the company, so he founded TRE.

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TRE Racing Engines began as a high performance/street shop due to Jack’s NHRA racing background. In the years since, it’s gravitated from that toward Top Dragster, Top Sportsman, nitrous engines, big inch motors, blower motors, and Pro Modified. Outlaw racing engines featuring nitrous, turbos and blowers have also been big for the shop, and the occasional drag boat motor will sneak in there too.

“It’s about 50/50 between all motor and power adder engines in my shop,” Lastor says. “The engines are 99% drag race and 1% street performance stuff. The LS platform has gotten really big for us too. We’re doing more and more LS than we’ve ever done and a lot of its power adder stuff.”

With six full-time employees, TRE does everything in-house thanks to its CNC machines. TRE also builds cylinder heads from scratch, fabricates sheet metal intakes and induction parts, and manufactures manifolds and carburetors too.

Lastor’s parents have long since retired, and Taylor’s dad passed away in 2010. However, TRE has been in Taylor’s capable hands since 2003. One of his more recent engine builds was a big block Chevy nitrous engine for X275 drag radial racing.

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“It’s probably the most popular drag radial class there is, and there are many ways you can run it – turbo, blower, nitrous,” he says. “If you want to run a small block nitrous, small block turbo or small block blower, they have rules for all three, and then the big block they only allow you to run nitrous, no other power adders. They also use real spec cars like Camaros and Firebirds as they were built.”

The engine TRE recently built is a big block Chevy nitrous version that makes 2,000 horsepower using conventional heads and a standard deck Dart big block.

For X275, if you’re using a big block, they have to be a standard 9.8˝ deck height and stock bore space with conventional big block Chevy heads, which are 24 degrees – plus or minus a degree.

“When we first started in this class 6-8 years ago, we were all using off-the-shelf stuff,” he says. “Of course, X275 has evolved and changed. What we do now is buy a raw head from Brodix. It has zero holes in it. It’s just basically a chunk of aluminum we buy from Brodix. We do everything in-house – we put the valves where we want them, we put all the spark plugs where we want them and we have our own valvetrain that Jesel builds us. We do just about everything we can do within the rules and then refine it, but being careful to stay within what constitutes a conventional big block Chevy head.”

This engine also features a billet Bryant crankshaft and a 60mm COMP Cams camshaft with well over an inch of lift. The camshaft is raised for better geometry. TRE used .937˝ Jesel lifters and a Jesel rocker system, MGP billet aluminum rods, Bill Miller Engineering pistons, King bearings, a cast Edelbrock 565 intake and valve covers and oil pans from Mickey Williams at Williams Fabrication.

“We build a lot of these with EFI now,” Lastor says. “We were doing 100 percent carburetor up until recently, but now about 90% of them we’re doing with EFI. We’ve developed our own EFI system through Holley.”

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TRE has developed this big block Chevy to make 1,200 horsepower on the engine. It makes right at 2,000 horsepower on a single nitrous system.

“X275 only allows one nitrous system, not multiples,” he says. “We can’t stack them on top of each other. So we’ve worked and worked to get more out of it. We get an 800 horsepower boost with the nitrous on top of that thing. We’ve come a long way and that’s a lot of horsepower for a standard deck block and a conventional head!”

With the big block Chevy’s compression at 13.5:1, the engine makes 800 ft.-lbs. of torque at 6,500 rpm on the motor. With nitrous it makes about 1,500 ft.-lbs. of torque. We agree – this is one hell of a race engine!

The Engine of the Week eNewsletter is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil and Elring – Das Original.

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If you have an engine you would like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder magazine’s managing editor, Greg Jones at [email protected]

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