Growing up, Phillip Oakley’s grandfather would bring him to race tracks and introduced him to the wonders of racing. His family also owned an automotive repair business, which honed Phillip’s mechanic skills and piqued his interest in cars and engines. As Phillip got older, he would build engines on the side while working at the repair shop.
“After a while, the repair business just wasn’t making me happy,” Oakley says. “I thought I could make a living building engines and racing. I have a pretty good race sponsorship with Texas Roadhouse for drag racing. My engine building career bloomed from there. As soon as I made the move to get out of the repair business and into the engine business, our phones blew up, and the rest is history. Our business took off.”
His business is Oakley Motorsports located in Owensboro, KY, which Oakley started back in the mid-2000s. The business began as a repair shop that also ran a local drag strip called Windy Hollow Dragway. As Phillip had in the past, he would build engines on the side. However, it wasn’t long before Oakley Motorsports became strictly an engine building business.
“For a long period of time, I built engines for people, but had a machine shop called Automotive Machine Performance do most of our machine work,” he says. “Eventually, it got to the point they couldn’t keep up with us, so I started looking at buying all my own equipment. For about six and a half years now, we’ve had our own equipment. We’ve moved twice in that time due to growth. We bought a 5,000 sq.-ft. building that we completely redid, which sits on 10 acres, so we shouldn’t have to make another move.”
Today, Oakley Motorsports is a full machine shop with four full-time employees and two part time employees. The shop specializes in drag racing engines, but also does work on truck pulling engines, open wheel modified and dirt track engines, and mud racing engines.
“We’re a family based shop,” Oakley says. “My son Jay is 21 years old and works side by side with me. That’s how I grew up, working for my dad. Jay and I have a pretty good relationship, and my customers know he’s very involved in the business.”
Oakley Motorsports sponsors the Top Sportsman / Top Dragster classes for Division 3 in NHRA. The shop is well-known for building nitrous engines in those classes, however, as centrifugal blowers have been getting more and more popular, Oakley knew he’d have to try his hand at one of those engine builds.
“We needed to do something to keep us involved in what’s going on as things progressed in that field and show potential customers that we could do that,” Oakley says.
With the pressure on to build a blower engine, Oakley Motorsports recently built a 540 cid Vortech Blower Top Sportsman engine.
“This blower drag engine originally started at PRI,” he says. “I was very interested in learning more about Prochargers and Vortech blowers. I was kind of undecided in which way I wanted to go. The guys at Vortech explained to me how their system worked and they really sold me on their product. That’s how this engine build started.”
Recently, Top Dragster and Division 3 moved the index from 6 seconds flat to 6.10 in the 1/4-mile. The top 20 cars go faster than 6.20, so Oakley knew he had to have some pretty good power to compete at that level.
“We started by knowing we’d use a Vortech blower and built a new car,” he says. “On the engine, we started with a Brodix 9.800˝ deck aluminum block. We hip all of our blocks. We also used Brodix BB-3 Xtra 380cc intake runner cylinder heads, which have conical chambers and beryllium seats in them. We use Manley titanium valves on the intake and Inconel valves on the exhaust. We used a Callies crankshaft, MGP connecting rods, custom Diamond pistons, Erson camshafts, BAM lifters, Trend pushrods, Jesel rockers, Clevite coated bearings, a Moroso wet sump oil pump, and an APD complete fuel system. We also have the Vortech blower, which is a V30 123 – V30 is the drive and 123 is the blower size.”
According to Oakley, one of the most important things on these engines is to build an engine that is tunable. Because these engines have so much power and the cars are light, you can’t have too much torque down low and you need big power in the higher rpm range to run big speed.
“Due to that, we decided to go with a 540 cid engine for our Top Dragster stuff with a 4.250˝ stroke and a 4.500˝ bore,” he says. “Then we do a 4.375˝ stroke and a 4.530˝ bore in our Top Sportsman stuff. We put a little more torque in the door car side of things.”
As far as the block machining goes, Oakley Motorsports makes sure everything is accurate in terms of the line hone, deck, lifter bore sizing and things like that. This engine is a pretty straight forward build, but Oakley says the key is good, quality parts and proper machining.
“Everything we do is jig fixtured with our block work,” he says. “On the cylinder heads, we do a 45-degree valve job because we want it to be durable. These engines turn anywhere from 8,000 rpm running Top Dragster to 8,800-8,900 rpm running a quick 1/8th-mile.”
In these Division 3 classes, everybody is aiming to run around 230 mph.
“With the ET reduction this year, we really have to take a lot of power out of these engines up front to get them to the speed in the back half,” Oakley says. “If you take the average 540 cid engine that we’re doing, we have to run a 3.98 to the 1/8th to run 6.10. I recently ran 3.80 with it, so we’re having to knock a couple tenths of power out of it in the 1/8th mile – that’s how much reserve power you have to be able to run those in the 1/4-mile.”
To finish the build, Oakley sets the compression ratio anywhere from 10.5:1 to 12:1 depending on the application, then uses the shop’s 2,000 horsepower-rated DTS dyno to break-in the engine on gas without the blower.
“These engines make about 940 horsepower on gas with no vacuum pump or anything,” Oakley says. “When switched over to the blower, the 540 cid Top Sportsman engine makes 2,100 horsepower right at 7,000 rpm. It makes 2,500-2,600 hp at 8,200 rpm to run the speeds that it runs on race day.”
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].