When you decide to start an engine shop from scratch, you do so with the understanding that you begin with little to no customers and little to no equipment. Building your business, and your engines, must be done from the ground up. That was the case for David and Janice Conn, owners of J&D Performance Inc. in Lizton, IN, roughly 20 miles from Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
What started from nothing in 2002, has since become a specialty engine and machine shop focused on Sprint Car engine work, as well as USAC Silver Crown and Midget engines. In fact, J&D Performance now regularly builds 40-50 engines a year out of its 1,900 sq.-ft. shop where Dave Conn and his shop foreman, Ryan Freeland, work their magic.
“We specialize in alcohol fueled, high compression, stacked injected, racing engines that are dry sump only,” Conn says. “We machine and assemble these race engines for the professional and semi-professional open wheel racing teams. Our services include assembly, cleaning, NDT inspection, honing, boring, milling, additional block work, cylinder head work, surfacing, and more.”
About the only thing J&D Performance doesn’t do in-house is balancing work. Since racers’ paychecks are tied directly to their finishing position, J&D’s customers are always looking for an edge, and the shop delivers on that need for more speed through the use of custom and semi-custom performance parts in every engine.
“The kind of engines that we build make gobs and gobs of power and torque,” Conn says. “In our engines, the piston speed is unbelievably incredible for a long amount of time. Certainly, some of the big drag racers have a little bit more piston speed, but they don’t sit there and hold the engines wide open to the floor for seven, eight or nine minutes without ever lifting the throttle. We’re making well over 900 horsepower and well over 700 ft.-lbs. of torque.
“Sprint Car racing is where Tony Stewart came from. It’s where Kasey Kahne came from. It’s where Kyle Larson came from. There’s now a young fella coming up from Oklahoma named Christopher Bell who we’ve done some work for.”
When J&D Performance does a Sprint Car engine build, it typically begins with either a Donovan or Brodix aluminum block. From there, Conn relies on a custom crank and rod set up, JE pistons, Total Seal rings, ACL bearings, a GS Products camshaft, BAM lifters, All Pro cylinder heads, Del West valves and retainers, Trend pushrods, PAC valve springs, T&D rocker arms, a Dan Olson oil pan, a PRC or Barnes oil pump, Shaver-Wesmar gear drives, a KSE front cover and water pump, XRP plumbing, Engler fuel injection, and an MSD magneto.
On top of quality components, Conn also ensures his engines are ready for race day conditions.
“To be competitive, you need to know engineering,” he says. “You need to know things like physics, calculus and thermal dynamics, because all of that stuff comes into play. One of the things that really comes into play in what we do in racing these types of cars is the atmosphere and the weather. That’s a huge factor as far as density altitude and air density ratios and so forth. We pay very, very deep attention to the atmosphere when we race these cars.”
With more than 900 horsepower on tap in Sprint Car engines that cost $58,000-$65,000, every little detail counts!
“You have to always be on point,” Conn says.
Engine of the Week is sponsored by PennGrade Motor Oil, Elring – Das Original and Scat Crankshafts. If you have an engine you’d like to highlight in this series, please email Engine Builder Editor, Greg Jones at [email protected].