Ray Dunlap
Formula One
 Tuesday, July 18
Pros and cons to altering engines
By Ray Dunlap
Special to ESPN.com

 It appears that NASCAR is about to make major rules changes for the Busch Grand National and Craftsman Truck Series.

Crew chiefs and car owners were informed this past weekend at Nazareth Speedway that engine compression ratios would change next year from the current 9.5-to-1 ratio up to 12-to-1. This will add about 100 total horsepower to the engine output.

There will also be modifications to the strict rules regulating the 390-cfm carburetors used in the BGN division. According to some engine builders I spoke to, this relaxation of the carburetor rules will open up a multitude of minor modifications possible inside the carbs allowing much more creativity.

The increase in flow of the fuel and air mixture will increase horsepower by about 75. NASCAR currently uses up to 19 different gauges to check a BGN carburetor. Next season a total of five will be used. Two for safety -- Booster Shaft Diameter and Throttle Shaft Connector Size -- and three for competition regulation.

The buzz inside the fence was that these changes would increase the overall cost of the engine programs by approximately one third ($250,000 to $300,000). The current Busch Series engine lease/maintenance program is around $600,000 for a season.

The Chevrolet teams will have the option of using the newer SB2 head or the older style 18-degree head. The biggest change is that engine builders will be able to use roller cam shafts and roller lifters under the new rules. Previously they were limited to flat tappet lifters and cams.

In addition, I expect some decision soon about a maximum bore size for the cylinders. The newest big thing is to have a large bore size with the smallest amount of stroke in the cylinder to increase the amount of RPMs. A limitation on bore size will help keep Chevys from overpowering the Ford, which is limited to about a 4.125 bore. This will also create parity as Dodge prepares to return to NASCAR racing.

So, here are a few of the pro's and con's as I see them.

Pro: A team may spend much less on new carburetors. A good BGN carb these days can go for $8,000, and you constantly need a new one (or service) to keep up with the competition. The new rules will allow the use of older carburetors and give creative license back to the engine tuners.
Con: The other side of the cost story is the engines must be serviced more often. A 12-to-1 compression creates more stress on internal parts and increasing rpms does so also. Roller lifters need to be replaced every fourth or fifth race, and you have the cost of buying new heads and parts for the SB2 styling.

Pro: The current configuration requires a team to run right on the ragged edge due to the lack of horse power. To run wide open and be competitive you have to loosen the chassis so much it can be a real handful. Just like in restrictor-plate racing, every team would kill for two to three more horsepower. By adding 100 HP to the engine, a disparity of six to eight horsepower between the best car and a 15th place car should be less noticeable.
Con: I have yet to see where going faster makes for better racing. The faster you go the more likely there will only be one groove, and that means no side-by-side racing. If the Truck Series keeps the 830 carburetor now in use, it will generate about 800 horsepower and may need restrictor plates at Daytona, Texas, Michigan, California, etc. There has got to be a way to race without restrictor plates!

Pro: Jeff Green has a distinct advantage right now in Busch Series racing. I believe that the driver, and a great crew, are most of the reason. But that team must have found something in the carburetor to gain such an advantage. I do not think they are cheating. I think they have found something no one else has. I believe that if you put the carburetor from the No. 10 car on Elton Sawyer's car, the No. 98 would beat the No. 10. This rule change could help bring the field closer together by eliminating a carburetor advantage.
Con: But, on the other hand, this rule change has the potential to widen the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots." While many teams are in the middle of sponsor searches, they now must ask for more money to be competitive. The teams that have a Winston Cup affiliation should have a distinct advantage due to the fact that they have already worked with the SB2. I believe that if NASCAR becomes satisfied that the roller cams and lifters will live through 500 miles they will implement that change for Winston Cup soon. The odd part is, that in 2001, the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck Series will have rollers, while the elite Winston Cup Series will still use flat tappet technology. So, my point is that the engines are not interchangeable. There is no benefit to getting hand-me-down parts from you Winston Cup big brother.

Bye, bye trucks?
No pro here, just a con. That's because the increased cost and potential widening of the gap between "haves" and "have nots" could be the end of the truck series. The series has already seen short fields, and by raising the cost for the engine program, the series may lose more competitors that are just hanging on now. The big selling point of the NCTS has been many different winners and close competition. If a few teams gain a big advantage, and they are forced to use restrictor plates, that could spell disaster for an already troubled series. By the way, I think the action in the truck series is great. I just don't understand why the TV ratings are not better. If you are a race fan and are not watching NCTS events, you are missing out.

Cooler cars
The exhaust temperatures will be cooler. That is good news for the driver. As we come up on the dog days of summer many drivers will be completely worn out from the internal cock pit temperatures. The 9.5/1 engines leave much more unexploded fuel in the exhaust pipes than the 12/1 engines. You will see a lot less fire coming out from the exhaust pipes.

There will be great debate over the merits of these rule changes and only time will tell if the infinite wisdom of NASCAR is correct. There is one thing that is for sure -- engine builders are licking their chops.