Filthy myths run rampant when it comes to understanding race gas. Some say that the higher the octane the slower the burn rate. Others claim that too much octane reduces horsepower. Unfortunately, both of these blanket statements are terribly inaccurate, and we magazines are the scoundrels largely responsible for misinforming the public. So lock us in a cell and make us watch HGTV. Making amends for our past transgressions and putting an end to the controversial topics surrounding race gas requires an authoritative voice. For that, we went straight to the top and chatted with Tim Wusz of Rockett Brand Racing Fuel.
If you haven't heard of Rockett Brand, it's because the company has only been around-at least on paper-for a few years. However, its team of engineers has been the foremost authority on blending powerful racing fuels for nearly 50 years. After Conoco Phillips bought out 76 in 2003, its corporate bean counters viewed the racing endeavors of its new acquisition as a frivolous expense. Consequently, the new owners pulled the plug on the 76 Racing Fuel Group. Fortunately for racers, the scientists and engineers responsible for 76 Racing Fuel's unparalleled success went on to form Rockett Brand. Tim Wusz is one of those guys. He earned a mechanical engineering degree from Oregon State University and went to work for 76 in 1965. For over three decades, Tim formulated proven racing fuels for everything from NASCAR to the upper ranks of NHRA competition. Needless to say, he knows a lot more than you, so listen up.
Octane DefinedAlthough an octane number is generally associated with fuel quality, few people understand the true definition of octane. The short answer is that octane is a fuel's resistance to detonation, but there's more to it than that. When crude oil is refined, it is broken down into hydrocarbon chains of various lengths. Hexane has six carbon atoms chained together, heptane has seven, and octane has eight. "When the octane number scale was established in the late 1920s, normal heptane was the bottom of the resistance-to-detonation scale and was therefore assigned an octane number of zero," says Tim. On the other hand, the octane isomer isooctane had very good resistance to detonation and was assigned an octane number of 100. These two components are used to establish a reference fuel system, and the percentage of isooctane in the blend is the octane number. When an unknown sample is tested, it is compared to the known octane numbers of the isooctane/normal heptane blends. For octane numbers over 100, tetraethyl lead (TEL) is added to isooctane. "The top end of the octane scale is slightly over 120, so don't be fooled by someone that claims to have 125- or 130-octane gasoline."
Gas BrandsSome people fill up their cars wherever gas is the cheapest, while others drive all the way across town to find a certain brand. So is there really a difference between different brands of pump gas? "There are many regulations in place that control what gasoline companies can do as the government gets more involved," says Tim. "There is very little difference between the major gasoline brands today in any given geographical location. The main difference is the detergent additive packages they use, which can make one brand unique from another. However, it is very hard to identify these additive packages because the amount in the gasoline is very small."