Everyone thinks their job is tough, but the chemists formulating modern motor oil really earn their paychecks. As the EPA continues tightening up on emissions standards, it has forced motor oil manufacturers to take good stuff like zinc and moly—which substantially reduce engine wear—out of their formulations. The degree of difficulty is further compounded by modern fuels high in ethanol content, which attracts moisture, dribbles down the cylinder walls, and dilutes oil even more. The NASCAR community reached the same conclusion in the late 1990s, when the additional stress imposed by high rpm and flat-tappet camshafts brought the shortcomings of modern street motor oil to the forefront. In response, Joe Gibbs Racing—one of the most dominant teams in Sprint Cup competition—took matters into its own hands by developing its own line of race motor oil. Driven Racing Oil was born, and today the company continues to push the envelope of lubrication technology.
Just like NASCAR teams don't have to worry about tailpipe emissions, neither does most muscle car enthusiasts whose rides are old enough to be emissions exempt in most states. The same applies to sportsman racers, since their cars don't drive on public streets. That means many hot rodders can also run quality race oils in their engines just like the big boys. As such, Driven has formulated oils specifically for street/strip machines, street rods, and also for LS engines. To get the low-down on the technology that goes into formulating state-of-the-art lubricants, we sat down with Lake Speed Jr. of Driven Racing Oil for the full scoop.
Joe Gibbs Racing is one of the premiere powerhouse teams in modern Sprint Cup racing. While most teams are content selecting from oil that's readily available to them, JGR takes things one-step further by developing its own motor oil. "Since NASCAR still mandates flat-tappet camshafts, JGR began having cam wear issues back in 1999 due to the reduced levels of zinc, also known as ZDDP, in off-the-shelf motor oils. Up until the late 1990s, NASCAR teams just purchased regular motor oil from the parts store," Lake explains. "When the zinc levels began to drop in these oils, our camshafts started going flat. JGR saw the need to develop an oil formula that would not only stop the problems, but would also allow JGR to be even more aggressive with valvetrain designs. Once JGR began learning about the science of motor oil, Driven was created to provide JGR with cutting-edge lubricants. Prior to the creation of the Driven Racing Oil products, JGR had won less than a dozen races and no championships. Since the creation of Driven products, JGR has won eight NASCAR series championships and over 100 races."
Emissions vs. Lubrication
In recent years, the shift in motor oil formulation has been influenced more by emissions regulations than maximizing lubrication properties. Not surprisingly, engine lubrication suffered as a result, and it's not just the rings and bearings that have endured the additional abuse. "Joe Gibbs Racing was not alone in having lubrication related problems because of these changes in motor oil formulations, so Driven has taken what we learned from working with JGR and offered it to everyday racers and hot rodders that need better engine protection," says Lake. "The low zinc issue is not just a flat-tappet cam problem. Low levels of zinc also increase wear on distributor gears, pushrod tips, and cylinder bores. The bottom line is that higher performance engines need higher levels of zinc, and that is what Driven delivers: race-proven high zinc formulas for high-performance engines."
If an oil will thrive in a NASCAR engine, then it can handle other abusive engines as well.
Race vs. Shelf Oil
Considering that you can buy a quality synthetic oil off-the-shelf at any Walmart, how much better can a race oil really be? The simple answer is quite a bit. "The oil you buy at Walmart is designed to protect your wife's minivan engine. A race oil is designed to protect a high-rpm racing engine," Lake quips. "Chemically, the oil at Walmart and a race oil are very different because the type of zinc used in a race oil is different than the type of zinc used in the oil for a minivan. Early on in the oil development program at JGR, we tested the highest-rated passenger car motor oil available. This oil met all of the toughest U.S. and European road car specifications, but that oil failed in a NASCAR engine in less than one hour. We learned early on that race oils needed to be different. As such, a race oil uses different types of synthetic base oils and more exotic additives than regular passenger car or diesel oils."