Ask any racer what the biggest problem facing short track racing in this country is, and the unanimous response is cost, big-time cost! Most of those dollars are donated to the engine compartment, and having a top-gun powerplant is many times the difference between the haves and the have-nots.
One solution that has been tried in various circles is the use of a sealed spec engine. Spec engines, to some degree, keep the costs down and equalize the competition on the track (leaving drivers to depend on their talent and pure luck to win races). The open-wheel Indy Lights Series has used this concept with considerable success for a number of years. But no such application has been considered for short track stock car racing-that is, until now!
The Indiana-based, AC Delco-sponsored, American Speed Association (ASA), with its AC Delco Challenge Series, has taken a huge step in that direction. In 1998, a joint research and development project between ASA and General Motors Motorsports announced the possibility of mating a factory production engine to a purebred stock car racing chassis. What evolved was the selection of a virtually stock LS1 V-8 powerplant, which was standard with the Pontiac Firebird and Chevy Corvette and Camaro. Herb Fishel, Executive Director of GM Motorsports, explained the thinking behind this monumental effort.
"Over the years, most stock components were replaced by specialized racing parts, produced by aftermarket suppliers, leaving stock cars anything but stock. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate that one of our modern, high-performance engines can reliably power a stock car without exotic aftermarket racing components."
A Chevy engine in a Ford vehicle is quite normal in street rods, but a single brand engine for an entire racing series? Sounds like a great way to level the playing field, but there is one situation here to address. The ASA is not a single brand series. With Pontiac Grand Prixs and Ford Tauruses also on the track, the idea of using this Bow-Tie engine in non-Chevy engine bays was met with some consternation. But ASA officials made it clear that that's the way it's going to be for the 2000 racing season. Then again, what difference does it make? After all, the teams aren't going to be able to dig into their engines like they have in the past. No matter what angle you look at this situation from, things are going to be a lot different along pit row.
With engine performance being a constant with these nearly identical LS1 engines, there will have to be greater emphasis on other performance-increasing enhancements. Areas such as tire selection and pressures, suspension tweaking with shock and spring selection, and finally the performance of the driver, which should be the determining factor in winning races.
Since the announcement, there has been considerable testing accomplished with an LS1 test car. Tweaking was done by renowned engine builder John Lingenfelter to ensure the engines would withstand the grueling punishment of racing. With the engine now referred to as the LASAR V-8, the testing showed that the new car/engine combination was capable of speeds that were very compatible with pole speeds accomplished a year earlier in competition.
One of the largest differences with the 346-inch LS1 powerplant is its induction system. Up until now, an antique device called a carburetor has fed nearly all oval track race engines. Even the top gun Winston Cup cars are still using carbs. But, as you know, the LS1 and all modern engines are fuel injected, and that induction system will remain in place for the LS1's race experience. You can believe that there will be a significant learning curve for the race teams in learning to work with the fuel-injected engines. But then again, there's not all that much they can do with them and stay legal.