Championship Drag Racing

Fitting together the Power Puzzle, Part 1: Building blocks



Building a 330-mph, 7,000-horsepower, nitromethane-churning Top Fuel dragster or Funny Car is sort of like putting together a jigsaw puzzle;  if one piece is missing, it doesn't work. That's why each crewmember plays a vital role in making sure that the cars not only meet NHRA's strict tech requirements, but that they're also race-ready to blister the quarter-mile.

In this eight-part series, the Don Prudhomme Racing crewmembers on Larry Dixon's Miller Lite Top Fuel team will take you behind the scenes into their world and provide a closer look at what role each person plays on the race car. Short block specialist (engine builder) Shawn Ford kicks off the series.

Ford, 29, from Ephrata, Wash., is in his sixth season building short blocks. After serving as the bottom-end guy for the Miller Lite team over the past five seasons, he recently began servicing the left cylinder head at each NHRA event. Known as "Sheriff" in the DPR camp, Ford is a tireless worker who often can be found at the team's Brownsburg, Ind., race shop long after the 5 p.m. whistle has sounded. He has developed a reputation for his commitment to a sanitary work environment and his keen attention to detail.

Building a short block is very tedious work. It takes time and a steady eye as everything must fit to near perfection within thousandths of an inch. If the team receives a shipment of bare engine blocks from manufacturer TFX, it can take Ford up to two full days at the shop to build a complete motor. If he's just doing a routine service following a race, then it's just a two- or three-hour job.

"When we receive a bare block, we have to modify it, and that's why it takes longer," Ford said. "By the time we make all the necessary modifications that don't come from TFX, check everything and make sure it's correct, and give it a thorough clean, it's a good two days to put the motor together."

When a bare engine block comes into the shop, Ford must check and make sure everything is within the proper specifications, such as the sleeve grooves being wide and deep enough, and that the main line is true. It's also vital to have proper clearance so that the pushrods do not hit the block. Then the block undergoes an exhaustive cleaning.

"Dirt is an engine's worst enemy," Ford said. "A clean motor is a happy motor. After you've ground and machined the block, there's going to be flakes, dirt, and grime, all of which is very bad. You can't have dirt plugging up an oil passage."

After the block has been machined and properly cleaned, the installation process begins. The 30 cylinder-head studs are placed into the block, their threads coated with anti-seize compound. Then the crankshaft is installed and measurements are taken to make sure it's straight and fits as it should. Next, the rack (rods and pistons) is placed in the motor. If the crankshaft isn't straight, the piston heights will be off. After that, he makes sure the piston heights are correct and the engine compression is where crew chief Don Bender would like it. This completes the lower end of the short block assembly.

Now it's time to degree in the camshaft, which can be challenging. The cam has to be installed flawlessly, and that doesn't always happen the first or second time. Parts and pieces don't always line as up they're supposed to. A gear could be off, or a combination of reasons could cause the specs to be off. Once the cam is installed, the short block is completed.

"Making sure the cam degrees in perfectly is probably the most difficult part about building a motor," Ford said. "It can be a very tedious process, and it has to be absolutely correct."

The Miller Lite Top Fuel team carries nine race-ready motors on the road to each event, including the motor in the dragster, which stresses the importance of employing a competent engine builder. If all goes well, they won't change engines the entire race weekend.

"We've only had to change one motor this season, at Gainesville," Ford said. "Donnie has been excellent with the tune-up, so there haven't been any major problems to our motors. The worst weekend I've gone through is four motors. That kept me plenty busy."


Part Quantity
Engine block 1
Head studs 30
Crankshaft 1
Camshaft 1
Main caps 5
Oil pump 1
Upper, lower bearings 5, 5
Hub bearing 1
Hub 1
Cam gear 1
Crank gear 1
VP engine assembly lube
Lucas 30-weight plus
Lucas Red N Tacky # 2
Engine piece Foot-pounds of torque
Crank bolt 250
Main caps 160
Side mains 100
Rods 90
Crank hub 40
Cam gear 35
Oil pump 26
Fuel pump extension 20


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