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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 NHRA.com 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.
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."
"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.
"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
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