Robert Yates calls for end of NASCAR's antiquated 1955 engines

February 18
, 2003

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Robert Yates
Photo: Ford

A new engine for NASCAR Winston Cup? If you pose that question to Robert Yates, owner of the Ford Tauruses driven by Dale Jarrett and Elliott Sadler, he'll give you a resounding, "Yes."

Yates, recognized as one of the greatest engine builders in the history of NASCAR Winston Cup racing, worked on the 5.0 Liter V8 in the Ford Focus Daytona Prototype which captured the pole and went on to a class win at the Rolex 24 Hours race at Daytona International Speedway a couple of weeks ago. The 5.0 Liter engine is based off the 4.6 Liter V8 engines currently installed in many productions cars built by Ford, including the Mustang.

As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series heads to Rockingham for this weekend's Subway 400, Yates gave his reasons why it's time to start doing something different under the hood.

ROBERT YATES, Owner - No. 88 and No. 38 Ford Tauruses - "Our first reaction when we started the project was that we would have to do everything -- build a four-valve engine and a new block and a new head because we didn't think the engine that was in a street car would be any good for what we were doing. Well, it was the exact opposite. It's a really well-designed engine and while we had to do some things to it to make it suit racing, a majority of the components are what you find when you buy a 4.6 liter engine. When we finished with the race engine, it sort of appeared to be bulky but the overhead cam stuff generates some dimension. It's chain driven with dual cams and all of these components are what you get in your car. These are all 300,000-400,000 mile parts that we run very hard and they did a great job while running the 24 Hours. The motor ran perfectly, so by putting some of the applications we use in racing with the pistons and the rings and maybe using some lighter components than maybe a street car would have, we pretty much went after a stock engine and souped it up."

YOU BELIEVE THIS IS SOMETHING THAT WILL COME TO WINSTON CUP, DON'T YOU? "These things would do fine right here today. They'll make all the horsepower we need or more than we need for this type of racing at a considerably less cost. Once you put it into production, the part costs come way down. We're still working on a 1955 platform engine. We can produce and we're lifting valves with one-inch openings and you can open this other valve a half-inch, half the dimension, by having two valves and get good performance out of it, so it's what's been developed in our street cars. I think we sort of felt proud in the sixties and early seventies that some of our technology went back to the manufacturer, but since then we've really sort of disconnected from the manufacturer. There's not much stock about our engines. This new engine would probably be healthy because if someone knows how to build it for racing, and then you go home and want to one day work in a dealership, you can have a lot of knowledge about what's going on with the fuel injection system and things like that. Certainly, everybody is gonna have a lot of attention on fuel efficiency and you can't get anymore efficient than to sit there and let a computer control what the engine needs. The mapping and programming with computers to get a very efficient engine is all common sense. For the sanctioning body, it would actually give them better control over what's going on, so if they really want to control the people from getting some great big advantage on the engines, then computerize them and fuel inject them - get way from this four-barrel carburetor. The only reason they make it now is because we use it and even though we do a good job and make them pretty efficient there eventually will be no market for what we do here. In fact, there's probably no market now. I think someone would rather have a good, driveable, clean-burning engine in their '32 Ford as to having something that produces black smoke. It's really getting a little bit ancient and I'm glad my son gets to see what's in the new engine. When you open the hood, you don't see anything but real nice fiberglass covers and it's been enlightening for me to work on them."

WHAT DOES THIS ENGINE HAVE THAT MAKES IT SO GOOD? "This engine has all the variable vents that you'd like to have for good power and then you map it with computers so that you have all the right fuel at the right time. If you don't need it, you can take it away. They're very simple looking systems for people that are computer literate. It's the future. I think when every manufacturer has it, they would just like to throw all the tooling away to massage stuff. I mean, there aren't too many people out there who have a need for a cast-iron block. There's no market for it. There's no reason for Ford, GM, Toyota or Chrysler to keep processing this engine. Obviously, it can't go away today, but the day that every manufacturer has something that can come into the series, we should give it a try. I think this is a big step in the right direction for our future in NASCAR. You probably won't see it for five years, but a year or so ago you couldn't see it for 10 years. I'd like to see it get to a point where we can get the cost down and put cost limits on engines because we're talking about an engine that's very durable and has a great design. This engine is much more efficient and it would produce good racing. The thing I like about it is that this engine does things with more ease. To me, it's got to be more exciting for the manufacturers because this is what they've designed and what they work with. They want to build better and more efficient engines and I think this would be a big step in the right direction. NASCAR is in the business of putting on a show. They don't design and they don't build engines. Their goal is to keep it very competitive, which they do, so why not use the technology we have now and go back to the roots of stock car racing and make it so the manufacturers are the guys that design engines? Then I think we'll be a whole lot closer together with what we're doing. I think it makes sense. If I was a manufacturer and just looking at it from that side of the fence, I would be much more interested in doing engine development such as this. I would like to see that gap closed up and closed up in a hurry. I think it would really help our costs and I think it would be healthy for every manufacturer."

HAVE YOU TALKED TO NASCAR ABOUT THIS? "I haven't talked to them since the 24 Hours, but I started talking to Gary Nelson and some other officials last year about doing this. Gary said he thought it would be fine and it would be good, so I felt I sold him on the concept itself. But he said that he thought they still needed a carburetor on it, but at least we've gotten to that point. We've come a long way because I think they've at least agreed that a new product is what we need, they just want to put a carburetor on it. I told him, though, that when we finished this he would want to reconsider the fuel injection issue because they would have good control over what the competition is doing. I think we need to work on that and being efficient with these resources needs to be part of our game. That should be some of the challenge and fuel injection with computer control is certainly the way to do that. Now, we don't want computers to drive or shift or jack the cars up because we don't want to take people out of play, but I think this is where we want the engines to be and I think this is where it will be. I hope it's not 10 years down the road, though. I hope it's five years."

CAN YOU GIVE A SIMPLE EXPLANATION OF THIS NEW ENGINE? "This is a 4.6, four-valve, and it comes in several of your performance cars. The good thing about it is it's designed around the engine that's in everything, so all of the technology is there. It's a well-designed piece. We just made a few alterations and had some fun with it. Right now, we're just cranking these valves way down in the cylinder to get them out of the way of the air-flow and that's hard. We've developed springs and made parts that can do this, but I feel like we're just working on dinosaurs. There's a lot of technology we use on the engines today. I don't want anybody to think we're running with '55 technology. We have serious materials we use now that I wish I had five or 10 years ago that are neat to have, but I just think we can accomplish the same thing with something that's built by the manufacturer. That's when the price comes down. If you get these parts from the manufacturer and let those be the parts we race, then our engines would be back in line. The way it is right now, we spend a lot of money for nothing. Nobody reaps any benefit from pouring cast-iron blocks and all this stuff. The cars could actually be a little lighter and safer and just much more modern.

WHAT WOULD BE A GOOD WAY TO INTRODUCE THIS NEW ENGINE? "That's the tough part. How do you bring it in and get it started? I think maybe a restrictor plate race would certainly be a first good move because that's an engine program of its own. You spend so much money a year for four races, that I think it would be a good place to introduce this engine. We could work on controlling whatever horsepower we need for those tracks - like 400 horsepower - and then open it up to 500 or 600 horsepower for the open stuff. I think the grandstands will see the same show and have the benefit of having the parts available at a much more effective price. I think a lot of common sense goes with this and it's what I hope happens. It's nice to be part of this and I sort of feel like we've opened the door. That's why we jumped on this. We didn't take people and energy away from working on the Daytona 500, but we have this engine in our shop and our facility. To see it and be a part of it is pretty exciting."

GREG SPECHT, Manager of Racing Operations, Ford Racing Technology - WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT WHAT ROBERT HAD TO SAY ABOUT THIS NEW ENGINE CONCEPT? "I agree with Robert. In fact, we've had this conversation several times over the last two or three years and what I like about it is I feel we could accomplish a couple of things this way. Number one, as Robert said, it would get what we're racing on the track closer to what we're producing for sale on the street. He's absolutely correct when he says that we could then use more of the expertise we have within mainstream Ford Motor Company to support the racing program and could probably have a bigger impact and a larger role. And the other thing it could accomplish is that if we went from a 5.7-liter to a 4.6-liter engine, we would obviously be making less horsepower initially. That would solve several problems NASCAR has been trying to deal with as far as trying to get the speed of the cars down and get them back to where they were a few years ago. I see it as a real win-win situation. On the surface and initially it would be a big expense for teams to throw out all of their current stock of motors and go to new ones, but we're spending a lot of money almost every year when NASCAR tweaks the aero rules to try and slow the cars down. Initially it might be cheaper to change sheet metal on a car or fiddle with the spoiler or air dam, but they keep tweaking. When you look at the total amount of money that's been spent the past several years trying to slow things down - like those roof spoilers we had a couple of years ago - you end up spending more money. Whereas, if you come in with one fell swoop and change the displacement of the engine, you pay the price once and then you go race that for the next 10 years. I think that would be cheaper in the long run."

THE ENGINES IN RACING TODAY REALLY HAVEN'T CHANGED MUCH HAVE THEY? "That's true. There was a time when we were going through that transition in the seventies with the emissions equipment that older street cars were preferable because they were more powerful. The technology has evolved to the point where the engines we're producing now are way more efficient and way more desirable than the cars from the sixties. I think what Robert is saying now is that the same thing exists in the racing field. These engines are so good that you can go race with it and know they're gonna make power much more reliably and easily than trying to squeeze more power out of these old push rod engines."

DO YOU GET THE IMPRESSION THIS COULD BE AS CLOSE AS FIVE YEARS AWAY? "It may be. In fact, the last time I spoke to Gary about it he said that they were looking at it, so that's positive. It's probably five years as opposed to 10 years away, but I know they are seriously taking a look at it."

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