As a lifelong drag racing fan – and somewhat of a techie nerd – I have watched in awe over the last decade or so as my love for computers and technology has blended together with my love for the internal combustion engine and powerful EFI (electronic fuel injection) on racing vehicles has become the norm rather than the exception. What seems like just a few short years ago carburetors were still used in many racing engines, from those under the hood of lower-level sportsman machines up to the vehicles found at the highest levels of organized racing. But the tide has turned in the direction of technology, and it’s threatening to become a tsunami.
Over Labor Day weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of covering the Yellow Bullet Nationals at Cecil County Dragway in Rising Sun, MD for Dragzine, our sister magazine. I spent a lot of time walking the pit areas on both the Pro and Sportsman sides, and one thing I noticed in particular is that many – if not most – of the racecars were wearing some form of fuel injection system, especially those with power-adders under the hood.
There were cars like Chris Rini’s Buck Race Engines-powered Pro Mod Camaro. In years past, a car like this would have displayed a pair of Holley Dominator carburetors atop its fabricated intake manifold and fogger nitrous systems. Instead, today the engine makes use of massive billet throttle bodies and five stages of Switzer Dynamics dry nitrous oxide injection; it’s all controlled by one of EFI Technologies’ engine management systems combined with an MSD ignition system.
Chris Rini is using four beer-can-sized throttle bodies to feed his 900-plus cubic inches of Buck Racing EFI big-block.
The use of electronics has made for seamless integration of the nitrous systems with the engine management system, and allows Rini and his team far greater control than they would have ever had with a pair of carburetors and a circuit board full of Digiset timers. In conjunction with the MSD ignition, the engine management system handles the application of timing retard, proper amount and timing of fuel injection, and gives Rini unsurpassed precision tuning ability over the nitrous systems and their activation schedules. The results have shown on the track too, as this car has been into the 3.60s in the eighth-mile, which would put it deep into the 5s on a quarter-mile pass.
There were over 600 cars on the property at this race, the first I’ve covered for Dragzine in nearly two years, and while there were plenty of cars on the premises with carburetors atop their engines – Ultra Street recordholder Alex Hays and X275 standout Ron Rhodes come to mind – there were just as many if not more racers in all classes with some form of EFI controlling their engine’s performance.
Alex Hays used a single-carb, conventional-headed big-block Chevy to run a 4.69 and set the Ultra Street record for 2017 at the Yellow Bullet nationals, showing that carburetors certainly still have their place in drag racing.
Now, I’m not saying that racecars with carburetors can’t make outstanding runs, because they can and do; in many cases carbureted vehicles still hold racing records, especially in the drag racing arena. I’m also not saying that carburetors aren’t usable on the street – they are, and have been for a hundred years. But while the carburetor can excel on the track, its days are numbered. Because what I am saying is that the mashup of modern computer technology and the internal combustion engine offers the racer a more consistent performance on the track, which ultimately manifests itself in more fun for the participant, lower elapsed times, and more exciting racing for the fan.
This is the sort of internal dialogue I have with myself as I walk around at racing events. I was impressed with the number of clean, crisp, quick runs all throughout the weekend, and even more fascinated as I watched tuners like John Kolivas and Justin McChesney of KBX Performance and Jason Lee and Patrick Barnhill of Part Time Performance wander the pits, setting the EFI systems up for their customers, reading and interpreting the data those systems provide in order to make tuning changes and provide their customers with the winning formula for competition. It’s no coincidence that their customers are always in the winner’s circle, either.
These days when you venture into the heads-up class pits at any drag race, you’re more likely to find the tuning done with a laptop instead of with a couple of wrenches and a tub of carburetor jets.
Of course, all of this performance capability trickles down to the larger enthusiast market, the one you and I live in. When an enthusiast is building a new car – even if it’s just designed to head out to the local cruise-in during the summertime – it’s almost a foregone conclusion that the capabilities built into today’s sophisticated engine management systems offer the end user everything from an internal boost controller to modern electronic transmission control, and makes the process of getting a new car up and running much simpler than it used to be.
As the engine management system has become a larger piece of the puzzle, using EFI instead of a carburetor has had the effect of shortening the learning curve, especially with the self-tuning abilities many of today’s systems offer through their accurate wideband oxygen sensors. The hassles of getting a new fuel-injected vehicle up and running for the vehicle owner is not nearly as difficult as it once was. In most cases the engineers of the products aim to offer one-stop-shopping experiences and provide an easy way to build big, reliable, consistent power that’s easy for a gearhead – especially one familiar with computers and technology – to figure out and tune. It’s interesting to see how racers are taking these electronic controls and applying them to performance vehicles.
I’d love to hear your thoughts – drop them into the comments below!