Building and racing a naturally-aspirated combination heada-up could be one of the biggest challenges in the sport. When you factor in a cubic-inch limit the difficulty level grows exponentially and that’s why few people even dare to try and fly in that rare air. But that doesn’t faze Brandon Huhtala, who soared into the NHRA naturally-aspirated record books by driving his Book Racing Engines-powered B/Altered Pontiac GXP to a 200 mph blast and became the first driver to eclipse that mark in a small-block-powered door car.
Bob Book, owner of Book Racing Engines has been churning out all-motor monsters for some of the fastest naturally-aspirated racers in the world. His engines own records in the United States as well as Australia. His first love is sportsman-style racing, so spending the time to develop these high-end engines is something he enjoys.
The engine that powered Huhtala to the Competition Eliminator B/Altered record of 6.846 at 200.05 is an absolutely savage 400 cubic-inch Mopar-based engine. This particular engine block came from none other than sportsman racing legend David Nickens’ personal stash. The block was actually being stored in a loft and was part of Nickens’ Pro Stock Truck racing program. Book used parts from Winberg and Jesel to compliment the build along with an intake manifold from HRE and a pair of his own billet carburetors. The backbone behind the huge horsepower is the billet Slawko Racing Heads that tops off the engine.
According to Book, the block has been this combination’s biggest enemy in really finding the outer performance limits.
“The engine actually uses a Mopar production block and that’s its weakest link. It’s the best naturally-aspirated platform on the planet, Mopar stopped production and some of the blocks are just not good. We went through four blocks before we found this one. We’re not on the ragged edge with it yet because we’ve struggled with the tune-up from the block issues. A lot of the data we got earlier was skewed from the block’s shortcomings.”
Now that Book has a solid block to work with he can start to really push this engine package. This mighty Mopar is singing its sweet horsepower song all the way up to 11,000 rpm on each pass. That may seem like it pushing this engine into the maintenance nightmare zone but it actually takes a beating and keeps going with ease.
“You have to look under the valve covers each run, but this engine can go the whole weekend without needing valve springs replaced. Now it will need new intake springs for each race and can go 40-50 runs before it needs a standard rebuild with connecting rods and intake valves. At this kind of rpm you have to be careful to make sure everything is happy,” Book explains.
Book builds an assortment of naturally-aspirated engines from different manufacturers, but this Mopar-based mill seems to be the king of the small-blocks he’s built.
“This engine makes 20-30 more horsepower more than a GM or Ford small-block and it uses more air on the dyno than other engines we’ve built of the same cubic-inch. We don’t do anything totally different with this engine, it’s just a better platform for naturally-aspirated racing,” Book says.
One thing Book is quick to point out is that this success doesn’t just come from the engine — Huhtala’s role behind the wheel and tuning the car is critical.
“Brandon’s ability to tune on the car is just amazing. He’s one of the best out there and I think he would do well in the world of Pro Stock when it comes to the car side of things and it shows with what he’s done with this package,” he says.
With such an amazing performance after a short amount of time with this engine, it’s scary to think what Book and Huhtala will do next. This screaming small-block proves that all-motor racing is far from dead and illustrates how much power you truly can coax from a naturally-aspirated engine program.