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Putting Stock Back In Stock Car Racing and ... Racing Without Gasoline

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Putting Stock Back In Stock Car Racing and ... Racing Without Gasoline.

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor, Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel

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CHICAGO, IL - October 13, 2010: An invitation mentioning stock car racing conjures up images of Daytona Beach and the famed 500 or perhaps Talladega Raceway, Bristol Motor Speedway or even nearby Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet. Of all places, this invite was to the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory to get up close and personal with a bright red 2010 Chevy Camaro race car. Argonne National Laboratory and its industry collaborators, collectively known as Project GREEN (Green Racing Experimental Engine Narrative), are using this Camaro to test how green technologies and ethanol fuel impact the power and operability of circle track-type race cars.

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What distinguishes this car and its engine from other race cars competing in circle track series like NASCAR is its fuel-injected engine that runs on E-85 fuel.

E-85 is an alcohol-based renewable fuel. It can be made from trash, wood chips, feed corn or even lawn clippings and costs under $3 a gallon. Racing leaded gasoline can cost $10 a gallon.

Circle track series organizers and even many racing teams believe that carbureted engines fueled with pricey, leaded racing fuel are inherently more powerful than engines equipped with a fuel injection system and running on the much less expensive biofuels. But Argonne and its industry partners have shown in on- and off-track testing that a fuel-injected racing engine fueled with E-85 outperforms conventional race cars engine equipped with a carburetor and powered by leaded racing fuel.

Argonne transportation researcher Forrest Jehlik is leading the lab's efforts in Project GREEN. He's also on a grass roots mission to educate racing fans about the merits of clean automotive technologies and biofuels, like ethanol.

Images of stock car racing quickly form into those of NASCAR and the 43 drivers we see on national TV competing throughout the racing season. But the stock car racing world is much bigger. Over 440,000 racers compete at over 1,100 race tracks throughout the US during race season.

Race tracks are about the only venues these days where engines with carburetors are in active use. Fuel injection systems began replacing carburetors in the late 1970’s and for the most part in the early 1980s to allow production cars to meet federal and state emission regulation requirements. Fuel Injection provides greater fuel efficiency as a result of precise and even fuel distribution to each cylinder. With carburetors fuel metering often varies from cylinder to cylinder.

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Modern “stock” technology in use on today’s production automobiles that you and I drive is readily available for racing use. The all-aluminum 6.2 liter CT525 Fuel Injection LS3 engine from GM Performance Parts is nestled between the front wheels of race driver Dalton Zehr’s Camaro. Dalton’s dad, Marty Zehr leads this team in its “green” racing program. Running on E-85 Ethanol this engine is making 540 horsepower, has a better torque curve than if carbureted, is safer and less expensive. Although you may get less mpg with E-85, the FI system is more efficient since, for example, it shuts off fuel flow when the throttle is closed—no more flames shooting out the exhaust pipe when driving thru the corners.

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How is it safer? The FI CT525 is more responsive and consistent in output and performance, thus the race car can be driven more consistently. There is no occasional stumble or hesitation due to the carburetor. The classic carburetor race engine has its fuel pump located at the right front of the engine block. You know that picture of a race car hitting the outside wall and flames shooting out-- because the fuel pump was broken off. The FI engine fuel pump is in the rear of the car at the fuel tank.

Those 440,000 racers across the US often are hobbyists using their own money. A competitive carbureted race-prepared engine can cost $30,000 or even up to $50,000. The CT525 can be bought for around $10,000 and is ready to go racing. The expense of a typical Saturday night of racing can be cut in half.

"The testing disproves two widely and firmly held beliefs in the circle track racing community - that carbureted engines are inherently more powerful than engines equipped with a fuel injection system; and that E-85, which is less expensive than leaded racing fuel, is not well-suited as a fuel for race cars," said Jehlik, who leads the benchmark testing for Project GREEN.

Moreover, tailpipe emissions from cars with fuel injection engines are lowered due to the precise metering of fuel, thereby reducing the amount of oxides of nitrogen, hydrocarbon and carbon monoxide combustion byproducts.

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Catalytic converters, which further reduce the amount of emissions generated by internal combustion engines, are not normally part of the exhaust systems of racing cars. But Project GREEN's dynamometer testing of the GM engine utilizing catalytic converters resulted in a 50 percent to 60 percent decrease in nitrogen oxide, one of the main ingredients involved in the formation of ground-level ozone.

All you young folk out there can bring your laptop racing. Why? That’s how basic engine tuning with FI is done. From there, the on-board system adjusts for air density and ambient temperature and humidity changes. No more changing carburetor jets at every different race track or between day and night racing. The “shade tree mechanic” of today uses a computer.

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Argonne National Lab, where studies were once done to build the first atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project, is now showing racing competitors and organizations they can use modern technology and renewable fuels to dramatically reduce emissions, cut costs and still remain competitive on the race track.

Perhaps the 20 million race fans will lead the demand for cleaner burning domestic and sustainable high test flex-fuel vehicles on American roads.

© Larry Nutson