When you start thinking about taking a vehicle to the strip, the first thing you consider is power, and power comes from the engine. So – stock? Build it? Buy it? Mod it? We’ll consider all of these options but for our first foray into Drag 101, we want to provide some options for looking exclusively at the LS engine, a staple of the strip. You can put it into almost anything to boost speed, power and control.
There are a number of pros and cons when it comes to buying or building your own engine for drag racing including time, money, experience, and what you want to accomplish by taking it to the track. Down the road, we’ll provide you with more insight into both, but for now, let’s weed out the basics for looking at the engine itself.
- Time: You know the saying: time costs money. And if you have plenty of time and not as much cash, building your own engine might be the best bet. On the other hand, if time is of the essence, then buying a race ready crate piece is the answer.
- Money: It costs money to go racing. If you don’t have much, then it might be best if you build your own race engine. If you have a good budget, then a race engine purchased from a reputable source is an answer.
- Knowledge & Skill: If you have the knowledge and skill to build your own engine (and especially if you lack cash and/or have plenty of time), then it might be a good idea to construct it yourself. If you don’t have the skill and knowledge, it’s likely best to buy horsepower-in-a-box.
- Tools, Equipment & Shop Space: Without shop tools, engine building equipment or a proper place to assemble an engine, you should consider yourself an engine buyer. It might be hard to grasp, but the specialized tools required to build an engine might be more costly than you might have first imagined. Simply stated, you can’t build a race engine with plasti-gauge alone.
- Contacts: To build your own engine, you need contacts. You should be an insider in the Racing Pipeline. If not, you can be burned easily (and quickly) with poor merchandise along with equally poor machining. In simple terms, if you don’t have any good contacts, now is the time to start collecting them (even if you’re a confirmed engine “buyer”).
- Availability Of Good Cores: Nailing down good engine building cores can be an issue for some folks. And it all depends upon your location and your connections. What’s the deal over good cores? Case-in-point are some late model aluminum block motors. Some can only accept a hone of seven thousandths of an inch, no more. After that it’s time for sleeves. Pretty soon the costs spiral. Ka-Ching. You might have been better off buying a motor.
- Availability Of Quality Machining: For the most part a good race engine cannot easily be assembled by most local engine machine shops. Race shops require more than a few specialized pieces of equipment. And much of this equipment (good examples include a bloc-tru fixture, torque plates, etc.) is simply foreign to production engine shops. Bottom line? If you don’t have access to a good engine machine shop, then you might be better off buying horsepower.
- Location: In the real estate business, location is everything. The same applies to engine building. If you live in a spot in the country where racer friends, shops, reliable parts sources and services are few and far between, it’s going to be much more difficult to build your own engine. If that’s the case, you have few options. You might be better off buying an engine.
- Experience With The Combination: It’s said that experience is the best teacher. And if you have an engine combination you’re very familiar with (say a basic 0.030″ over 350), then it might be best to build your own engine. Just beware of the fact that familiarity can breed contempt. If you have a combination that you feel is dialed in, don’t take anything for granted. Otherwise, you might be tossing away horsepower. On a similar note, there might be a better combination out there that can make more power for less money.
- Shipping, Transit & Fuel Costs: Don’t take the cost of shipping lightly. Some crate motor suppliers offer incredibly good shipping rates. But on the other hand, you might find that shipping parts (or even hauling them yourself) can add quite a chunk to the bottom line. If you have to move a lot of hardware back and forth to a long distance engine builder, you might be better off buying a complete new bullet.
Thoughts on the pros and cons of buying vs. building? Respond in the comments!
So You Want to Be A Drag Racer: Buying, Building, Wrenching and Racing
The allure of the drag strip is easy to understand – a place where it takes less than 10 seconds to make a stand, prove your skill, speed, and nerve. But the road to the races can be intimidating. The Burnout wants to make that road a lot smoother for aspiring racers, whether it’s through building a new car, modding a used one, or taking that ride all the way up to the burnout box and beyond. This series is a work in progress, an ever expanding comprehensive guide to all the things that take drag racing from concept to reality.
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