Drag Racing 101 Crate Engine

An LS crate engine is already a powerful powerplant; however, like Tim Taylor, we’re always looking for ways to make more power in our rides. Whether we’ve got a little subcompact with a four-banger, or a road bound passenger liner, we’re always looking to eke out those last few horsepower. If you’ve got an LS crate engine either installed or waiting to be installed and you want to massage it a little to get a few more ponies, you’ve come to the right place. How much extra power you can get will depend on two main factors: which engine you have and how much you’re willing to do and spend.

Special Order

Most people aren’t aware that they can buy GM crate engines, including the LS Series engines, special ordered. Sure, you can go out and buy one completely pre-built (mostly completely pre-built) like GM part number 19244096, an LS327 with one horsepower per cubic inch. This is a complete engine with an intake manifold minus the carburetor.

You could also go to a third party site, such as Jeg’s or Edelbrock and order one off the shelf. However, Edelbrock also offers DIY (Do It Yourself) crate engine kits. This allows the buyer to peruse a catalog of available parts and order what they want. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean that you can order Melling rings and oil pump, Weiand intake, Holley carb, Fel-Pro gaskets, and TRW/Moog internals. What it means is that you can choose between a few different kits that are available to more closely suit your needs. These kits are great for people like me that enjoy assembling their own engines.

Add a Turbo or Supercharger to Your LS Crate Engine

Turbocharging and supercharging are ways of forcing more air into the combustion chamber. Both are excellent ways to stuff more air into the engine and make more power. Back in my day, superchargers were known as “blowers” though, and they were pretty big. Today, they’re small enough to fit under most hoods without having to modify the hood much, if at all. Both versions are belt-driven and start increasing boost as soon as you stomp the accelerator.

Turbochargers are, in my opinion, a little easier to work with. They use exhaust gasses to turn the impellers that stuff air through the intake and into the combustion chamber. The only problem is what is known as “turbo lag.” Technology has gotten to the point where lag is minimal, but it’s still there. This is because the engine needs to get up to speed before enough exhaust is hitting the turbo impeller to get it to full speed. The supercharger starts making boost as soon as you hit the gas and the boost increases (to a point) as the engine speed increases.

Let It Breathe

An engine that can’t breathe can’t produce power. Whether or not you plan on having a turbocharger or supercharger, you’re still going to need something that allows the engine to breathe better than stock exhaust manifolds or even stock headers. I’m an old guy, so I prefer old-school products like Hooker, Hedman, and Blackjack. However, a quick perusal of a catalog such as Jeg’s shows that there are far more options to the drag racer and street king these days. Headers can be a pain to install, so many of the newer offerings come with the port pipes installed to the flange, but the individual pipes and collector still need to be welded. This allows you to fit them much easier. I can remember more than one exhaust bolt that had to be removed and tapped because the angle was a pain to get to.

Going with a Carb? Make Sure It’s Big Enough to Do the Trick

Hot Rodding purists tend to raise their noses when the topic of fuel injection comes up. For purists, an engine bay without a carb just looks empty. Going with a carb gives you more control over how much air and fuel enter the intake and combustion chamber. They’re also easier to install. Even better, to me, is that you don’t need a computer to manage it, just your ears and nose. Also, since they have jets that can be changed quite easily, it isn’t terribly difficult to “switch” from a street machine to a strip burner. If you’re still up in the air about your induction system, check this out.

What Else Can You Do to Bump Up the Power?

First off, get rid of the stock ignition system, no matter what it is. It’s not going to deliver the heat you need to generate max power. For milder applications, go with something like an Accel ignition system. If you’re going for monster power, you’re going to want MSD. Both companies sell ignition systems that give you fairly precise control over the spark curve, even while driving. This makes fine tuning the engine much easier.

These are pretty much all that can be done to an LS crate engine to make it create more power without digging into the guts of the engine itself. From what I’ve heard, that’s one of the main reasons people buy crate engines—not having to dig into the internals. Hey, whatever floats your boat; I prefer to get my hands dirty and put everything together myself. However, looking over the various pages listing GM Performance Crate Engines, I can tell that that’s not really necessary anymore as they offer a huge selection of sizes and outputs and you can, with a little work, tailor your engine to your needs and desires. See ya on the track, friends!


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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