UNDERSTANDING THE SWEENEY RUSH RACING SERIES GM CRATE ENGINE REBUILD/REPAIR SEALING PROCESS
By Doug Kennedy
March 15, 2016
(Pulaski, PA)…Racing and controlling cost seems to be the perfect marriage for local and regional dirt drivers that have chosen to compete in the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series powered by Pace Performance. One of the most important pieces of the success of the RUSH program has to do with their rebuild, repair, and sealing program; one that is shared throughout the country with both the Sweeney RUSH Racing Series and sister series NeSmith. GM crate engines utilized in either of these programs are required to be properly sealed if the motor does not have the original GM sealing bolts.
The two series joined forces in the fall of 2012 and the relationship has proved to be extremely beneficial to crate racing throughout the entire Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Deep South. By aligning their technical rules packages hundreds of Crate Late Model racers now have an opportunity to race from as far north as 100 miles northeast of Toronto, Ontario, Canada into the Deep South with the peace of mind that both Series are working on a daily basis on their behalf. RUSH’s headquarters are based in Pulaski, Pa. while NeSmith’s are located in Cartersville, Ga.
As crate racing has evolved and escalated, the rebuild/repair and sealing process of the engines have become “hot” topics. Emig believes that most of the misunderstanding is simply because the process is obviously so different from open engine racing.
“Over the years both Mike and myself have heard a few stories about the credibility of crate racing in different situations,” stated RUSH Series Co-Director Vicki Emig. “I'm sure some of those are true, but as in anything, you and the product you represent are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. I certainly can't rebuild or tech a motor, but I am extremely confident that the individuals that surround our efforts with RUSH are some of the most knowledgeable and competent people in the country when it comes to crate engined racing and I can assure you we all work as a team.”
The RUSH Series has adopted NeSmith's Crate Racin,USA sealing system for their Late Model & new Pro Modified programs, while they utilize their own sealing system for the Sweeney RUSH Sportsman Modifieds. The systems are identical in their requirements, record keeping, and tracking, with the only difference being that RUSH’s seals are orange and NeSmith’s are yellow. In 2017 the Crate Racin, USA seal will be the only accepted seal in the Sweeney RUSH Late Model and Pro Mod program.
Let’s clarify what sealing means. The GM crate engine as it comes from the factory is sealed at the intake manifold, cylinder heads, the front covers and the oil pan with special twist off bolts. When a sealed GM crate engine needs rebuilt or repaired that is when the very important and intricate rebuild/repair and sealing system comes into play.
NeSmith Competition Director Tim Sims offers his expertise on the development of the sealing program utilized by both Series, and how the engine history is preserved on repaired or rebuilt engines.
“GM uses a break off seal bolt from the factory and originally partially handled the rebuild process by offering a “RM” seal bolt, that was managed by race tracks and sanctioning bodies such as ourselves, until they decided they didn't want to be in the bolt business”, said Sims, the Competition Director for the NeSmith Series. “That’s when we came up with the cable seal, which is now in its third generation of development. Each seal is stamped with our name and individually serial numbered.”
Once an engine is submitted to the rebuilder for repair or rebuild, the authorized engine builder will disassemble the engine and inspect all of the components of the engine. He will then submit a build/repair sheet to the Series, which will include all part numbers used in the rebuild process for review. The Series will then authorize the repairs or rebuild and issues seals that will be documented with the serial number of the engine. Once the work is completed, the rebuilder will install the seals in the proper location and the engine is then permitted for competition in the RUSH/NeSmith Series. The entire paper trail of the process is kept on a database and shared by both Series.
Sweeney RUSH Series, NeSmith Series directors, as well as sanctioned tracks work together for selecting the authorized rebuilders and repair facilities that are utilized in their regions. There are currently 20 RUSH authorized facilities throughout their region. The rebuild facilities are selected based on need per area surrounding each RUSH-sanctioned speedway.
Each facility goes through an interview, along with a bit of an investigative process, which would include the history and reputation of the facility along with their willingness to adhere and understand the strict parameters set forth in the GM Circle Track Crate Engine Technical Manual, Part #88958668. In the case of the RUSH Late Model class, once a facility is selected, NeSmith will handle the actual contracts with the rebuilders and issue them Crate Racin, USA seals when needed; again to maintain consistency between the two series. RUSH authorizes rebuild and repair facilities for the Sportsman Modifieds in the exact same way and the orange RUSH seals are issued through their office.
“Vicki (Emig) will contact me about a potential authorized rebuilder in her region that she would like to be authorized,” said Sims. “We will both dig around to ensure they have a legitimate place of business and investigate their background and reputation at the tracks. Once we are both satisfied with that information, I'll send an information package that contains our requirements. A binding contract is next and when that is completed, they come on board as an authorized rebuilder.” The process is the same for RUSH on the Sportsman Modified side.
Beginning in 2015, RUSH mandated that their authorized rebuilder and repair facilities attend their annual rebuild/repair seminar. The seminar was put in place to help rebuilders keep up to speed and updated on the entire process as well as network with other rebuilders. RUSH rebuilder hand guides, weekly track tech inspections guides, and other pertinent information is also distributed. If they do not attend they are removed from the list.
“I don't think it's asking too much of our rebuilders to come together once a year at this meeting,” expressed Emig. “The rebuilding process that they perform is one of the most important pieces of our Series, not only is our integrity tied to the work they perform, but also their customer's, the racer.”
RUSH also likes new rebuilders to spend a day or so with an established rebuilder to discuss the work and what is required for the program from a hands on perspective before becoming authorized. Sims, who hails from Lafayette, Alabama, went onto say that the authorized rebuilders’ work is evaluated after each and every season. There are no gray areas in the crate engine rebuilding process as there are none in the penalties handed down if a rebuilder goes outside of the parameters of the process, they are simply removed from the program forever.
The 47-year-old Sims said that the relationship with the Sweeney RUSH Series is awesome. “We all work together and bounce ideas off one another, which in the end helps keep racing affordable and fun.” Asked about the success of both Series, Sims simply stated, "The proof is in the pudding! Both Series continue to grow and provide extremely competitive racing throughout the country."
A major part of pre-race tech inspection at RUSH events whether Sweeney Weekly or Sweeney Touring deals with making sure first and foremost the engines are properly sealed.
“Throughout the season I travel to every single sanctioned RUSH race track on numerous occasions,” said Travis Harry, the Competition Director for the RUSH Series. “Most important are the surprise visits when nobody knows that I’m coming.” Engine teardowns are also not out of the question and last year I did two, both of which were legal. In the past we also found an illegal engine during the teardown process.
Over the past few years Harry has also found several sets of illegal aftermarket sealing bolts. “All the bolts I found were in the pre-race tech inspection,” said Harry, who now makes his home in Franklin, Pa. "Most of these engines were purchased out of the area or over the internet, but there were a few instances where you really didn't know what the circumstances were. When this happens the competitor is not permitted to race until the engine is checked for its legality by one of our authorized rebuilders then properly sealed. Most importantly I think racers need to know that it’s a myth that the aftermarket sealing bolts are undetectable; it's really pretty easy to snuff them out. We highly recommend that racers purchasing engines out of our region send us photographs of the sealing system on the engine prior to purchasing it to ensure the sealing bolts and or seals are correct, which in the long run of course will protect their investment.”
For general post-race inspection, both track and series officials will usually take the top three to five finishers and randomly select various item to tech inspect.
“As far as inspection, we don’t always tear down the engines, but there are numerous types of inspections that we will do to the engine,” said Sims. “If we see a problem or a concern, we are not afraid to confiscate and tear down the engine, and if there is a problem within the sealing system the penalties handed down are very strict with both Series.”
If the driver has something illegal, the illegal parts will be confiscated by the Series. If guilty, the driver will lose all points and monies to date, be fined $1,000 and suspended for one full year. This also applies to the car owner. For the engine builder who did the work, as previously stated, it’s a lifetime ban from ever becoming an authorized rebuilder in either series again.
“I go by the rules and there is no leeway,” said Harry. “If it says it in the book (GM Circle Track Crate Engine Technical Manual) that's what I go by, there really are no gray areas.”
In RUSH and NeSmith, all parts utilized in the rebuilding process must be GM, the only exception to this with these Series in the rings and bearings.
“When it first came out I had mixed emotions,” said Mike Ingram of Ingram Engines, Kittanning, Pa., who recently received RUSH's prestigious "Bill Hendren Rebuilder of the Year" award at RUSH's 2015 banquet. “There are a lot of great engine rebuilders in the program so that was a great honor. If it wasn't for the trailblazing efforts of Bill crate rebuilding wouldn't be what it is today. I didn't know if I wanted to be involved, but I took the gamble and I'm glad I did. Now I would rather do crate engines than anything else, because you're not waiting on custom cams, pistons, the crate engine parts are readily available.”
Ingram now rebuilds about 65 to 70 motors each year. “We had one crate engine with 86 nights on it and that was a rarity,” said Ingram. “It comes down to maintenance. Air filters are important because the engine is sucking all that dirt in and wearing the cylinders out. Oil changes are also important.”
Now Steve Hendren, son of one of the late Bill Hendren, carries on the family tradition of engine rebuilding. Hendren is based out of Rutherford, NC and is a nationally-known rebuilder..
"GM provides a blue print for all engine builders by giving us a rebuilder’s manual, the GM Circle Track Crate Engine Technical Manual. It has every spec the engine must meet. We put that motor to the GM specs and that is what blueprinting actually is, it’s simply the specs everyone must go by. Beyond a doubt, the RUSH/NeSmith sealing method and their engine and seal tracking system is light years ahead of every other Series out there.”
Hendren points out that with their tracking system you can follow an engine throughout its entire life span. It also ensures that the last guy to work on the engine is 100% responsible. Hendren has been rebuilding since 2005 and recognizes the importance of the RUSH/NeSmith programs as the most professional Series out there.
Steve Damon of Steve's Automotive Machine, located in Little Valley, NY, does about 10 rebuilds a year, and said, “When I went to the first meeting in Freedom, NY in 2007 when crate racing was just starting in our area, I looked at John Charlesworth, President of Little Valley Speedway and said, ‘This will never work!’ Boy was I wrong. They’re a nice engine to rebuild. I have no complaints whatsoever. They work with you if there is an issue; it’s fantastic. I'm just glad to be part of the program.”
Jason Ore whose 955 Automotive business is located in Erie, Pa. has somewhat of a different story. “She (Vicki) put me on the list since day one, but I was a bit reluctant to do it because I had so much other work,” explained Ore, who has been involved with RUSH for three years and has had 12 rebuilds go through his shop during the 2015 season. "You can't ask for better people", said Ore.
Luke Bailey of Luke’s Auto Machine, located in Port Robinson, Ontario, is the Series’ longest running Canadian rebuilder. However, he realizes that his area is quite a bit smaller than those in the States. “We have 11 local cars here,” said Bailey, “and do about six to seven rebuilds a year. It’s been very successful and they (RUSH) are great people to work with. They know how to run an operation.”
There are three other Canadian rebuilders and that list includes Doug Forbes of C. Smith Machine, Mike Workman of Workman Automotive Machine, and the newest north of the border contributor, John Saunders of J. Saunders Racing.
“Last year we didn’t do a lot because we don’t have a lot of tracks,” said Forbes, who is near Brighton Speedway. He anticipates a growth paralleling the growth of the RUSH Pro Stock program. Last year Forbes did three motors and so far for 2016, he has better than doubled that figure. “They’re (RUSH) easy to deal with. I like the rules package and how they look after it. Nothing gets passed them.”
Workman is a relative newcomer having been involved with RUSH for a little better than a year. Workman, who does about five engines a year, likes the professionalism exhibited by RUSH. “They’re right behind us on everything,” said Workman. “It’s satisfying to be part of an organization that cares and does everything they say they will do.”
Saunders of J Saunders Racing located in Watford, Ontario is a true veteran builder. At 60 years of age, he bored his first engine when he was 12 years old. He was been very impressed with rebuilders like Ingram and Hendren. At recent meetings, Ingram pulled Saunders aside and told him to call anytime there are questions.
“They are pretty detailed,” said Saunders of the Series. “They’re very stringent on the rules for the engine rebuilds.”
Prior to joining up with RUSH, Saunders was involved with the NASCAR Spec Engine Program that was supported for parts by Robert Yates. “I have a good relationship with him,” said Saunders.
“We have a pretty good clientele but I would like to entice some American drivers to cross the border and do some work with us. Saunders’ shop is about 90 minutes away from Detroit, Michigan. “It’s all about how well your stuff does,” he said. “If you win on Sunday, you sell on Monday. Sharing information is how you get ahead.”
Bill Campbell of Campbell’s Engines, along with his wife, Betsy, both work with rebuilding engines and have recently done a lot of checking and resealing of 602 Sportsman Mod engines using the RUSH seal. Located in Dansville, NY, Campbell is now in his third year of operating with RUSH.
Campbell’s works with the both the Late Model and the (602) Sportsman Mod programs. “The 602 Mods are a very popular class up here,” said Campbell. “It’s been real positive and keeps growing in our area.”
And there are others who contribute to the important engine rebuilding process. Some of those others include Jimmy Friedline of Jennerstown Engine Technology and Brian Donath of Donath Motorworx.
Friedline, whose shop is located in Jennerstown, Pa., has been rebuilding engines for the last 15 to 20 years. For 18 months he spent time as an assembler in Chip Ganassi’s engine shop. He now enters his third season as an Authorized RUSH Rebuilder.
For the last eight months, Friedline has been hobbled with nerve and arthritis foot disease (Charcot) that causes the bones to fall apart. He just recently got back to walking with a boot but realizes it’s a condition that will probably remain with him for the rest of his life.
As far as the RUSH program, Friedline said, “At one time, I was totally against the crate program, but now to keep the costs down, I’m all for it. If you don’t control the costs of racing, it’s just not going to be here. I really believe that she’s (Vicki) is on the right track to control those costs.”
“It’s been great,” said Donath, whose shop is located in Syracuse, NY, and is in his third year of being associated with RUSH. “Everybody seems to work together. If I have any questions I can call any rebuilder on the list and they will help out with the information I need.”
He definitely sees an increase with his rebuilds. With three tracks in the area, Donath estimates he will do somewhere between 10 to 15 rebuilds this year. “The more tracks the RUSH Series gets in this area will only help us. Vicki is great to work with, she’s certainly a go-getter.”
Another important person in the RUSH program is Sweeney's Pace Performance Circle Track Business Developer, Don Blackshear. A former rebuilder for RUSH, he recently relinquished his position as a rebuilder as he felt it was a conflict of interest. He brings a unique perspective to the program as he is a Hall of Fame Drag Racer, has owned his own engine shop for many years, and now works on a daily basis to expand Pace's presence in crate engined racing throughout the country which allows him to be in direct contact with GM Performance personal.
Mike Ingram says that the core group of Harry, Sims, Blackshear, Hendren, and himself are in a position to answer just about any and every question that a racer or another rebuilder might have. “They can rely on the years of experience that we have,” he says.
“If I can’t answer it, I will call Tim or Steve or Travis or Don and usually between the five of us, we can get things sorted out,” said Ingram. “Usually one of us has seen it or dealt with it in the past.”
The goal of crate racing is to create equality and affordability to where the race will come down to the driver’s ability and not the type of equipment he is using. By requiring the utilization of the GM 604 & 602 crate engine, surrounding it with a strong rebuild and tech program, putting the racers on the same Hoosier spec tires, Sunoco spec fuel, and continued success of racers choosing to utilize the RUSH Bilstein $135 sealed spec shocks, the Series will continue to have a bright future. RUSH will continue to constantly monitor the introduction of new products to make sure the fit into the conce.
“Is there a place for the crate motor? Absolutely,” said Harry. “Does there need to be policing, absolutely! This puts everything and everybody on an even playing field. Nobody’s creating more horsepower because it’s all equal.”
In closing, Hendren said, “I think the crate engine will save auto racing, period.”
Other Authorized Rebuilders/Repair Centers part of the RUSH program include Brougher’s Machine Shop, Craiger Race Engines, Cresap Automotive Machine, Empson Automotive, Gypsum Express Engine Shop, Marty Brown Race Engines, Race 1, and Ray’s Precision Machine.
RUSH Late Model marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, Bazell Race Fuels, Insinger Performance, MSD Performance, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, TBM Brakes, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Velocita-USA, Classic Ink USA, High Gear Speed Shop, CrateInsider.com, B.R.A.K.E.S., RockAuto.com, and Valley Fashions.
RUSH Sportsman Modified marketing partners: Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Bicknell Racing Products, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, MSD Ignition, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, FK Rod Ends, Sherwood Racing Wheels, Velocita-USA, Precise Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, K&N Filters, TBM Brakes, Lincoln Electric, Classic Ink USA., CrateInsider.com, and B.R.A.K.E.S.
E-mail can be sent to the RUSH
Racing Series at [email protected] and snail mail to 4368 Route 422,
Pulaski, PA 16143. Office phone is 724-964-9300 and fax is 724-964-0604. The
RUSH Racing Series website is www.rushracingseries.com. Like our Facebook page
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