UNDERSTANDING THE SWEENEY RUSH RACING SERIES GM CRATE ENGINE REBUILD/REPAIR SEALING PROCESS
By Doug Kennedy
April 6, 2015
(Pulaski, PA)…Racing and saving money seems to be the perfect marriage for local and regional dirt drivers and a major part of that has to do with the rebuild, repair, and sealing programs that both the Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC RUSH Racing Series and sister series, NeSmith, require in the event a 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, Pennsylvania while NeSmith’s are located in Cartersville, Georgia.
As crate racing has evolved and escalated, the GM 604 Late Model rebuild and sealing process and the GM 602 repair and sealing process have become “hot” topics.
“Over the years both Mike and myself have heard horror 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 this field and I can assure you we all work as a team.”
When Chevrolet developed the crate engine program for the asphalt ASA program back in 2004, GM sold approximately 30 to 40 engines, eleven years later that number has obviously increased tremendously as numerous speedways and series have chosen this option as a more affordable and viable option for their racing programs.
The RUSH Series has adopted the NeSmith Competition Sealing System for their Late Model program, while they utilize their own sealing system for the RUSH Sportsman Modifieds. The system is identical in their requirements, record keeping, and tracking, with the only difference being that the RUSH’s seals are orange and NeSmith’s are yellow. Other legitimate crate racing series seals can be accepted, but must be pre-approved by the series.
Let’s clarify what sealing means. The GM Crate Engine as it comes from the factory is sealed at the intake manifold, the cylinder heads, the front covers, and the oil pan with special twist off bolts. Sweeney/Pace Performance currently sells a new GM 604 for $5,495 and the GM 602 for $3,495.
The GM 604 is permitted to be rebuilt if needed, although RUSH does not permit the GM 602 that is the required engine in the RUSH Sportsman Modified to be rebuilt only "repaired" as the average price of a rebuild would be somewhere around $2,000. Consequently, the better option for the GM 602 is simply to buy a new motor rather than try to rebuild it.
RUSH Series directors are responsible for selecting the authorized rebuilders and repair facilities for both of their Series; however, in the case of their Late Model class they permit NeSmith Competition Director to handle the contracts and issue their seals in an effort to maintain consistency between the two series. The orange RUSH seals utilized on the Sportsman Modifieds are issued through the RUSH office. To date, there are 19 Authorized Regional RUSH/NeSmith Engine Rebuilders. The list includes seven from Pennsylvania, five from New York, three from Ontario, Canada, two from Ohio, and one each from Maryland and North Carolina. (See list of authorized rebuild/repair facilities on website)
To become a possible authorized rebuilder there is a bit of an interview and investigative process.
“Vicki (Emig) will contact me about an authorized rebuilder in her region that she would like authorized,” said Tim Sims, the Competition Director for the NeSmith Series. “I’ll dig around to ensure they have a legitimate place of business and investigate their background and reputation at the tracks. Once I'm am 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 January 1, 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’s hand guides, weekly track tech inspections guides, and other pertinent information is also distributed.
“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,” said Sims.
Sims, who hails from Lafayette, Alabama, went onto say that the authorized rebuilders’ work is evaluated after each and every season.
The 47-year-old Sims said that the relationship with the RUSH Series is awesome. “We all work together and bounce ideas off one another, which in the end helps keep racing affordable and fun.”
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.
“I travel to every single sanctioned RUSH race track,” said Travis Harry, the 32-year-old Competition Director for the RUSH Series. “I’ll make surprise visits when nobody knows that I’m coming.” Last year there was one illegal engine that Harry found while 12 drivers were disqualified for having illegal engine sealing bolts.
“All the bolts I found were in the pre-race tech inspection,” said Harry, who makes his home in Reno, Pennsylvania. “They were issued a fix it type of ticket and they couldn’t race that night or any night after in our Series until the engine was taken to an authorized rebuilder, checked for legality, and then properly sealed.
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.
“We don’t always do a teardown on the engines, but there is some form of inspection that we will do,” said Sims. “If we see a problem or a concern, we are not afraid to confiscate and tear down the engine.”
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, it’s a lifetime ban from ever becoming an authorized rebuilder in either series again.
“The penalties are very, very strict with both Series,” emphasized Sims.
“I go by the rules and there is no leeway,” said Harry. “If it says it in the book, the GM CTC Technical Manual (Part #88958668) that’s what I go by.”
The only approved aftermarket parts that are allowed in the rebuilding process are the rings and the bearings. All the other parts have to strictly come from Chevrolet.
“We do what GM can’t do and that’s to make the motors 100% equal,” said Steve Hendren of Rutherfordton, North Carolina, one of the authorized rebuilders. “No production built engine will be exactly the same, but when we’re done with them, they are.”
Two other authorized rebuilders are Brad Hibbard of Race 1 from Poland, Ohio and Mike Ingram of Ingram Engines from Kittanning, Pennsylvania. Both of them have been involved with crate racing since Emig and Leon began to develop the concept throughout the Northeast in 2007, and at the time, were the only two rebuilders in the area. Both of them sell new crate motors as well.
Those new engines of which Hibbard sells about 200 a year, elicited this comment from him. “Even though they are crate engines, they need to be race prepped.”
“Along with rebuilding, I also sell new crate engines and the bolt on accessories and offer dyno service,” said Ingram. “We sell about 40 new ones a year. Most engines run from one to two years before a rebuild is necessary. Three times is usually the high watermark on how many times an engine can be rebuilt before it is necessary to purchase a new one."
“We’ve had engines with 12 races on them that look like they won’t even be able to be rebuilt, and then we’ve had engines with 100 races with absolutely no issues,” said Hibbard, who rebuilds 50 to 75 motors a year. “When an engine does come in for a rebuild, it’s usually the rings and bearings which need to be replaced. “That’s the most common thing but it depends on the wear and tear on the engine and how it is maintained,” said Hendren.
Ingram 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.”
Hibbard added, “There’s no answer to how long before a rebuild becomes necessary because it all matters on how the driver treats the motor, the maintenance that is put into the engines, and other situations like heat and dirt.
As for used engines, Hibbard said, “Buying used engines bothers me. The success rate for them is pretty low-it’s like buyer beware. I also recommend that if they choose to go that route that people like myself or Mike (Ingram) assist them with their purchase of the used engine.”
A smaller rebuilder, although at one time about 10 years ago was the only one in New York, is Steve Damon of Little Valley, New York. “We do about 10 rebuilds a year,” he said. “I actually did one from 2011, but two to three years is usually tops. They’re a nice engine to rebuild”
“Once you’re involved like me, I would rather do crates than anything else,” added Ingram. “I like doing them because we’re not waiting on custom cams and pistons and the parts are readily available.”
“Beyond a doubt the (RUSH/NeSmith) sealing method and their seal tracking and engine tracking system is light years ahead of every other series out there,” said Hendren. He points out that with their tracking system you can and follow an engines throughout its entire life span. It also ensures that the last guy to work on the engine is 100% responsible.
As with anything that involves changes, there were a lot of doubters when GM introduced the crate concept in 2004.
“When we went to that first meeting in Freedom, New York, I looked at John Charlesworth, the President of Little Valley Speedway and said this will never fly,” said Damon. “Boy was I wrong.”
“When it first came out, I had mixed emotions,” said Ingram. “I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved, but I took the gamble and I’m glad I got involved. It really cuts the costs down especially for the Late Model and Modified drivers.”
“In the beginning I thought it would ruin racing,” said Hendren. “With the decline in the economy and the drop in disposable income, this keeps people racing and butts in the grandstand. The RUSH and NeSmith Series are the two best series out there for Dirt Late Model racing.”
The goal of crate racing is to get equality 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 602 & 604 engines, surrounding it with a strong rebuild and tech program, putting the racers on the same Hoosier spec tires, and the recent influx of the Bilstein Bandit "sealed" shock program there is no doubt this goal is attainable. RUSH looks to address other concerns, such as boutique style fuels in the future.
“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.”
RUSH Late Model marketing partners include Sweeney Chevrolet Buick GMC, Pace Performance, Hoosier Tire, Bilstein Shocks, Sunoco Race Fuels, MSD Ignition, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, Precise Racing Products, ARbodies, The Brake Man, K&N Filters, Lincoln Electric, TurboStart, Beyea Headers, FK Rod Ends, Bobby Lake Motorsports, Crate Innovations Inc., Moroso Performance Products, Velocita-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, MSD Ignition, Maxima Racing Oil, Jones Racing Products, VP Racing Fuels, FK Rod Ends, Sherwood Racing Wheels, Velocita-USA, Precise Racing Products, Alternative Power Sources, K&N Filters, Rocket Racing, 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 at www.facebook.com/rushlatemodels and follow us on Twitter @RUSHLM.