Ford’s Return To Sprint Car Racing

Ricky Warner is busy, because the new Ford engine goes on the chassis dyno for another round of testing in a hurry. Warner is best known as the crew chief behind most of the World of Outlaws titles and wins scored by Schatz.

After many years on the road, Warner stayed close to TSR’s Brownsburg, Ind., shop in 2019 as he coordinated the Ford project.

“The engine has exceeded expectations so far, all down the line,” Warner says of the Ford. “It’s a long process, because there are a lot of new pieces and parts to develop. The block can be traced back to something similar – not the same, but similar – to what (Kenny) Woodruff ran with (Dave) Blaney 20 years ago, but everything else is new.

“The biggest difference is probably the injector. It’s all like a number one, with individual runners to each cylinder. And the firing order is different.

“Tim Engler designed the injector, and he did a fantastic job on it. We designed the linkage. He also helped with the block. The runners, the tops, the bells, everything is Tim’s design.
“The heads are basically a one-off at this point, a Ford design.

“Has it been fun? Yes, because everything is new. A brand new head, the new injector, everything from the ground up. The crankshaft is a little different than we’ve used before, so really, everything is different.”

As the program came to life, key players became involved. Ron Shaver, a Hall of Fame engine builder with a lifetime of experience who has provided horsepower to Schatz throughout his career, agreed to take part. However, Shaver preferred an advisory role rather than taking on the work required for a project of this scope.

Ford turned to Andy Durham, a longtime Ford engine builder with a rich heritage in motorsports. After years with the highly-successful NASCAR engine shop of Roush-Yates, in recent years Durham struck out on his own to build a variety of engines, most notably in the dirt late model arena.

FordThe culture in NASCAR is much more closely tied to brand identity; if you are a Chevrolet guy, that’s what you know and support. The same for Ford guys; you work on Fords, you know about Fords, and you park a Ford truck outside your shop.

Durham and Roush-Yates are tried-and-true Ford people. If you stretched Durham’s arm on a table and opened a vein, his blood would probably not be red; it would be Ford oval blue.

Currently, one of the hot engines in dirt late model racing is an Andy Durham Ford. He is working with some of the top teams in the sport, and they are winning races and championships.

“This is my first involvement in sprint cars,” Durham said from his High Point, North Carolina shop. “I got involved through Ford, since I worked at Roush-Yates all that time. Doug (Yates) and them recommended I’d be a good guy to have involved.

“The sprint car engine is similar to the engines we’re building in dirt late models, other than the cylinder head. It’s the same 4.380-inch bore spacing, for example. But the sprint car engine has to have an in-line valve head.

“As far as performance, it makes a lot more horsepower (than the dirt late model engine), mainly because of the fuel injection and the [methanol]. I expect we’ll be way over 900 horsepower when we’re said and done.

“The bigger challenge is because of the mechanical fuel injection. A carburetor is easier to tune for drivability, for example. Mechanical fuel injection is a different challenge.

“It’s been a couple of years of work to get to this point. We had to make all the parts and pieces to drive the oil pump off the front, and the fuel pump and things off the rear. Those were all one-off pieces and that took some time to develop.”

Eventually, Durham will likely be the first engine builder to make the Ford available to a buyer outside of TSR. That is about a year away, based on estimates of those involved.

Of note, key elements, such as the retail price of the engine, have not yet been announced. (Ford officials were not available for comment prior to the deadline of this story.)

According to Warner, the fitting of the Ford in Schatz’s J&J chassis required only small changes to the car.

“The airbox has to be a little bit longer, and that’s brand new,” he explained. “The headers, those were totally different, and another piece we had to develop. The only thing we use from our existing engine is the oil pump; every single other piece is different. Andy has been working on the cylinder heads for almost two years, and we first fired the engine at Shaver’s shop about a year ago.

“Our goal is to make the same power as the Chevy. The main thing now is getting it to drive well, with the tuning. It does everything right, it’s just a matter of tuning. So far it’s done well in both bottom end and top end. We’ll keep testing and see what it likes. It’s like learning all over again; you go back through everything, just to verify it.

FordDespite Warner’s input, Durham has still been the builder for the project in his eyes.

“I’d say Andy is considered the engine builder,” Warner noted. “Ron (Shaver) has done a lot of consulting and dyno testing, and he did a lot of durability testing for us.

“We’ve had three engines on the track so far. So far, the driver feedback has been good. Tony (Stewart) raced probably 14 nights with it, and [Schatz] has had a handful of races with it. The feedback was real positive so far.”

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