Article By Jim Kaekel, Jr.
Although former U.S. President Ronald Reagan may have used the term "trickle-down economics," amid much controversy, there have been other forms of the "trickle-down effect" that truly do benefit everyone. Racing technology constantly evolves as innovative new products or improvements to existing items are found to make more horsepower or increase a car's traction, handling or overall performance.
Many products, particularly those for carbureted racing engines, are initially developed for use in high profile, professional racing circles such as NASCAR Sprint Cup or NHRA Pro Stock. Eventually, these innovations trickle down to the sportsman racing classes. CNC-ported cylinder heads, large diameter, thicker wall pushrods, gas ported pistons, and narrow, low tension piston rings, which roughly a decade ago could only be found on professional race cars, are now common on sportsman cars as well.
A fairly recent idea involving engine cooling has worked its way down to the grass roots level. Sprint Cup and NHRA Pro Stock teams have achieved maximum performance by using large engine "chillers." Chillers lower coolant temperatures (to as low as 50 deg. F.) prior to qualifying. Engine builders and racers alike agree that lower coolant temperatures result in more horsepower, and lessen the chance of detonation.
Benefitting from lower coolant temperatures is not a new idea. Sportsman drag racers have been cooling their engines for decades in search of the that extra "couple of hundredths" Until now, they've been pouring large jugs of cold water through their cooling system prior to racing. However, this method is very labor intensive and doesn't have quite the impact that ice water provides when compared to water that is of ambient temperature.
High end engine chillers typically use a built-in refrigeration unit in conjunction with a coolant storage tank that circulates cold water through the cooling system, however, these cost several thousand dollars, and are out of the reach of a typical sportsman racer's budget.
In the past couple of years, more cost effective engine chillers have become commercially available for between $700.00 and $1,500.00. Specifically aimed at the sportsman drag racing market, they are gaining popularity in NHRA Stock, Super Stock, and select NMCA classes where "heads-up" type runs occur. A typical chiller has a 10-15 gallon reservoir, usually mounted on a two-wheel cart for ease of transport. A built-in water pump, either 12 or 110 Volt, circulates water from the race car's cooling system through the cooler reservoir via pressure and return hoses. A one-way check valve with dry break fittings is either installed in the car's upper radiator hose, or connected to a specialized radiator cap with inlet and outlet fittings, to provide cooling system connections. The reservoir is filled 1/3 full of water and the rest of the way with ice. The chillers hold sufficient ice/water mix to cool the engine between rounds for a full day of increased performance.
Do-it-yourselfers on a tight budget can build an effective engine chiller at home using a large ice chest outfitted with a submersible 110V swimming pool pump. No need to buy a new pump, there are hundreds of used ones out there. Rubber garden hoses for both pressure and return can be plumbed through the upper sides of the ice chest, and dry break fittings, like those offered by Jiffy-Tite, may then be installed on the opposite ends of the hoses for quick, leak-free connections/disconnections. A fabricated check valve, like the unit offered by C&R Racing (CRRCR-UC-BPCO17B for 1-1/2" dia. radiator hose), can then be installed in the radiator hose in the proper flow direction. Jiffy-Tite -8AN ORB (O-Ring Boss) valved fittings (JFT51108 socket and JFT52108 plug) are fitted to the C&R check valve. Valved -10AN push-lock fittings (JFT51510P socket and JFT52510P plug) are used on the chiller end, and they fit perfectly into 5/8" I.D. garden hose. The unique design of the Jiffy-Tite units allows interchangeability between all 5000 series fittings, even when AN sizing differs. The check valve has -8AN ORB provisions for inlet and outlet fittings and is available to fit a wide variety of radiator hoses including 1-1/2", 1-3/4", -16AN and -20AN.
A properly designed engine chiller can reduce water temperatures dramatically in a matter of just a few minutes. Some drag racers have experienced as much as .05-.08 reduction in elapsed times. It is recommended that the unit be used only after initial cooling to prevent thermal shock to engine components. Maximum performance benefits are derived by using the chiller just before the next round, and running the engine as little as possible prior to racing.
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