Drag Racing with Jim Hand – Part 10: Reader Feedback
…….. this session will be dedicated to the following letter from John Mino.
TO: DRAG RACING WITH JIM HAND
I always enjoy reading your articles and usually agree with your views, particularly since your info is backed by “at the track” results and not some “pie in the sky” theory backed by umpteen hours of dyno time. I was elated to read your article about ignition systems, and couldn’t agree more. Actually, it made me think about the last time I went to Super Shops to buy a cam key to advance the cam in my L/Stock ’74 Firebird. While waiting for my part, this 20something year old “expert performance advisor” directed my attention to the Mallory Hy-Fire ignition display boasting a blue spark about 1-1/2″ long arcing away while exclaiming “That’s worth about 25 horses over stock…would you be interested in a set-up like that for your drag car?…the whole system runs about 300 bucks.” I looked him square in the eye while responding, “…naw, I only spend money on things that will help lower my E.T….I have a good ignition system.” He looked at me as if to say “what an idiot”, turned around and resumed cleaning and stocking shelves, probably figuring I had an MSD. Your article reinforces our (Brother Jim and myself) findings that there is no E.T. to be found in ignition systems, that is unless you have a faulty system. We have been racing for over 30 years and have learned quite a bit when it comes to lowering your E.T. at the track.
My brother, Jim Mino, built and owns probably the fastest Pure Stockers in the country, bar none. And yes, they’re both Pontiacs, ’68 Firebird 400 coupes to be exact. One is an automatic that turns 12.70’s @ 111 mph through the mufflers on F70x14 red line tires, the other one is a 4-speed car that runs near 12 flat @ 114 mph on M&H D.O.T. tires. Both cars look so stock it makes you instantly think, “this guy has to be cheating”, no car could run that good totally stock. The engine compartment has been impeccably detailed to factory specs, no yellow wires, killer coils and absolutely no aftermarket ‘goodies’ are present. We have found over the years that these ‘goodies’ just don’t help E.T., so why have it?
Your wagon is very impressive and consistent and in the April issue you stated that your 455 using #96 heads has 9.95:1 compression, you also mentioned you use 92 octane pump gas. If this is correct, I have a tip for you. My car is a ’74 Firebird with a low compression 400, advertised compression is either 8 or 8.5:1. My engine is .030 overbored, the block has been decked to ‘zero’, the heads have been milled to minimum cc’s and my static compression is now 9.2:1. I raced the car this winter at Carlsbad Raceway to get my car ‘dialed in’ because I want to race at a few WDRS meets. I do things like you do Jim, one change at a time. Advancing the cam 2 degrees helped 2 tenths (.20) of a second, for less than ten bucks! I’d like to buy a couple seconds at that price, Ha! Ha! Ha! No such luck, right? Well…read on…One day while talking to Brother Jim somehow the topic of fuel came up and Jim recommended trying some racing gas. Let me tell ya, when Brother Jim talks, I listen. He said he topped off his tank one time for winter storage with 92 octane pump gas, but then his car dieseled; his car has 11.1:1 CR (blueprinted, of course) and needs more octane. I just figured with a 9 to 1 motor 92 octane pump gas would be just fine, but I also had some dieseling, so off I went to this Union 76 station that sells 100 octane racing gas ($3.99 per gallon), so I got 10 gallons, yep, 40 bucks worth. I drained my tank of the 92 octane Arco (the best gas you can buy at any price), so they say, and dumped in the good stuff. At the track I got the shock of my life, would you believe 26 hundredths (.26) of a second? Same temperature, same weather, same everything, all I changed was the gas. My car ran the same every week, always within a couple hundredths of my best times. The cam timing change helped and so did the 100 octane racing gas, nothing else did. I’d like to see you put some of this fuel in your wagon, it just might put you in the 11’s! Give it a ‘test’ and let us know Jim, you know all us ‘piston heads’ are horsepower junkies, why do you think the aftermarket business is so lucrative? Now when you can pick up nearly a half second for 50 bucks…well, I think it just might be worth the ink.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and views with us. The Mino name has been associated with superior stock Pontiac performance for years, and you guys have consistently proven how strong the Pontiac engines are in stock form. I do have some comments on several points addressed by John.
The most important facet of stock ignition performance is that the ignition system be correctly adjusted, and all parts be in factory or equivalent condition. For example, several of the replacement HEI modules are not equal to the original GM 900 series modules, and may cause a loss of performance. After-market ignition components may provide easier starting and better idling of some engines, but I have never found performance increases with them on Pontiacs operated below 5800 RPM. (I am unaware of any accurate on-the-strip testing at RPM’s above 5800.) The May ’96 issue of “Circle Track” magazine had a well documented test of twelve different sets of ignition wires, ranging from the most expensive types of “low resistance, high current” wires, to an after market stock replacement set. There was less than 1% variance in engine power between the 12, and the authors pointed out that the 1% was within the error rate of the dyno.
Engine dyno testing provides excellent and immediate feedback on the effects of parts changes or adjustments to a test engine, and enables a skilled operator to tune for peak power in a given RPM range. Unfortunately, most dyno tests we read about do not tell us that the engine won’t idle below 1000 RPM in drive, or how badly the “ultra-mega” carb may bog every time the throttle is opened from idle/low speed, or how weak the engine is until it reaches some ridiculous RPM (for a driveable car). If such reports would clearly differentiate between race only engines, and engines suitable for driving on the street, the value of dyno testing would be much more obvious. High peak HP is impressive, but if the engine is unable to quickly and smoothly accelerate the car to that RPM, and operate close to that peak power range, it is generally meaningless. That explains why some 500 to 600 “dyno” HP engines (including Pontiacs) won’t run as well in an actual streetable car as a 400+ HP engine with a wider but lower peak power band.
Changing cam timing by advancing (or retarding) the cam can provide some increase in performance as evidenced by John’s experience. In general, the larger displacement engines do not respond as well to cam advance due to their already abundant low RPM torque. Also, many after market cams are ground advanced, and they may not favorably respond to further advancing. However, engine configuration, vehicle weight, actual cam timing, gearing, converter type, etc., all have an effect on cam operation, so shifting the timing of your cam may be beneficial. You must have a repeatable baseline of performance before trying this change so the cam timing effects can be accurately compared.
I plan to try some racing fuel in my wagon at the drag strip. Using racing fuel for normal street driving in any vehicle obviously is not practical, but such a comparison at the strip may provide us some interesting information about fuel and performance.
John, thanks for your input, and tell your brother Jim that we have been monitoring the amazing performance the Mino’s have obtained from stock components for years. Keep up the good work! If other readers have additional comments on these subjects, or other similar material, let’s hear them!