Splitting Seconds

In professional drag racing, the margin of victory is often just thousandths of a second. At NHRA Pro Stock driver Larry Morgan’s shop in Newark, OH, chasing those few thousandths is the Holy Grail, and Larry clearly enjoys everything it takes. He’s just completed his 27th season as a professional drag racer, and he has no plans to retire.

Part of the fun comes from the challenge of the Pro Stock class. Unlike the rules governing Top Fuel and Funny Car, Larry says, “our class is wide open. We create our own cylinder heads, manifolds, everything. We’re required to use carburetors, but otherwise we can use whatever we what.”

For that reason, Larry said this class “is more driven by tools than any other kind of racing. You can’t just call and order parts. You have to make what you need.”

The Formula

The NHRA Pro Stock rules stipulate a 90-degree V8 engine with a single camshaft and no more than 500 CID, and it must be naturally aspirated with no more than two 4-barrel carburetors. The block, heads and manifolds are otherwise unregulated, so that’s where to look for the ‘margin of victory.’ An engine is an air pump, so in this class, flow is the key to power.

Larry’s team starts by making and modifying a manifold or cylinder head out of plastic. When the flow bench tells them the part is perfect, it’s sent to an engineering service that measures it and generates the program files for the CNC machines. After that, Larry’s team literally carves their engine out of aluminum using state-of-the-art CNC milling machines, “We start with bare block and head castings from Ford, then we machine the ports, valve guides, cylinder bores, everything, then we hand finish it.”

With access to “everything Ford has” in the way of engineering resources, Larry Morgan Racing designs their own ports and valve seat configurations, intake manifolds, exhaust systems and dozens of other parts. “We started with cylinder heads and manifolds. When we perfected that, we started (machining) blocks. Today we make just about every part on the car ourselves. We even machine our own brake pads out of carbon fiber.”

The Race in the Pits

An NHRA drag race is really two races: one on the track and one in the pits. After each run, teams have 75 minutes to prepare for the next round. Pro Stock racers don’t disassemble the engine like the Fuel guys do, but Larry’s team still removes the clutch, checks all the valve springs and tends to a few dozen other items on the car. When all goes according to plan, they’re ready for the next round with twenty minutes to spare.

With the pit clock running, every move is carefully choreographed, and Larry said their tools are chosen just as carefully. “The tools we use at the track for maintaining the car between rounds, those are the most important tools we have. Every person has a performance tool in their hand the whole time in the pits. Whether it’s a particular type of impact gun or a special wrench, it’s a performance tool.”

Larry’s team maintains their tools just as carefully as the racecar. “We can’t have anything wear out, because a worn socket or screwdriver just slows you down. And if something faster or better comes out, we gotta have it…(and) I’ve got a back-up tool for everything we do.”

So speed on the track depends on speed in the pits and perfection in the shop. At Larry Morgan Racing, the choice of tools is based on thousandths of a second.