At the Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown, a small-block is born in 23 minutes
In a calendar year, the Hendrick Motorsports engine shop builds about 330 engines. When you do something that often, at that kind of volume, you tend to get pretty good at it. Quick, consistent. Hendrick engines have won the last two Cup Series championships.
How quick? Last year, during the Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown, John Boydston and Dave Frey teamed up to bolt together a small-block V-8 in 23 minutes and 39 seconds. The bigger shock that this time is nearly two minutes off of the record set back in 2014.
For 20 years, Hendrick Motorsports has paired 12 Hendrick Certified Master Technicians with 12 Hendrick Motorsports engine department team members (using a random draw) to compete against one another in a sort-of engine builder pro-am. To be eligible, the technicians must have exemplary customer services scores and pass the Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) exam. Frey, for example, is a technician at Hendrick BMW, just down the street from the motorsports campus, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Build teams assemble 358-cubic-inch Chevrolet engines similar to the fuel-injected engines that run every NASCAR Cup Series weekend. Two rounds over two days. Componentry like the throttle bodies and the injectors are placed on the intake in advance, but in large part it’s a 243-piece puzzle. “Some things were simplified with the engine,” says Boydston, “but it’s basically what you put together in your garage if you were building an engine for your old muscle car.”
Engine assembly competitions have a long history in NASCAR country. Back in the day, before engine shops monopolized to the remaining several suppliers we have today, every team built their own engines. Randy Dorton, over in the Henrick stable, was considered one of NASCAR’s premier engine builders. In 2003, as stock car teams began form early engine shop alliances (subsequently decreasing the number of NASCAR engine shops) Dorton brought the tournament in-house and leveraged the expertise of Hendrick Automotive Group by forming the two-person teams.
Twenty years later, the competition is bigger than ever. For their speedy work last year, Boydston and Frey each take home a fully-stocked tool box courtesy of NAPA Auto Parts. For many of the participants, its more about the bragging rights than any tools or trophies. “We’re racers. We’re competitors. That’s our life,” says Boydston, citing the pride and bragging rights that come with winning the in-house contest.
He adds: “It also brings a ton of camaraderie between the dealerships and the motorsports arm.” Just as it’s true for Sundays, teamwork is the key to winning. “Most of the guys build the same,” says Boydston. “The real time savers are tool management, preventing mistakes, and efficiently communicating with your partner.” He points out that many technicians have to get used to using standard tools in the build process. So the duo can move quicker, the engine department employees often stage wrenches for their metric-minded partners.
Still, nobody’s perfect, especially against the clock. “I’m bad about dropping stuff,” says Boydston. “Your hands are slick and I do it almost every build.” The drops must not hurt too bad as last year’s victory is Boydston’s second triumph in six years of competing. He’s one of the few to have multiple titles.
A 19-year veteran of the engine shop, Boydston spent 12 years traveling as an engine tuner for Hendrick’s NASCAR teams. Since leaving life on the road, Boydston now works in sub assembly, assembling dampers, oil pumps, idler bearings and other pieces that will be used in final engine assembly. This year, the wily builder will attempt to defend his crown in the Showdown and join the elite as a three-time winner.
“Be ready for a show,” says Boydston. “We’re all friend don’t get me wrong, but once the buzzer goes off, there’s no friends out there other than my teammate.”
To watch this year’s build-off, tune into hendrickebs.com on Wednesday November 9th for two days of live coverage.