CONCORD, N.C. - After competing in the Sprint All-Star Race, which is one of the shortest events of the season, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series teams will experience the longest race of the year this weekend as the annual Coca-Cola 600 takes place at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. Doug Yates, head engine builder at Roush Yates Engines, spoke to Ford Racing about what makes the annual Memorial Day Weekend spectacular so challenging from a power perspective.
Q. We hear drivers and teams talk about how they like to use the All-Star race as a test session to learn something for the 600. How do you as an engine builder view there two weeks at Charlotte Motor Speedway?
A. It’s two extremes. The Sprint All-Star Race is all about going for the win and tuning the engine for its utmost performance and hoping to do something spectacular. The 600 is the longest race of the year and durability is pushed to the limits, so I look at it as in the All-Star Race you’re on offense and in the 600 you’re on defense. That’s the best way I can describe it. There’s a lot of preparation, especially for these two weeks.
Q. What are the challenges of a 600-mile race from your perspective?
A. It’s a little difficult because most of our races now are 400 miles, so we really try to optimize our performance for that. So when you get this one unique 600-mile race every year, we do a little extra preparation. We’ll run a couple extra durability tests at the shop to make sure we have that 750 miles we give the teams covered and make sure the durability is there. We also look at the best parts -- the lowest mile cranks, the lowest mile blocks, your best set of valve springs, things like that -- so there is definitely extra attention in the shop and with the team on the 600-mile race. To win the Coke 600 is something that is really special. It’s up there with the Daytona 500 and the Southern 500. Back in the day when they had the Winston Million, this was one of the races that was included, and we were fortunate to win it a couple of times, so it’s a special event.
Q. How different is an engine for a 400-mile race versus a 600-mile race?
A. There are several aspects of that. One is the valve train and how hard you push the valve train makes a big difference on the power that you produce in the engine. So for 600 miles we won’t run the most aggressive valve train. The other aspect is tuning. For a 400-mile race, you may be a little leaner and a little bit more aggressive on timing, whereas for the 600-mile race you want to make sure those pistons have the durability. Pistons get soft and when they get soft they tend to give up and bad things happen, so those are the biggest aspects. What valve train package you select and then how hard do you tune the engine. What air-fuel ratio you run and how much ignition timing you run. Those are some of the differences we’ll do from a 400-mile race to a 600-mile race. For the All-Star Race, we say the engines are really on kill. You’re going for the win and you’ve got it tuned as optimal as you can for 150 miles.
Q. Drivers are always asked if they notice the last 100 miles and does it take a toll on them. What concerns you about this 600-mile race?
A. The stress points as an engine builder are the first 50 miles because that’s where sometimes you’ll have what we call ‘infant mortality.’ You’ll have things crop up that happen real early, and then you look at that last 100 miles. Those are the points in the race that you really are on your toes and your senses are heightened because you’re aware that something could happen. In all these engines, they’re so highly refined. That’s the thing about NASCAR racing is we operate these engines on the limit all the time. They run one race and then we take them apart, so 100 RPM extra or 50 miles more may make the difference between making the race and not making the race. If we leave something on the table, then we won’t be as competitive as we need to be.