Dave Arce has put together a race engine from junkyard parts and an off-the-shelf efi system that is standing toe-to-toe with custom built race engines.
By Jeff Huneycutt
Photos courtesy Arce Engines
NASCAR made waves a couple years ago when it finally introduced electronic fuel injection to its Cup Series engines. Lots of people proclaimed this to be a really big deal. “Stock cars will finally use the same technology that have been in street cars for years,” they said. But the required package of electronics that NASCAR finally settled on turned out to be prohibitively expensive even for the big money Cup teams. In fact, even though the technology has proven itself worthy, the cost is so high that there isn’t any talk of implementing it in either the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series yet. Obviously, when we talking about keeping costs down in Saturday night racing so that more people can get involved, the Cup solution really isn’t viable.
In the racing world, with the exception of mechanical fuel injection systems utilized by Sprint Car racers, we’re still depending on carburetors to get the job done. Now don’t get us wrong, we aren’t saying carburetors should be outlawed—quite the opposite, in fact. We believe that racing should be all about innovation, and if there is a way to improve the life of the average racer, then we should at least look into it.
We recently learned of a racer and engine builder that has taken the bull by the horns and is forcing innovation into the series he’s racing by making the benefits impossible to ignore. Dave Arce of Arce Engines has built and plans to campaign a fuel injected, LS based race engine that powers a Modified race car in the Lucas Oil Modified Series (LOMS).
We know Arce is truthful about his intentions to help Saturday night racers be able to enjoy their sport more affordably, because as an engine builder it is easy to see how his best interest would be served by continuing with the status quo and selling expensive custom engines for racing. Instead, he used himself as a guinea pig and campaigned last season with a rebuilt street engine.
“I really believe we have to have something more affordable for the Saturday night racer,” he explains. “It has to be more efficient, and it has to be readily available for the average guy. So I started out with an LQ series motor. Everybody talks about the LS engine. Well, the LQ series is in the LS family, except it is a cast iron block version that came in trucks and other heavy vehicles. The LQ9 was the top performing engine in the family, and it came in the Escalade and some other stuff.
“So I bought a 5.3 from a wrecking yard, bored it oversized to make the displacement 5.7 liters (350 cubic inches) and put it all back together. It’s a 5.7 now, so I call it an LQ9. I kept the original block and heads, and it was very easy and inexpensive to do.
“I put it in my Modified that I race in the Lucas Oil Modified Series. We use a rule book that is a lot like the IMCA except we don’t have a claim rule. If you have a thousand dollar claim rule you wind up with a lot of people building junk, and I don’t think that leads to good racing. You achieve the same thing with the eight-inch tire rule and shock package that we have, which really limits how much power you can put to the ground.
“And I have to give the racing series a lot of credit. To run the LQ9 I needed them to change the rules so that you can run an engine with more than one coil and also allow a crank trigger instead of a distributor, and they were willing to work with me on that.”
Arce said his LQ9 ran very well all last season. One thing he did find is that up-and-over design of the headers put a lot of heat into the coil packs which are normally mounted on the valve covers, and coil failure became a problem. The location for the coils also created issues finding a way to run the spark plug wires from the coil packs to the plugs without contacting the hot headers. So he designed a mounting plate that moved the coil packs to the back of the engine and underneath the headers where they do not see nearly as much heat. In this location the plug wires can also be routed underneath the header tubes, curing the second issue.
For the 2014 season he wanted to push the envelope even further. Now that he felt he had a solid foundation with the motor, he wanted to add fuel injection to the mix.
“I went to the SEMA show last year and someone I trust recommended the FAST EZ-EFI system to me,” Arce says. “So I went to the FAST booth and told them what I was trying to do. That’s when I met Brian Reese (the Vice President of Product Development at the Comp Performance Group, which includes FAST). He was very interested in what I was trying to do and said he would commit to helping me any way he could. He told me he really wanted to see this thing work and I could tell he really believed his EZ EFI system could do what I needed.”
Arce says he installed FAST’s EZ-EFI system on the race car exactly according to the instructions with no modifications to any of the components. During the offseason, he had gotten the LOMS to agree to look into the viability of electronic fuel injection but no more, so Arce wanted to prove the FAST system not only to himself but also the racing series and other racers as well.
To do that he installed the EZ-EFI system in his LQ9 powered Modified and confirmed that everything was in working order but didn’t run the engine on the dyno or even tune the system before bringing it to the race track. He says he answered only the baseline questions in the EZ-EFI’s removable handheld tuner.
Arce wasn’t allowed to compete with the EZ-EFI system in the first race of the season at Havasu 95 Speedway in Lake Havasu City, AZ, but he was allowed to test with it before switching to a carburetor for qualifying and the race itself.
“The system surprised me with how well it did,” he says. “We practiced with it so that the people running the series and the other racers can see what it is all about. Like I said, we didn’t dyno it or even try to tune it before we got to the track. But on the track within a couple of laps it started tuning itself to the engine and the conditions, and you could really see the difference.”
Threatening rain meant Arce had to switch over to a carburetor before he would have liked, but he says he is excited about the possibilities of bringing fuel injection to racing. “Some guys may think, ‘Hey, you’re trying to get an advantage here. But so what? What we are trying to do is make these engines more efficient and easier to maintain. Guys won’t be melting pistons because they are trying to lean out the fuel too much. The system tunes itself, so it eliminates a lot of the costly mistakes we make. It isn’t expensive, the FAST system will bolt up to any engine that uses the same 4150 intake manifold flange that the Holley four barrel bolts to, and anyone can use it. I want it to be open to everybody because I believe we all can benefit from it.”
From the driver’s seat, Arce says the FAST EZ-EFI system felt more “pure.” The computer eliminated the stumbles and hesitation so common with a carburetor when you first get back on the throttle coming out of the turns, and the engine pulled hard all the way down the straight. Even with just a minimum amount of track time, Arce–who qualified third for the race using his carbureted setup–believes he could have set on the pole with the fuel injected setup.
“But the speed isn’t the best part to me,” he says. “It is how it can benefit the racers. When I had to switch back to the carburetor for the race, I realized I really don’t want to do this anymore. I had to tear the carburetor apart twice to make jet changes with the changing weather, and both times I’m trying not to spill fuel all over the engine and we all have the cups of race gas that we end up throwing onto the ground. There is none of that with the fuel injection. I could spend all day tuning on a carburetor and not get it as close as the EZ-EFI because it is sniffing on a wide-band O2 sensor in real time and making adjustments to amount of fuel it is giving the engine right there on the race track.”
Arce hopes to actually run his fuel injected setup in real competition in a few weeks to see how it holds up under fire. His next goal is to come up with an affordable fuel cell setup that moves the fuel pump into the cell, but as far as the actual fuel injection system goes, his development is done.
“I think this system from FAST will work great for racing,” he says. “We already know that you can’t reprogram the ECU to give you some sort of traction control because it doesn’t even have the hardware to do it in the box. In fact, the control unit only requires one plug. If we are all racing the FAST system and you think I’ve cheated up my system, then fine, I undo the four bolts securing the ECU, unplug the harness and swap it out for a control unti provided by the series in just a few minutes. It’s that simple.”
At this point, we don’t know if or when the LOMS will allow fuel injection officially, but we think Arce makes so much sense that a fuel injection system like this is worth considering. For example, his 11.5:1 compression LQ9 with stock cylinder heads and the FAST EZ-EFI is running comparable lap times to the custom built race engines, but Arce is fueling his LQ9 with the same four-dollar 91 octane fuel he puts into his hauler! Inexpensive stock engine parts, cheap gas and less tuning in the pits, what’s not to like?
If you are interested in learning more, or want to approach your sanctioning body about using a fuel injected racing engine, Arce has founded the Fuel Injection Racing Association (FIRA) to help the cause. You can check it out at www.FuelInjectionRacing.com or learn more about FAST’s self-learning EZ-EFI electronic fuel injection system at www.FuelAirSpark.com.