My quest for horsepower

Episode 244

December 23, 2018

The Journey to WKA Spec engine took time

When I traveled with Dan Raymond to purchase and pick up my Ultra-Maxx race kart from  Thundering Valley Raceway owner Nate Anderson in June of 2013, it came outfitted with a sealed engine. The new kart class at Spud Speedway followed Nate’s rules that governed his track allowing racers to compete at both facilities.

His rules included utilizing sealed engines which he sealed at his trackside shop. They included specifications similar to the L206 Briggs and Stratton Racing Animal engine, though not exactly the same.

He placed three seals in strategic locations on his engines which prevented disassembly of the engine. Upon returning engines to him at season end or when refreshing was needed, he would put in new parts as needed and re-seal the engine.

The kart racing group Northern Maine Karting Association (NMKA) was formed in 2015 to act as the sanctioning body for racing at Spud Speedway. At the time of formation the members decided to continue to use Thundering Valley rules with minor modifications which still allowed kart racers to run at the Caribou track and Anderson’s St. Albans track.

Meanwhile several NMKA members were racing at multiple kart tracks in 2016 and noted that racers at southern Maine tracks were utilizing World Karting Association (WKA) rules for many of their classes. In the winter of 2016, the NMKA formed a committee to look specifically at the engine rule for use by its members for the 2017 season and beyond.

The committee, consisting of Marcel Bosse, Galen Morror, and Jason Theriault,  reported to the members what they had researched for a couple of months. They unanimously agreed that NMKA needed to adopt the WKA  Stock Animal rules. Upon hearing the committee’s recommendation members voted to adopt them for the 2017 season.

That marked the beginning my odyssey from sealed to WKA Spec engines. That trip was fraught with second thoughts and questions galore about the feasibility of cutting those engine seals and moving into a new era.

The seal cutting did not take place immediately with me for one season. I had my 2016 engine rebuilt and sealed by a local engine rebuilder on a trial basis. The NMKA wanted to know how that would work having a local engine rebuilder/sealer.

I am frugal and do not like to spend sponsor money or my company’s unnecessarily, so I decided to run my sealed engine for a second year at Spud Speedway. The engine ran fine, however, it was not competitive with the Team JRT karts. I cannot blame the competitiveness on only the sealed engine’s power disadvantage.

Any Team JRT kart will be set up very well by master mechanic Jason Theriault. I did not have a lap time person on a consistent basis, however guesstimate that we were about 3/4 second behind them at best.

The seal is cut

Cutting the three seals from my Animal kart engine was the beginning of a new adventure for me. For the first time I looked into the inside of my own engine after completely disassembling. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Once the seals were cut I began the methodical process of disassembly followed by cleaning and inspection, with shipping of parts needing machine work to Jimmy Rivers at JRPW in Augusta, Georgia (yes the same town where the Masters golf tournament is held. Only about 5 miles from JRPW).

JRPW sign at Jimmy Rivers shop in Georgia. Jimmy was highly recommended to me by Team JRT owner Jason Theriault who uses JRPW to do his machine work. (Photo courtesy Jimmy Rivers)

My kart engine began its journey south on March 26, 2018 when, with the help of George Thomas at the UPS drop off point at Northeastern Supply in Caribou. The box with my parts was paid for and put into the UPS system. As a side note, George was a member of my stock car pit crew in the middle 1970’s when we won 14 races in the #10 Ford Fairlane. (HTF Motorsports photo)

Jimmy Rivers does his magic

The WKA Spec engine required replacement of the “old” SAE threaded valve plate with the new metric version. A spec valve job was done with new valves, springs, and rockers. (JRPW photo)

The block was bored to WKA maximum .035 over. This is not what he likes to do since this will be the last such operation to this block. The amount removed was necessitated to rid the bore of some relatively deep scratches. With ,035 rings the end gaps were not as tight as we would have desired. (JRPW photo)

The cylinder head was surfaced flat and to depth required by WKA specs. (JRPW photo)

Jimmy fit the new ARC rod to the block and milled the deck to WKA specs. Sure does look pretty. (JRPW photo)

Though the “old” ARC rod had only two seasons on it, aluminum is not as predictable as steel when it comes to duty cycle or number of reversals of motion it is capable of enduring before failure. Taking no chances, we replaced it with new rod pictured here with the .035 Burris piston. In addition a new Dyno Cam AN002 cam with the engine.(JRPW photo)

Home sweet home and the rebuild process begins

When the UPS driver delivered my new box of go-fast goodies on April 10, The process of rebuilding the engine began shortly thereafter. Though Jimmy does very clean work, I gave all parts a warm water and soap bath followed by a thorough drying. This allowed me to check the work, look for hidden issues, and begin the rebuilding job. There were no issues with the measurements. I love putting together engines which are clean and contain high performance parts that have been precisely machined. (HTF Motorsports photo)

This is the engine assembled and installed on the #10 race kart. The timely acquisition of a starter was made possible by Caribou native Butch Irving who now lives in Virginia. He and his son raced karts all over the south. When they got done racing karts, he had some spare parts including this starter. With a new battery, it performed flawlessly all season long. The starter made hand cranking was no longer necessary. My crew chief Dick McNeal appreciated that! (HTF Motorsports photo)

As I have for the past six seasons, I placed second in points championship. NMKA Race Director Pierre Huntress is handing the me the second place trophy at the end-of-year celebration. I have an open mind about the sealed engine versus the WKA Spec engine. I think both have advantages and disadvantages. I tend to lean toward sealed engines. Read on to see what Jimmy Rivers thinks in my interview with him. (NMKA photo)

Interview with the master machinist himself

Jimmy Rivers who is 51 is in shape. The race was the Rugged Maniac obstacle race last August 2018. Good job Jimmy. (Jimmy Rivers Facebook page photo)

After Jason Theriault talked highly of the work performed by Jimmy Rivers, I decided to jump into the WKA Specs fray both feet. In February of 2018, I called Jimmy on the phone and talked directly with him about my project. I was surprised by how polite and forthcoming he was. I guess I have had some preconceived ideas about grumpy old machinists or kart shop owners who act like they can barely tolerate you. Not so with Jimmy.

I told him that after the season was over I would be calling him to get some of his ideas for between season maintenance as well as his thoughts about the sealed vs WKA Spec engines. Here is the interview.

Jimmy Rivers and JRPW

UpNorth Motorsports How did you get started? “I was a machinist by trade for 25 years with an interest in racing. My dad was an automotive machinist. After working as a machinist for 5-6 years I became very interested in engines. A friend helped me build a competitive engine which gave insight into the process.”

“When Oreco, a hydraulics manufacturing company that I was working for, shut down I actually began my business. With the severance package that Oreco gave me, I started the business in my parent’s garage.”

“Working out of that garage for six years gave me verticality with no overhead. That allowed me to purchase property for my first shop which was built to my design specifications.”

“I outgrew that shop quickly and moved to where we are located now 2 ½ years ago. The new shop is triple the size of the old location and is located across the street. A bank had been on that site, however, it was torn down to make way for the new JRPW shop. The shop is in downtown Augusta, Georgia.”

UpNorth Motorsports What do you recommend for off-season work to WKA spec engines? “I recommend that the valves be lapped, new valve springs, freshen carburetor, and polish crankshaft where the clutch attached.”

UpNorth Motorsports How often should the WKA spec engine be freshened? “The engine should be able to go 10 races assuming a typical race may consist of 50 laps between practice and race.” (NMKA season was 10 races)

UpNorth Motorsports Jimmy how do you weigh in on the sealed 206 engine vs the WKA Spec engine? “The 206-engine program definitely has its place. It is for racers who want the exact same thing as everyone else. It is a plug and play 206 engine.”

“A spec engine program typically does not survive long. Racers wants control. The ultra-competitive guys are not in 206 series engines.”

“The more serious guy wants control of his destiny vs what is available right out of the box. I am not one of those guys.” (That makes sense since JRPW does machine work on engines. Sealed engines do not have that type of work completed since they do have seals)

I want to thank Jimmy for his time and tell him my cylinder heads will be “headed” his way now that Christmas tree season is finished for 2018.

Ross Bentley Webinar on tap for January 2019

I sat in on a Ross Bentley seminar as reported in a previous episode. It featured race engineer Jeff Braun. It was excellent. When I heard about the latest offering, I want to make sure the readers are aware that these are available. They are not cheap, good information never tends to be.

The name of the webinar is “Improve Your Braking and Corner Entry” which will be offered on January 15, 2019 at 5:30 pm Pacific or 8:30 Eastern. For more information or to register click here

As a Christmas gift, Ross sent me (and others, I am sure this was not an exclusive) the Trackmaps of several tracks in pdf for where you can download them for the track where you may be racing. He gave me permission to share these track maps with you. They are found here:

Last second Christmas gift and announcement from Spud Speedway

For the racing enthusiast in your life sign them up for some laps with the folks at Rusty Wallace Driving Experience for June 14, 2019 at Spud Speedway as part of Father’s Day 2019.

Spud Speedway is on the Pro All Stars Series (PASS) North 2019 master schedule for Sunday August 4, 2019. The PASS Mods will be there and I suspect an Enduro event will be part of the County’s motorsports summer scene 2019.

The Only reason for this season

The reason I celebrate Christmas is not gifts, Christmas trees, family, friends, food, or even church. Though these are important, I recognize that the history of planet earth changed on a chilly Bethlehem night some 2000 plus years ago. That baby boy born in a stable and placed in a feed trough that night was the perfect sacrifice for my sins when he died on a crude Roman cross 33 years later. He was resurrected three days later and became my Savior a quiet Sunday July 22, 1990. He can be your perfect gift this Christmas season which will change your life for eternity. John 3:16 says it well. Merry Christmas from UpNorth Motorsports

Merry Christmas

Tom Hale

Soli Deo Gloria (Luke Chapter 2)


Tom Hale

About Tom Hale

Tom wrote 14 years as freelancer for the Bangor Daily Sports covering motorsports in Maine. Now blogging and concentrating on human interest stories about people and places in racing. He races Champ Karts and owns HTF Motorsports in remote Westmanland, Maine