America’s first help line for race engine builders.
By Victor Moore:
“He’s been an absolute master at soaking up knowledge, which has been a great help to us. He applies it intelligently and explains it in simple terms,” says John Force’s Funny Car crew chief Jimmy Prock.
In our racing world, from Sportsman level to F1, it is those with acutely sharp brain power that gain the decisive edge. Though not always recognized by the public at large, top teams know them, know their capacities and know they are indispensible. Joe Hornick is one such and like a rare trumpeter swan, when he’s in full flight his capabilities are something to see.
“As an engineer, he is the best I’ve known,” says race engine builder Jack Cornett. “I first met him in 2011 and hired him initially as a consultant to unravel mysteries within our valve train assemblies. It didn’t take him long.”
Hornick, who grew up in Madison, Minnesota gained an aptitude for the skills required to develop advanced racing engines. His technique was mostly conventional: endless research and careful analyses. More unconventional, however, has been his embrace of all types of internal combustion engine development from nitro methane to alcohol, gasoline, to diesel, from drag racing to oval track—both asphalt and dirt, he even advises on and develops engine systems for marathon boat racing. He learns from them all.
Says Richie Gilmore of ECR’s engine shop (Richard Childress Racing) in North Carolina: “It’s the extensiveness of his experience with racing engines that sets him apart. There are very few individuals like him. When NASCAR adopted the taper spacer and as a consequence power output was reduced from 850hp to 740hp, we called on Joe to help us recover some of the power losses. The alliance has been very successful.”
Finding Hornick’s Mooresville shop isn’t easy—no signs, no hint of its existence; even neighboring employees are clueless of Hornick’s presence next door! One might expect him to be tight-lipped and wary, impatient and intolerant with a tough personality that might be difficult to penetrate. Just the opposite; his persona was bright and hopeful, buzzing with immediacy; his shop filled with designs under full confidentiality.
Springs and things
JHE (Joe Hornick Enterprises) consults with engine builders from the most successful race teams to the smallest engine shops. They’ve also been instrumental in shaping a vibrant valve spring supply outlet. “We use their valve springs on short-track oval engines,” says Cornett, “and when we test them mid-season (maybe around 750 laps) they’ll test stronger than they were when new. In my forty years of race engine building I’d never seen that before.”
More interesting still is how he determines the right valve spring. I asked Louis Bossio of AMS Engines in Edmonton, Alberta because he prepares engines for a wide range of competition engines that power marathon river-racing boat, Dirt Late Models, drag race cars, off-road and twin turbocharged vehicles. “To determine the correct valve spring, he usually begins by asking questions about the application and the entire valve train, starting with the valve seat and ending with the camshaft center line. The conversation will require details about the rocker arm, pushrod, lifter, camshaft, cam core diameter, its lobe, its material.”
Joe Hornick’s long involvement in valve spring design has been closely associated with the manufacturer PSI (Performance Spring Inc), who claims to have captured more professional racing championships than any other brand. “Years ago, when I worked at Joe Gibbs,” says Hornick, “PSI enabled us to make advancements in valve train performance at unprecedented speed, which ultimately helped all Cup teams. Success breeds success.”
On diesel—discussing engines making more cylinder pressure than their Top Fuel counterparts
In various areas of the shop, there are engine blocks never seen before. They’re unique because they are in-house designs that have been created entirely from huge billets of aluminum. One such is destined to join the ranks of Pro Stock pulling trucks. Alas, the governing body has a rule that mandates a stock block. So, JHE modeled its external surfaces and transferred the full silhouette to the billet. Work has progressed to the design and production of bespoke cylinder heads, valve train, pistons, rods and all within the secluded walls of JHE.
The finished diesel engine will generate 110lbs boost and produce 4,500hp. The heads will be machined from steel, probably 4140, because there is no weight penalty stated in the rule book. Also, steel is durable and retains heat.
“A diesel operates on detonation,” explains Joe, “it doesn’t have a spark plug. You pressurize it to extremes and it combusts. If this happened in a gasoline engine it would break.”
Balancing the piston
To check its balance, the piston is positioned on a weigh scale then rotated 180 degrees. This ensures it doesn’t generate any unfavorable moments of torque about the piston pin, particularly when the engine is running at high speeds. “If you consider a large displacement Pro Stock running at around 10,000rpm,” explains Joe, “you’ll quickly conclude that the inertia forces are huge.
So, if the center of gravity is off just a little, a torque about the piston pin is created that rocks it in its bore. This creates an unfavorable loading that results in power losses in the form of friction. Today, C of G checks can be performed on the computer.”
Too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe?
When asked how he got started with race engine builders and how he maintains his business links with them, he raises the old adage: too busy chopping wood…
“When you’re a privateer engine builder, you don’t have time to do all the development work, build the engines and make a living. Having somebody you can rely on for accurate technical information can be a huge relief. And, if they call us, we never lose those customers because our information will always be accurate. Even though some of them are committing to high-risk projects, we’ll never guide them in the wrong direction.”
John Medlen of Don Schumacher Racing in Brownsburg, Indiana says, “We tell Joe the problem and if our input is accurate, he’ll solve it. His experience is vast—head-and-shoulders above anybody I’ve ever met. But what’s unique about him is that same professional service—his same disarming directness and valuable information—is available to any engine builder.”
155 Bevan Dr.
Mooresville, NC 28115