By Fergus Ogilvy
Photography by Moore Good Ink, April 22, 2014
Concord, North Carolina: Mike Androwick of Mike’s Racing Heads has confirmed his return to NHRA Pro Stock although he hasn’t revealed which team. “We’ve already brought some new engine power to their program, but Pro Stock is hard-fought competition at best and, though important, engine power is only one element of a complex process.”
Starting in the early 1980s as a cylinder head porter for Brandywine Cylinder Heads, Androwick has enjoyed a long career designing and developing racing heads. He honed his Competition Eliminator skills at Nicken’s in Houston, Texas and at Lingenfelter’s in Decatur, Indiana, and his Pro Stock involvement dates back to the days of Joe Lepone, before turning his hand to self-employment when he formed Mike’s Racing Heads in West Chester, Pennsylvania in 1989.
Creating new designs that excel takes more than merely repeating what came before—clear, innovative thinking is the more effective substitute. After producing several successful formulas and remaining solvent for 11 years as the captain of his own ship, he was offered a position by Dart in 2000, which included working on special projects and managing their CNC-machining department. Later, in 2004, he distinguished himself when he helped hoist Larry Morgan’s race efforts to the top four of the NHRA Pro Stock Championship. Qualifying in every round, the 2004 season had been their best since 1993.
What happens if you apply Pro Stock technology to oval track?
Aided by his son Michael, Androwick re-opened Mike’s Racing Heads in Concord, North Carolina in 2007. Inevitably, they soon made their mark in the northeast with big-block Dirt Modifieds. Indeed, they supplied 70 sets of racing heads with attendant induction systems and valve train assemblies, and the technology won the 2013 championship with big-block racing talent Brett Hearn. Androwick’s broad knowledge had permitted him to become outstandingly successful. How? Dart’s Richard Maskin says it best: if you are seeking maximum power from naturally aspirated engines, Pro Stock technology is where it resides. The engine doesn’t know if it’s racing on a drag strip or a dirt oval.
For 2014 Mike’s Racing Heads introduced two new designs for short track oval and drag racing applications. The first features a design for Edelbrock’s 15-degree head, which suits the conventional small-block Chevrolet with 4.400in bore spacing. The second, a 10-degree arrangement for competition small-block Chevrolets with 4.500in bore spacing, is about to make its debut.
If you ask Androwick why he might attempt to reconfigure the valve layout, particularly the position of the intake, he’ll tell you: “Invariably, it’s to get the intake valve away from the edge of the bore…and to open it in the center of the cylinder sooner. Also, moving the valves closer to the Hemi configuration means there are fewer obstructions.” Still, Androwick works with race engines already in a high state of tune and most of his gains are attained through subtle advances, not gross changes.
Next to precious knowledge, experience, and access to the invaluable five-axis machining center, seeing inside a raw head is best. “You need to know if the raw casting will accept your proposed revisions,” reveals Androwick, “for breaking into a water jacket later would be fatal to the success of any new design.” To expose the architecture of a raw head, particularly the wall thicknesses, coolant regions and pushrod clearances, it is helpful to saw the cylinder head in half.
Finding power denied to others
Unsurprisingly, most racing heads are designed for racers who want to mount them on a standard block. As the lifters are already in the block, changes to the pushrod operating positions are limited.
That said Androwick did alter the pushrod angles when he devised a shaft-mounted rocker system for his big-block Modified racing heads. To reach the highest engine speeds, valve train stability is imperative but so, too, are its operating angles. “I try to avoid side loads,” says Androwick, “it is better that the pushrod has a ‘straight’ approach to the rocker rather than at an angle.” Needless to say in Pro Stock, where they are not confined to the original block, they move the lifter bores and use a different cam core to attain optimum valve train operating angles.
Once the new design is established the process begins by hand-porting a model head. Eventually, it graduates to the flow bench to check port performance: size and velocity. When the numbers reach the necessary standard, the hand-ported model is then digitized or optically scanned, which establishes thousands of data points throughout the port. From these data points, surfaces are created from which the tool path is developed and the much anticipated CNC-machining program is produced.
What tricks of the trade have you learned the hard way?
“The most painful one that comes to mind relates to valve guides. It’s an expensive mistake if the raw castings arrive with valve guide holes in the wrong place. To make matters worse you usually don’t find out until the heads are CNC-machined.” To overcome this costly oversight, Androwick prefers to preside over the valve-guide-hole locations at his facility.
Though he uses the dynamometer and the flow bench for development, he ignores them until he needs them—big numbers are no substitute for races won.
Mike’s Racing Heads
Concord, North Carolina