By Alfie Bilk, August 10, 2014
Hanover, PA: The feeling on Saturday night August 2nd was one of jubilation. Brian Brown (34), the gifted sprint car racer from Grain Valley, Missouri, had won the 24th Annual 360 Nationals at the Knoxville Raceway, in Iowa and Charlie Garrett’s home was filled with mirth!
“It’s everybody’s dream to win the Nationals,” declared Garrett, “but it’s very difficult to do—it’s so fiercely competitive it’s even difficult to make the field! Of the 106 entries at this year’s event, only 24 cars are selected to race in the finals. They are the best of the best and this year we won it.”
“The 360 engine is not my specialty,” admits Garrett, “I’ve only built two in my life, but Brian talked me into building one.” The 360s are not as powerful as the 410s but they are more durable, and will probably run 20 shows. Assuming you have sufficient, reliable power your biggest challenge is to qualify well.”
Qualifying for the Knoxville Nationals, which is determined by points, begins on Wednesday night when the organizers run half of the entered teams. The remaining half is run the following night. The total points available are 500. Quickest time is worth 200 points, heat win is worth a further 100, and winning the A-main on Wednesday or Thursday evening is worth a further 200 points. Good point scores represent a good starting position. Brian Brown’s 360 sprint car accumulated 496. Almost the perfect score, they put him on pole for Saturday’s night’s big race.
Brown has been racing sprint cars for 15 years, almost half his life. In 1999 he won his first 410 race at Mayetta, KS and secured Rookie of the Year at Sedalia, MO. In 2000 he claimed 11 feature victories in the 360 class, placed fourth at the ASCS 360 Nationals and won the Missouri State Fair event. In the intervening decade and a half he has averaged around nine to a dozen wins each year. With Garrett power he claimed runner-up position at the 410 sprint car Knoxville Nationals the past three years.
Do race teams speak with you often and, if so, what questions do they ask?
“They call on the phone almost every day usually inquiring about the best tune-up for the track. They know the motor has to be tuned for the conditions in which they are racing otherwise it will be down on power.”
To reach an informed judgment Garrett asks them to describe the track: its length and condition. “On a half-mile track compared with a three-eight mile or quarter-mile track we have to be a little more cautious on our set-up. Half-mile tracks are more demanding, the speeds are greater, the wing speeds are higher and there is more pressure on the motor.”
Then he examines the air density altitude and the specific gravity, which reveals the weight of the fuel. Normal specific gravity is 791 at 60 degrees Fahrenheit. If fuel temperature falls, the fuel becomes denser and thus more of it reaches the engine—the mixture is enriched. In contrast if the temperature rises the specific gravity falls and the fuel-air mixture becomes leaner.
Next he inquires about the three things that influence horsepower: air temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity—how much moisture inhabits the air.
“The air density altitude identifies the condition of the air,” explains Garrett. “Hanover, PA for example, is situated around 500ft above sea level. But on a bad air day the density altitude might be the equivalent of 2,000ft, which is poor air and therefore tuning adjustments must be made to the motor. Likewise, Knoxville often has readings between 3,000 and 4,000ft—almost always hot and humid.”
An unusually pleasant man Charlie Garrett is well-known for his thoroughness and his enthusiastic use of Diamond pistons: “I have never burned or broke one.” This is not only a testimony to Diamond’s fine pistons but also lessons learned from 38 years of drag racing and 48 years of building and tuning race engines.
In 2010 Garrett worked almost exclusively with sprint car racer Jason Meyers and the Elite Racing team from Fresno, California. Together they won the World of Outlaws national sprint car championship in 2010 and 2011 and just failed to take the top prize in 2009 by 15 points.
But triumph in the 410 Knoxville Nationals still eludes him. In 2008 Garrett power propelled Meyers to second place and similarly Brown in 2012, ’13 and ’14. In plying his trade Charlie Garrett at 71 has shown consistent brilliance – always refining his skills – yet remains motivated by this final goal that lingers unfulfilled.
Garrett Racing Engines