By Ben Mozart,
Photography by Moore Good Ink:

Photographing winning engineIt takes uncommon pluck to enter an engine performance contest—what happens if you finish 39th?

Developing racing engines is a serious business. Your reputation, your record of success and your credentials are constantly on the line.

Despite the obvious reservations, however, entering the annual Engine Masters Challenge is generally beneficial for all competitors. Some engine builders bring along unusual or rare engines, knowing the media will fill pages with their editorial in the aftermath of the competition. Others build engines not to compete for the best average power output at all, but instead with peak power in mind, knowing their achievement will also receive recognition. Importantly, most if not all engines will be photographed and featured in the magazine articles during the following twelve months. So even if the event turns out not to be the shining hour you’d hoped, entrants gain much more recognition for their engine shop than by staying at home.

For the front runners in the dyno room though, tension is usually high and interestingly the contenders deal with stress in very different ways. Some like Accufab’s John Mihovetz remain quiet; deep in thought he scarcely issues a word. On the other hand, the face of Chris Thomas, Kaase’s right hand man, is profoundly focused. Kaase himself seems to play it like a sport—with a lighthearted gusto, but plays to win.

00-Lead-(2187)RLima, OH: The 2013 Engine Masters Challenge, the eleventh in a series first started in 2002, was won by Jon Kaase Racing Engines. His fifth victory in the Challenge, he collected a purse just under $70,000.

When the reward amounts to more than any Pro Stock race winner ever pocketed—predictably the tension is high. Tension levels this year, however, were reduced somewhat following the organizer’s decision to allow the competing teams to make as many dyno pulls as they wished during their 27min allocated time period—and their scores would be determined by their best three pulls. Previously, the participants were obliged to announce in advance which three they wished to submit for scoring. This former arrangement inevitably compelled them to be conservative. Now when they record three competitive runs they instinctively become more aggressive in the hope of improving their scores.

Kaase & engine

Regarded as unfair competition to the wider range of 2-valve engines, Ford’s 4-valve Mod motor is unlikely to compete in future Engine Masters Challenges.

Tony Bischoff

Four-time winner Tony Bischoff of BES qualified third on Thursday and placed third on Friday with a four-valve Ford Mod motor.

Kaase - 16 pipe headers

The most striking external refinement on Kaase’s 4-valve was his sixteen-pipe headers which played an important role between 3,000 and 4,000rpm.

After months of preparation for the 2013 event, thirty-three teams transported their engines to the University of Northwestern Ohio for five days of competition. The objective is to determine who can produce the best average power and torque from 3,000 to 7,000rpm on the university’s dynamometers. Each year the rules change. This year the teams were obligated to run 11.5:1 compression ratio with VP100 race fuel.

Scores are determined by adding together the average horsepower and torque values and dividing the total by the cubic inch displacement. They then multiply this amount by 1,000. For example if a 435cu in engine averaged 600hp and 632ft-lbs torque the total would be 1232. By dividing this number by the CID and multiplying it by 1,000 the resulting score is 2832.


“It’s like the Olympics,” says Kaase, “You work on it every day for a year and you have three dyno pulls to show what you’ve got. There are no second chances.”

The Boss Nine, which finished 7th or 9th, was out of tune at low engine speeds. With an hour’s dyno time it could probably have finished in the top five. But at Lima Ohio the dyno applied the brake at 2,500rpm 300 revs lower than Kaase had tested it. On some cylinders it was rich and on others it was lean, but when it cleaned up at 3,200rpm it took off like a rocket.

This Kaase Boss Nine, which finished 7th, was out of tune at low engine speeds. The dyno operator at the Lima contest applied the brake at 2,500rpm, 300 revs lower than Kaase had used. As a result it was rich on some cylinders, lean on others. But when its air-fuel mixture recovered at 3,200rpm it took off like a rocket.

For five days competing engine builders reside in UNOH rooms adjacent to the dyno cells, observing their competitors performances on video screens.

For five days competing engine builders reside in UNOH rooms adjacent to the dyno cells, observing their competitors’ performances on video screens.

For the 2013 event the organizers permitted Ford’s four-valve Modular engine to compete—a one-year-only concession. Competition began on Monday, October 7, and when Thursday afternoon’s final qualifying came to a close, three 4-valve engines topped the first five places: John Mahovicz of AccuFab; Jon Kaase of Jon Kaase Racing Engines; and Tony Bischoff of Bischoff Engine Services. The best 2-valve qualifier was represented by the LS1 unit of SAM’s (School of Automotive Machinists from Houston, Texas). Fifth place qualifier was John Lohone and Brad Nagel’s entry was “on the bubble”, should some errant befall any of the top five during Friday’s finals.

For all qualifying sessions, two dyno rooms were used. In each a DTS dynamometer resided under the supervision of Dave Arsenault. But for Friday’s finals only one of the acclaimed machines was scheduled for use. Equally significant, only one operator, Matt Bowers, had the authority to perform all the test runs during the Challenge.

On Thursday evening the teams were invited to a generous banquet sponsored by Comp Cams. Most of all, the Engine Masters is an event that brings race engine builders together not only in challenge but also in a spirit of friendship. Who could wish for better dinner companions than Ron Shaver and his ilk—gregarious and irreverent they are hilarious company. Ultimately, the names of the five finalists were put in a hat to decide Friday’s order. Kaase’s number was first drawn.

Chris Thomas

Chris Thomas, Kaase’s right-hand man, was trained in the art of race engine building at the School of Automotive Machinists in Houston, Texas. “I quickly learned how much I didn’t know,” said Thomas.

“I’m not sure I would have won,” admitted Kaase, “if Chris hadn’t been there banging away on the keyboard. I didn’t tell him anything, he did that all on his own.”

“I’m not sure I would have won,” admitted Kaase, “if Chris hadn’t been there banging away on the keyboard. I didn’t tell him anything, he did that all on his own.”

Last minute preparations

Kaase’s 409cu-in 4-valve made 815hp, but in pursuit of best average hp & tq he surrendered 100hp. Still, it made a remarkable 617ft-lbs tq @ 3,500rpm–Big-block territory!

So duly at seven o’clock on Friday morning Kaase’s 409cu in 4-valve appeared. Though he would have preferred to have run at the end of the order he found the early autumn air quality agreeable. Given slightly lower air temperature and higher atmospheric pressure than the previous day, his team began making adjustments to the ignition curve and adding and reducing fuel requirements at various engine speeds between 3,000 and 7,000 rpm. Remarkably it scored 2961.7, which was appreciably higher than their qualifying score the previous day; in fact, higher than they had hitherto achieved in their shop back in Winder, Georgia. John Mahovicz of Accufab finished second in the final standings with 2931 and BES Racing third with 2863.7.

 “In the finals we made nine runs,” commented Kaase, “and, importantly, during the first four we had equaled Mahovicz’ best qualifying run, so we kept tuning and tuning and it continued to improve. So in the final few minutes we administered our “Chernobyl tune-up” and that seemed to seal the deal. It seemed we couldn’t do anything wrong, it was awesome!”

It takes an extraordinary ability to win the Engine Masters Challenge five times. If you ask the 61-year old Kaase what makes these feats possible, he’ll tell you, “It’s like the Olympics. You work for 10 months, thinking about it every day and every night to make three dyno pulls during a 27-minute session and you hope they are all good. You only have three pulls to show what you’ve got; there are no second chances.”

Today’s race engine builders have precision machining centers, but in earlier times Kaase and his contemporaries learned the fundamentals of their trade with a lathe, a mill, hacksaws and files. “To get the arc welder to work,” admits Kaase, “we’d resort to pulling mom’s stove out to get access to 220volts!”

Tony Bischoff with Diamond Piston’s Bob Fox

Tony Bischoff with Diamond Piston’s Bob Fox

Subject for front cover picture of Engine Masters magazine, winning 4-valve escorted to an adjacent studio

Subject for front-cover of Engine Masters magazine, Kaase’s winning 4-valve escorted to adjacent studio

Thursday afternoon’s top qualifier Californian John Mahovitz of Accufab running a Ford Modular 4-valve

Thursday’s top qualifier, John Mahovitz of Accufab running a Ford Modular 4-valve

Steve Dulcich

Steve Dulcich, Editor of Engine Masters magazine and adept tuner in his own right

Tear down after five hectic days

Tear down following a year’s development and five hectic days of competition

For further information contact:

Jon Kaase Racing Engines, Inc.
735 West Winder Ind. Parkway,
Winder, GA  30680,
Telephone (770) 307-0241 or email:
For latest offerings, visit the Kaase website at:

Diamond Pistons
23003 Diamond Drive, Clinton Township, MI  48035
Toll Free: 877-552-2112