By Alfie Bilk:
Charlie Garrett’s wife of 50 years says, “It’s just as well we had a daughter and not a son for he would have left us—Charlie is just too particular.” Still, Garrett, 73, represents his one-man engine shop with some fine sporting credentials. And with a 50-year reputation for producing impressive and reliable racing power, he harbors no plans for retirement.
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 and did it again in 2011. In fact they missed winning it in 2009 by just 15 points, losing to Donny Schatz. It was then that Jason Meyers decided he wanted to follow the national tour in 2010 and eagerly pursued Garrett as the power producer.
Who is Charlie Garrett? Back in the mid-nineteen-fifties he began drag racing, using his engine-building talents to provide the motive power; he remained in the sport for the next 40 years, retiring in 1996. In IHRA Pro Stock where he competed from 1983 to’96 he succeeded in running in the 6:80s @ 203mph, but eventually came to the conclusion that if he couldn’t find substantial sponsorship and didn’t devote his full time to it he couldn’t remain competitive.
But Hanover, Pennsylvania is an avid Sprint car community with six or seven tracks within one-and-a-half hours of his race shop. Lincoln speedway is just over the hill. “A lot of guys settle in this area to make a living racing Sprint cars, commented Garrett, “and having made a reputation in Pro Stock it gave me a competitive edge in Sprint car engine building.”
Garrett, a congenial and reassuring man, carries just enough pressing fastidiousness about him to remind you why he became so prominent. “Consistency is how we won those championships. If your objective is to win a championship you cannot tolerate failures.” Maintenance, of course, is the key: Is the oil changed after the second race? Is the air filter maintained, preventing excessive dirt from entering the engine? Is the oil filter checked and washed clean after every race? “I don’t use paper filters,” he asserts, “I use System 1 filters which is a canister with a stainless steel filter in it. You buy it once and it lasts the life of the motor. It is also a lot easier to check than a paper filter. You can save a lot of race motors if you just inspect that oil filter.
“These are dry-sump engines with three scavenge lines with screens in them. They are not as fine as the oil filter, but they will catch most debris before it gets to the oil pump. I use Olson dry-sump pans and we check them after the first race in case silicon enters the scavenge lines, which could jeopardize the oil pressure and threaten the motor. After that we check them after every 5 races.”
Moreover, Garrett rebuilds the motors after every ten races. Before they are returned to the race team they are run on his dyno. If running on half-mile tracks up on the cushion, he advises his customers to limit their racing to 500 laps between rebuilds. On shorter tracks you might gain his approval for 600 laps.
On the topic of pistons, Garrett uses Diamond forgings. “I’ve been with Bob Fox for seven or eight years and believe Diamond is the best in the business—their prices are fair and their service is excellent. I’ve never cracked or burned a Diamond piston. We use the Diamond mold kit to re-create the exact shape of the combustion chamber and connect the pistons to the rods with Trend piston pins.”
What did you learn during two championship Sprint car seasons?
“First I learned that on the full national tour the championship season is long. It consists of about 90 races in the US and Canada. To make it pleasurable it helps that you like the driver and the team. I was lucky: Jason Meyers, who is now 33 years old, is a jewel to work with—a great guy. And even today, though his race schedule is mostly confined to around 30 races a year in the western states, I still prepare three motors for him each season.”
Though Charlie Garrett had a long list of established customers in the US, Australia and New Zealand, he signed a contract with Meyers agreeing not to build new motors for anyone else during 2010 and ‘11, yet allowing Charlie to service his existing customers. Like most professional teams Meyers’ had six engines: one in the back-up car, one or two in the engine shop, and one or two in the cupboards in the transporter.
Why would people sponsor a race car? “Race car sponsorship is mostly motivated by people who enjoy racing. Also it can be a tax write-off for some companies. Of course, professional teams race for money. A good driver with a competent carefully chosen team can make half-a-million dollars a year or maybe $600,000. If you got fifty percent of that it’s not a bad living for nine or ten months of the year, especially if you had other opportunities to race down-under during our closed season.
“We won a lot of big races and we were runner-up in the Nationals at Knoxville twice. It pays $150,000 to win and the runner-up prize is $75,000 plus all the preliminary winnings. In 2008 Jason received $91,000 at Knoxville and in 2010, I remember, he won the Gold Cup race in California which paid $50,000. Though each engine rebuild costs around $7,000, with the help of sponsorship, Sprint car racing can be a lucrative occupation.”
Though Charlie Garrett’s work schedule is less demanding these days, he still turns down work because he has more than he can handle. Much in demand, Garrett is an unusual man—a fastidious man—with no shortage of ideas on how to make Sprint car motors fast and reliable.
Garrett Racing Engines
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