Outlaw racing is a unique animal. It is full of people who have a penchant for putting tons of power to an inappropriately sized tire. As the whole movement has evolved and technology advanced, the engines got more sophisticated (and more powerful) and the tires got smaller.
If you follow our sister site, Dragzine, at all, you likely are familiar with the “Evil 8.5” project car, which competed in the wildly entertaining Outlaw 8.5 class of racing. However, in order to have more places to race, the project recently underwent a transformation, in both configuration and name. With the new moniker of simply “Project Evil” the program has been revamped to focus on X275 racing, while still being able to easily convert to Outlaw 8.5 rules.
As this is EngineLabs, we’ll be focusing on the engine combination, which has undergone a pretty radical switch, since X275 has a more defined ruleset in that department. In order to have a “state of the class” engine, a clean sheet rebuild was the preferred course of action, as opposed to trying to re-engineer the previous engine combination.
The engines found in X275 are absolutely no joke, as you’ve seen right here previously on EngineLabs. They are some of the baddest, most technologically advanced powerplants in drag racing today. With the explosion in popularity of the class, companies build components specifically to be X275 legal, and some of the biggest names in engine building are joining the fray, adapting their expertise to the class’ parameters.
When it comes to big names in engine building, there is one that always seems to hover at the top of the results sheets, and for good reason. The Dragzine team tapped KBX Performance, the partnership between renowned engine builder Jon Bennett, of Bennett Racing, and John Kolivas, the drag radial racer and small-tire tuner extraordinaire. When it comes to X275, James Lawrence – Project Evil’s driver – wanted the best, and found that in the KBX team.
This engine build is a top-tier project, and as such, utilized top-tier manufacturers, which have not only earned the trust of the industry, but of Jon Bennett, personally and professionally.
Bowtie to Blue Oval
One of the largest changes – and most welcome, if we’re adding our personal two-cents to the conversation – is that the new engine for the 1993 notchback Mustang this go around is of the small-block Ford architecture. (A small-block Ford in a Mustang… Crazy idea, right?)
“We wanted to build a new billet engine, and it just made sense to build a small-block Ford,” says Lawrence. “Now we can run Ford races as well. Plus, we’ll have a Ford engine in a Ford.” Since one of the main goals of the car’s upgrade was to expand the available venues to race, it makes sense to be able to compete in The NMRA’s Street Outlaw class, as well as the NMCA and a large number of other X275 races put on across the nation.
“8.5 racing is great, but there are a lot more X275 races out there,” Lawrence explains. “Also, our car will still be 26 x 8.5-legal for Outlaw 8.5 competition, so we can always put the smaller tires on.” However, jumping into X275 competition is no easy task, as there are genuinely some of the best of the best from every facet of the sport involved in X275 competition.
Previously, the car was powered by a small-block Chevy-based powerplant. While the new engine will be an all-new billet-block 351 Windsor-based powerplant, a centrifugal supercharger with methanol will be the power-adder and fuel, similar to the previous combination. That should lessen the learning curve rather significantly.
More Than Just Assembling An Engine
Knowing that bringing anything less than the absolute best into such a competitive arena would be akin to bringing a knife to a gunfight, and that has never been Lawrence’s style. As was previously mentioned, he went straight to the best when he tapped KBX.
“This is a very typical build for us,” says Jon Bennett. “Daniel Pharris had a very successful year in NMCA in 2018 with a turbo version of an engine almost identical to James’.”
“Being a part of James’ engine program is a no-brainer. When he came to me with his idea, my first reaction was, ‘Oh yeah! We can get a blown combination into another class!’” Bennet says with sincere enthusiasm. “[James’] engine knowledge and understanding is at a high level, which makes communication easy when we discuss the engine designs.” With that, Bennett, Kolivas, and Lawrence set about designing what they consider to be the ideal X275 supercharged small-block Ford combination.
While we’ll dive into the exact components used in the build in subsequent articles, we will give out a few of the juicier details here. In a nutshell, the engine is a 438 cubic-inch small-block Ford, loosely based on the 351 Windsor engine design. We say loosely, because other than the deck height, bore-spacing, and a majority of the head and accessory bolt-hole locations, there really isn’t much from the Blue Oval left in this beast.
“The size of the engine, on my side, has to be a good fit for our transmission and converter combinations, as well as engine RPM,” says tuner John Kolivas. Using a Dart billet aluminum 9.5-inch-deck engine block, it gets its 438 cubes from a fairly standard 4.125-inch bore and a 4.100-inch stroke. Surprisingly, the supercharged combination packs GRP aluminum rods, and not surprisingly, a Callies billet crankshaft and Diamond pistons. Up top, a pair of Edelbrock Glidden Victor SC1 cylinder heads, which are filled with Ferrea and T&D Machine goodness, move air through a custom-fabricated CFE intake manifold.
Bennett’s faith in bringing his camshaft designs to life lies in Comp Cams and its custom camshaft program. Between his ideas, and Comp’s vast experience in both camshaft design and manufacturing, the technology in the solid roller camshaft for this engine is incredible and is far more than just a set of lift and duration numbers.
Providing fuel to the combination will be no easy task, as it will consume a serious amount of methanol at full boogie. Billet Atomizer‘s massive 700 lb/hr injectors provide the immense fuel flow commanded by the FuelTech FT600 fuel injection system, while FuelTech’s FTSpark ignition system and CDI coils are optimized to provide enough spark energy to keep the supercharged methanol combination lit throughout a run.
A Dart 9.5-inch-deck billet block serves as the foundation for this build, and the all-aluminum short-block is filled with some amazing parts from GRP and Diamond Racing, along with a badass billet crank from Callies. Adding to the top-shelf parts are a Danny Bee belt drive and a custom-fabricated oil pan from Moroso Performance.
“Component choice of this engine combo is based upon 25 years of being in this business. We design and build the engine, we design the camshaft, and we do the cylinder heads. We design and control the entire engine package,” Bennett explains. The cool part for everyone reading this, is that the same parts Bennett uses in builds like this are available without commissioning KBX for a full build.
“Our process allows us to break out parts such as our custom cams, cylinder heads, intake manifolds, and other engine parts, to sell them individually to other engine builders and racers, giving them peace of mind they are buying a proven part that makes power,” Bennett explains of his business strategy.
Kolivas agrees, adding, “We dyno the engines, we tune the engines, and we are on the racetrack with them. All of this combined gives our companies, both KBX and Bennett Racing Engines, the ability to test multiple components, and multiple designs. Simply put, we know what works and what does not.”
It’s not just top-shelf parts that are going into the engine, but a lot of high-end “tricks and secrets” that Bennett has acquired through his 25 years of experience in building championship-winning competition engines. The pinned camshaft roller bearing is a perfect example of things you’ll see in this engine, that might not normally be seen in a run-of-the-mill powerplant.
Heating Up and Cooling Down
When it comes to a power adder, Lawrence decided early on that a centrifugal supercharger was the direction he wanted to go. Power adder choice is widely varied in X275, with all the major combinations represented. However, the team’s experience with a supercharged combination makes the supercharged small-block route a more logical path for the team.“The Vortech XB-105 is the largest allowed blower in X275. That is what we will be running,” Lawrence says. With a 106mm inducer diameter, the XB-105 is no joke and has proven itself as capable in the X275 ranks.
In addition to the blower, the combination will be fueled by VP Racing M1 methanol, both for its power making ability, and because it eliminates the need for an intercooler. “We typically see a decent power increase with M1 vs. Q16 gasoline,” Bennett says. Although, running methanol isn’t a magic elixir with no side effects; “Past the power increase, the advantage turns to disadvantage as the M1 engines require a little more frequent maintenance as compared to gasoline,” explains Bennett.
Ahead of the Curve
One thing that is a constant, whether you are a rookie or a seasoned pro, is that there will always be a learning curve for a new combo. Where the difference between a rookie and a pro lies is the shape and size of the curve, and how they choose to handle it. “Of course there is a learning curve with any new engine combination and car combination. However, it is a supercharged engine on alcohol and we have a pretty good handle on the general program,” says Lawrence
Besides being confident in his team’s previous experience, being partnered with KBX gives him the ability to lean on their knowledge and experience as well. “We have a lot of good data on our blower cars from Ultra Street this year, and have made a lot of headway on our blower torque converter designs,” says Kolivas. “When I look at James’ combo we have built, I feel we can apply our Ultra Street success to that. I see a promising future with this combo’s additional displacement and its induction system that moves a ton more air. We obviously want to make enough power to run to the top of the class. With the X275-style blower on our dyno we would like to see 2,200 horsepower, give or take a little.”
With the plan in place, stay tuned as we bring you an inside look at the parts used along with the engine build process, and see what an impressive cumulative sum of knowledge and experience can actually do on the dyno.
Once the engine is complete, dyno-tested, and installed in Project Evil — along with the other vehicle and driveline upgrades — it will be ready to take on the top names in X275 across the country. With Lawrence behind the wheel and Bennett and Kolivas in his corner, we’re expecting big things from the Dragzine team.