An alternative is to sell the used engines for, say, $3,000, avoiding the $2,200 rebuild expenditure, then taking the money saved on rebuild, adding a $1,000 or so to it, and purchasing a new crate engine. Racers looking to get into the series benefit from buying the used engines, investing in a rebuild, and having $1,000 less invested than they would in a new engine. "They've got a comparable engine to the bigshots and they're buying their used cars," says Curley. "We've swelled from always having good car counts to now my biggest problem is we've got too many cars because I'm seeing a lot of guys who can't qualify."

Lost Soul?
Still, crate engines have their detractors, most notably among engine builders who provide custom-built engines to various racers around the country. Crate engines could potentially take money from their pockets, particularly if they're not approved by particular sanctioning bodies to do rebuilds on the engines-rebuilds that could be few and far between.

Cars competing in American Speed Association (ASA) events have been running spec engines since the 2000 season. ASA employs a version of the LS1 engine produced by General Motors, modified and sealed by ASA and sold to member teams.

Joe Balash, technical director for ASA, likes the cost advantages offered with spec engines. Where ASA teams were once spending in excess of $100,000 annually on engine programs, they're now getting the LS1s for $14,000 each, and the engines are lasting as long as 30 races-a full season and a half on the ASA circuit.

The argument that crate engines rob the sport of a significant part of its heart and soul is common, nonetheless. "We're working with the ASA member tracks to bring this technology to the local level, and you hear some of that," says Balash. "But at the end of the day, the key is to make sure that short track racing is viable in the future, and we need to do things to bring cost savings to all levels of racing. That's one of the things that we look at.

"There are a number of Late Models and Super Late Model teams that are spending anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 for an engine, and then running multiple engines. As the prices continue to escalate on those, there are fewer and fewer Super Late Models and Late Models in competition. By bringing some of those cost savings, we feel that it will be very good for the health of the sport."

There are other ways to contain those costs, however, according to Darrel Poe, whose business, DP Performance, is a major supplier of Late Model Stock engines in the NASCAR Weekly Racing Series. "Yes, the costs of the components that go into building an engine have drastically changed-not only for the engine but for the entire race car," says Poe. "The steps of constructing a race car really haven't changed that much, but the components and the ingenuity and the design have changed drastically. That's where your increases have gone, and if the sanctioning body-be it NASCAR, CASCAR or whatever series-would write a little more language in certain areas of the rule book for the construction of the race car or construction of the engine, the costs could be brought down and still have a quote 'race' engine.

"If the sanctioning body sits down and takes a look at the rules they have in black and white, they're in total control of what they put down. We don't have to run a billet connecting rod. We don't have to run a high-dollar crankshaft. We don't have to run a custom piston. But we can still build a racing engine. That's the point."