1998 Kenz and Leslie High Altitude Flathead/Inline Nationals

What follows is an account of the 1998 Kenz and Leslie High Altitude Flathead/Inline Nationals. I originally posted this on a couple of listserves and on Ed Mulligan's Flathead Ford History Page. Each time it was posted I modified it some based on new information. I have done that here too, and will continue to do so.

So, my disclaimer - this is not guaranteed to be error free. If you catch a mistake, let me know. Questions and comments are encouraged. If anyone has comments, questions, or corrections, please feel free to e-mail me.

First off, what was it? This was primarily a drag race featuring flatheads and inline powered cars. Since I don't have as much interest in the inline part and it is off topic, I'll concentrate on the flathead portion.

It was billed as the largest flathead and inline event in the country and by extension, I would say the world. The three day event has been held annually over the Fourth of July weekend at Bandimere Speedway just outside of Denver, Colorado. (Unfortunately, for 1999, Bandimere changed the date to one which conflicts with another major flathead event in California. This caused Kenz and Leslie to withdraw sponsorship. See the race schedules page for details.) Friday and Saturday were for time trials (and socializing) and Sunday was the official race. Sunday there was also a pretty good sized car show which was not restricted to flatheads, but had its fair share.

The flathead classes were Unlimited (nitro, blowers, overhead conversions like Arduns, multiple engines - virtually anything, including overhead inline engines, running "heads up"), Competition Fuel (injected nitro burning cars running "heads up"), Competition Gas (a bracket class using gas or alcohol fuel running 13.99 or quicker), and Hot Rod (a bracket class for 14.00 sec. or slower).

It was a great event. Rick Schnell's supercharged nitro-burning flathead dragster turned what many thought was probably the best e.t. ever recorded for a flathead: 8.24 @ 167.75 mph. That was at Bandimere's altitude and in 90 degree temperatures. Speculation was that it would translate to a 7 second run at sea level. (Sure enough, in 1999, he went 7.724 @ 173.73 mph at Wentzville, Missouri.) Needless to say, he won the unlimited class.

Bob "Whitey" McDonald won flathead fuel running 9.30s and 9.40s in the 140s all weekend in his Hilborn injected dragster. Charlie Overfelt won competition gas in his beautiful blown altered. Joe Abbin won Hot Rod with his absolutely gorgeous bright orange '34 Ford Tudor powered by a blown Merc.

Other notable racers were "Unsprung" Snyder and John "Mr. Flathead" Bradley. The restored (or amazingly well preserved) 1950's vintage Kenz and Leslie dragster made some runs too.

There were about 40 flatheads/inlines racing at Denver, so I'm sure my old brain mixed up a few cars and what they did, but here goes.

I was interested in bottom ends, so I made a few inquiries. I got everything from complete girdles to claims that Ford made the mains plenty strong and nothing was needed. I think Rick Schnell told me he was using a girdle he made himself on his blower motor. From the outside it looked like a King type design, but you can't really tell without X-ray vision. A couple of the injected nitro guys said they just used Ford main bearing caps, one saying that he thought the bar and bolt type supports did more harm than good. So, I don't have a good answer for bottom ends. The folks using the 180 degree crank said a billet crank doesn't flex substantially in a flathead, so I think they may have been one of the nitro cars running stock caps. They had a 4-bolt (aluminum?) main cap sitting on their trailer, though.

I was amazed at how many folks made their own heads. Some were air cooled and one seemed to be water cooled. Rick Schnell said he started out with an unfinned flat plate, but he added a second layer of a finned plate for air cooling. Those heads were beautiful works of art. Offenhauser heads seemed to be the most common store bought heads, though there were examples of just about everything I could think of. I seriously doubt that very many of those were just bolted on without the use of a grinder. Again, that X-ray vision would have come in handy.

Relieving vs. not relieving the block has not been resolved. Proponents abound on both sides of that issue.

There was some talk of putting injector nozzles on the inside of the lifter valley pointing up into intake ports rather than down from the top. The object was better atomization into the cylinders and valve cooling. There was a certain amount of head shaking about that one.

One fellow was a serious advocate of coatings and some other really innovative stuff. He had a track T street rod (absolutely gorgeous), not a competition car, so he couldn't put his money where his mouth was. He did make one pass, but he said a sparkplug wire came off so he just sort of played around and ran in the 16s. The jury is still out on his ideas. That didn't keep me from buying his home published booklet, though.

Bill Peters was using a Hilborn fuel injection set up made for a 303 Olds. He adapted it to a flathead using a thick aluminum intermediate plate bolted to the block where the manifold would go. The injector stacks are bolted to the aluminum plate and air passages ground into the aluminum to match the injectors to the ports. The object was cost. New Hilborns for a flathead hover at about $1,000, but a set of used swap meet stuff from an "extinct" Olds were had for about $300. The Kenz and Leslie car had a similar setup from an old Pontiac Hilborn system.

A few aluminum filled blocks were there, including Schnell's. He says it's not an easy trick, though - block must be very, very clean and heated to just the right temperature before making the pour or it will warp badly. It will still warp some. Not the thing for a street engine or even for bracket racing in my humble opinion.

At least two or three folks had isolated the center exhaust ports with one cylinder blowing down through the original hole and the other coming up through the heat riser area. This is done by welding a plate at an angle across the area between the exhaust valves in the ports. I mean they are completely separated, not just the common port dividers stuck in. One port goes up and one goes down. The heat riser doesn't have enough metal to hog it out properly, so an aluminum filled block is required or a bunch of fancy welding. This isn't anything really new. A few folks have been doing it for years. Those who expressed an opinion seemed to think it helped on a blown nitro engine, but didn't do much for an injected alcohol engine.

Maybe the most exotic thing I know about are Whitey McDonald's rods. They are welded up from tubing by a local Wichita fellow (both Whitey and I are from Wichita). The idea came from Jerry Livingston, a local engine builder, for his flathead salt flat car. Jerry figured that a tube was the strongest form for its weight, so he had one of the guys in his shop weld up a set. Considering that the loads on rods are pretty directional, I don't know if this is the strongest shape for the application, but I'll let others debate that. According to him, the big ends are the same size as a 327 Chevy which gives him a lot of options for bearings and for grinding down a Merc crank. The main body of the rod is a tube with gussets welded on at the big end. I've seen Jerry's rods, but not Whitey's, so I don't know if there are any refinements. As for longevity, Whitey is on his second season with them. I heard that Jerry's car was wrecked and I haven't seen him for a few years, so I can't report any results from him. I have since learned that rods like this have been made commercially for a few (non-flathead) applications, but I don't really think any are available now.

If I may stray from my drag racing subject, Jerry Livingston also machined up a huge main bearing girdle that includes front and rear as well as the center bearings. It bolts to the entire bottom of the engine including all of the pan bolt holes. I haven't seen it for a couple of years, but as I recall the whole thing is really thick. The front and rear oil seals are in the girdle. Then a pan bolts to the girdle. I hate to think what it weighs.

It might be pretty hard to pick the prettiest car there, but a sure contender was Joe Abbin's orange fenderless '34 Tudor powered by a blown 276 cubic inch Merc. This car also won the Hot Rod bracket class. Joe sells a really slick Weiand supercharger kit which features a serpentine belt drive which also turns the water pumps and the cutest little Honda-style alternator which sits right up next to the blower snout on the "empty" side. He has two business identities - Motorhead Mart which is a bookstore specializing in flathead books, and Roadrunner Engineering which sells the blower kits and does computer engine analysis and design for flatheads. He has written a book, "Blown Flathead," which is another one of those must have deals. Full of flow test results, good advice, and a color picture of that beautiful '34. Joe is in Albuquerque, actually is a mechanical engineer, and can be reached by e-Mail at RoadrunnerEngr@email.msn.com.

I bought another book while there, the second of Mike Davidson's flathead books - "How to Build the High Performance Street Flathead" or I have also seen it listed as just "Street Flathead." Lots of good info in this one. Want to know how a Sharp head flows compared to an Offenhauser 425 or Motor City Flathead or Navarro or...well, you get the idea. My source for this, a one piece front seal, and a "Real Hotrods Don't Have Valvecovers" tee shirt was Bruce Dahl, 916 N. Utah, Davenport, Iowa 52804. Bruce was racing a seriously nostalgic looking short wheelbase rail with Hilborns, leaf spring front suspension, and whitewall slicks. Very nice.

I think I only saw one flathead with an MSD electronic ignition distributor and I think that was Bruce's. Maybe no one knows they make them for flatheads ('49-'53 style).

I saw one distributor that was set up like I did back in the '60s when our Mallory Rev-pole messed up. It was a stock distributor with the advance plate just locked in place. Actually you don't have to lock anything, or at least we didn't. The springs held it in place well enough. I don't recommend this for anything that you would want to have a wide power band in or starting capability in the winter.

One of the coolest cars there was a '32 roadster powered by a 4-banger. It was a restored race car complete with wire wheels and a leather strap over the hood.

Most flathead nostalgia dragsters run either a dry block, an aluminum filled block, or a wet block but with no radiator. A few did have radiators though, and one of the more interesting systems for moving water was a late model water pump driven by an electric motor and a cogged belt (nothing unusual yet), but the pump was about a foot from the engine and was plumbed to it with a combination of threaded pipes, elbows and hoses coming out of the motor plate to some aluminum boxes which were attached to the frame rails and the pump outlets. I'll bet you could do something like that with a lightweight racing pump originally designed for a small block C...(oh, I just can't type that word).

I have a 4 bbl intake manifold sitting on a shelf. In the interest of cheapness I have been trying to figure out how to feed alcohol to a flathead using that manifold, as opposed to Hilborns, which I want, but don't have. I am told that Holley's smaller 4 bbl carburetors can't be modified for alky - not enough metal to enlarge the fuel passages. I thought about trying to adapt a Holley 2 bbl carburetor to the 4 bbl manifold, but it seems like it would create a huge plenum if I just ground out the dividers in the manifold and it would take sharp bends and turns to divide the flow into four passages in an adaptor before it got to the manifold. Low and behold, there was someone at Denver who had put a 2 bbl on a 4 bbl manifold. He used a thick block of aluminum as the adapter. Passage ways were whittled into the aluminum and the manifold was carved out and, if I understand it correctly, Bondo was used for final internal shaping. It was one more thing I didn't see the all important insides of. I've also seen sort of home brew flying toilets made from 4 bbl manifolds.

Most of the serious cars in competition were running either a C4 or Powerglide transmission with plenty of stall speed. I've been debating which to use myself and I still don't know. Rick Schnell, winner in unlimited, uses a C4. Whitey McDonald, winner in Competition Fuel, uses a Powerglide. Each seems to work better than the other. The 'Glide uses less horsepower and the C4 gives another gear.

As I have said, this report probably has some mistakes in it. Please contact me if you find some.

Jim Marlett


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