Hi. My name is Rob and I like to blow stuff up. Well, that is my reputation anyway. The guys that hang out with me at the track and help crew on my race cars have nicknamed me Rob “Right Foot” Krider, because I have used my right foot to end the lives of a few racing engines. The current count is around five engines. Yes, five. At least I can count them on a single hand… for now.
I look at racing engines the same way an Olympic sprinter looks at a pair of Nikes. These items are renewable. Nobody expects a pair of running shoes to last forever, and I don’t expect a racing engine to last forever either. The only difference I see is that when these renewable items have reached their replacement point, I can’t just drive down to the Foot Locker and get a new pair of Jordan’s. I have to source an engine block and head to the machine shop. It’s much more complicated (and expensive).
As a guy who has a propensity to blow stuff up, I have become very intimate with my engine builder. Meet Rich Olivier, owner of TEM Machine Shop in Napa, California. This guy builds incredibly fast engines for all sorts of vehicles, including Lamborghinis and Ferraris. If he can build a V12 Ferrari engine, he can certainly handle a little four-cylinder Honda Challenge motor.
After recently blowing up my latest Honda engine (and catching the car on fire), I needed another engine, and I needed it fast with the NASA Nationals approaching quickly. I grabbed a new (used) Honda B18A1 block and headed to Rich’s shop to tag-along and bother him with a thousand questions while he built my newest engine. I saw this as a learning opportunity and he saw it as a way to maybe keep me from blowing up the engine if I saw how much work went into it — a win-win situation.
The NASA Honda Challenge 4 rules are pretty limiting when it comes to engine building, but the motors can be blueprinted and balanced. That was exactly what Rich did to ensure my motor would have the best chance at winning a National Championship in September. Rich painstakingly balanced the crank to within 0.5 of a gram. Just so you can grasp how insane that is, there are 28.3495 grams in an ounce, 16 ounces in a single pound. That means the crank was balanced within 0.00110231 of a pound. That ain’t much, folks.
Once Rich completed all of his machining and balancing magic (and honestly as he started spouting off numbers to the thousandth of an inch about line boring, I was a bit lost), then it was assembly time. Rich has a specific “clean room” for engine assembly, separate from the machine shop, to keep things tidy. He lays out brand new butcher paper on a steel bench and completely organizes the entire engine. It’s pretty impressive to see.
I was impressed as I watched Rich take the time to check every detail about the build, step-by-step. This motor was not thrown together, instead each tolerance and clearance was checked, and checked twice. He used a tool to seat each piston ring into the cylinders and then verified the clearances with a feeler gauge.
I noticed that Rich doesn’t trust anything he gets out of a box. He checked every tolerance of every bearing before he placed the bearings into the block. He ensured that every cap was placed in the correct order, and in the correct direction. These may sound like obvious things to do, but many people slap engines together and things get overlooked. These simple lapses in judgment can cause big problems down the line.
As Rich began assembling more components of the engine I saw him using a bottle of what looked like Sriracha sauce to cover the bearings with red liquid. “This isn’t Sriracha,” said Rich. “This is engine assembly lube and I’ve never seen anyone blow up an engine for using too much of this.” He ensured that all of the metal surfaces that would have any friction were covered in his special red sauce.
With all of the specs perfect, when Rich laid the crankshaft in and bolted on the main caps, the crankshaft spun beautifully. It was like looking at a piece of art seeing how perfect the crank turned. Every bolt was torqued to the correct specifications with data from Honda and ARP. It was cool seeing the motor come together so elegantly. Too bad I’m probably just going to blow it up.
With the bottom of the engine put together with tender loving care, and a bit of OCD tendencies (which is a good thing), it was time to build the upper end of the engine. Rich had already completed the valve job prior to me getting there, so the head was ready to drop on and torque. As he placed the cams in he used more of his secret sauce to keep the engine lubed and healthy until the oil pump can get pressure for that first start up.
After the head was installed, Rich took the time to adjust the valves within a hundredth of an inch and then installed the timing belt. He took extra special care to ensure the top and bottom of the engine were in perfect timing. His dedication to ensuring the motor was as perfect as possible was extraordinary.
The entire assembly took a full nine-hour day. I didn’t even see Rich eat lunch. He was just head down, man on a mission, doing his thing to build a good engine. After witnessing how hard he worked on it, I promised him I would take it easier on the engine. I lied to him. I’m gonna run the hell out of it at the National Championships. Sorry Rich!
Now that the engine is complete, Rich’s job is done. It is on me and the boys at Double Nickel Nine Motorsports to slap that little B18A1 back into our Integra and go fast, as fast as we can, until the new motor lets go!