Creating a balance between two significantly different engines was the biggest challenge.
For a number of years, the NASCAR East and West divisions have utilized a Robert Yates Racing/spec engine — a lightweight, aluminum block pavement-pounder that produces around 600 horsepower. It was designed for tracks one mile in length and shorter.
Meanwhile, ARCA has had a spec engine of its own, the Ilmor 396. The Chevy LS-block based engine boasts 1,500 hours of repeatable performance and puts out 700 horsepower. It has proven reliable on circuits ranging from short tracks to superspeedways since 2015.
“There are over 100 Yates engines right now out there in the East and West Series and there are at least 100 Ilmor engines out there in ARCA Menards cars right now,” said Drager. “We knew immediately we needed to find a way to allow teams to utilize their investment and not force them to have to sell off what they have and convert to new. We needed to find a way to run what they have.
“We first concentrated on taking out the differences between the two engines. The end result is we were able to come up with packages we thought would work — one to restrict the horsepower of the Ilmor engine and another to offset the horsepower and weight differences of the Yates engines. Once we had that, we tested the heck out of it in the lab at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.
“Then we did some real-world applications in six on-track parity tests,” Drager continued. “We selected a good cross-section of teams from the East and West divisions and the same with some of our ARCA teams. We tested it at multiple tracks, some of which we currently don’t race on. The goal and the result of the test was to see if we have parity with our cars, not to validate race tracks.”
The testing was with the competitors best interest in mind.
“In the end, the biggest goal was to make the least amount of difficult and expensive changes for teams who wanted to come and run an ARCA Menards Series schedule in 2020. The same was true for an ARCA Menards Series team that had an open weekend in its schedule and wanted to run an ARCA Menards Series East or West race,” Drager said. “The whole process was with an eye on how we could minimize the cost to the teams while creating one car that could be technically consistent and competitive regardless of what races on our schedule they would enter.
“I think we’ve ended up with a package where if you had a car in 2019, you are able to run with us in 2020. If you are in compliance with the rules package, you’re good to go.”
For Drager, the NASCAR/ARCA partnership has already provided the necessary freedom to keep ARCA’s mission statement true to its past as well as the resources to play a bigger role in shaping what stock car racing will become in the future.
“Everybody is in agreement that the sport will continue to change. It always has, it always will,” Drager explained. “We feel like we are at a good place, a major intersection of the sport. ARCA has always had its roots in short-track, blue-collar racing. We shine our stuff up and we get to race at places like Daytona and Talladega. We get to stand in the spotlight at those places and others like Pocono, Kansas and Charlotte.
“Teams with a lot of resources can run the whole season with us while others who have one dually, one tag trailer, one car and one engine may only run one race a year, a mile dirt track or two or three regional races in their part of the country,” he continued. “It has been those kind of stories that has made ARCA different and interesting to our fans over the years. It’s something we are looking forward to doing for a long time.”