News & Media

The times they are a-changin'

October 18, 2012, Mark Aumann,

Switch from carburetors to electronic fuel injection has received positive reviews

If someone like Doug Yates -- who has spent nearly his entire life learning the intricacies of the internal combustion engine -- can be enthused by something new, it must be a good thing.

According to Yates, the decision to replace the tried-and-true carburetors with electronic fuel injection at the Sprint Cup level this season was a very good thing indeed.

Not that he hasn't enjoyed the satisfaction of finding new and unique ways to make cars go faster with venturis and butterfly valves. That skill certainly runs in the family, as Doug's father Robert was one of the best in the business. And he passed that talent along to his son at an early age.

"It's an exciting time to be an engine builder. All the information we have today that we've never had before has continued to make the engines perform better at the track."


"I followed my dad his entire career, building engines, growing up around him," Yates said. "He first let me sweep the floors and then he let me help build engines. It was probably in my early teens when I started tinkering with carburetors."

But with passenger cars having switched to electronic fuel injection for years, Yates admitted it was time for NASCAR to do the same. So out with the carb, in with computer-controlled fuel flow.

As head engine builder for Roush Yates Engines -- the main supplier for Ford's Cup engine program -- Yates has been at the forefront of the EFI transition.

"It's an exciting time to be an engine builder," Yates said. "With all the information we have today that we've never had before -- and what we can do with that information -- has continued to make the engines perform better at the track. And also understanding the limits of the engines."

Just like tuning a piano, tuning a race engine takes a trained ear. For an engine tuner, the switch from carburetion to electronic fuel injection is akin to a recording studio making the leap from analog to digital.

That's not to infer that EFI is more "sterile" or requires less artistic ability to master. Yates said it's just a different way to achieve a similar solution.

"The whole weekend goes differently now," Yates said. "With carburetors and distributors, you'd look at the spark plugs and listen to the engines, think about things and make your decisions. Now, you have data you can look at from here until tomorrow. And you're building that database."

That database includes the ability to determine the reasons why engine parts fail, and steps necessary to keep it from happening in the future. In the past, the evolution of engine technology was somewhat trial and error -- if the part broke, you tried something different.

Now when an engine fails, Yates can look at the data and see exactly where the failure occurred.

"Especially when you build multiple engines for several teams, you kind of tend to [gravitate to] the worst condition," Yates said. "If one person has an engine failure, you'd go to work and protect for that.

"Now you have the information and can see that every engine doesn't experience the same operating conditions, operating temperatures. So now you can make a better engine down the road because you understand better what the operating conditions are. The information will make us better."

In Yates' opinion, having a technology like fuel injection only makes the sport better -- because it attracts people with new ideas of doing things.

"The exciting thing is we're having interest from an engineering standpoint that we've never had before," Yates said. "We have people who want to be part of our sport who in the past would say, 'Well, I'd rather go work on Formula 1 engines because they are injected and it's a higher tech engine.'

"In fact, NASCAR engines are very sophisticated technology. But sitting on top of all that science -- through coatings and materials and innovation through the years -- is a carburetor, which kind of turns people off. Now people are saying, 'Wow, NASCAR is fuel injected. I want to be a part of that.' "

Admittedly, there have been some teething pains, particularly early in the season. But overall, the transition has been relatively seamless. And that enthuses Yates, who can't wait to see what's next.

"It's a very exciting time as an engine builder and engineer in this sport," Yates said. "That's exciting for engine technology. A lot of people look at our sport and see carburetors, and think it's somewhat antiquated.

"So this is exciting and a big step for us. I think it's a big step forward for NASCAR. And it's really the beginning of a new technology, from an engine standpoint. It's very exciting."