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LA Street Racers

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“Street racing is as big as going to the track is,” Mike says, meaning there are as many people street racing as there were attending the test-and-tune nights before all our local dragstrips closed. “It’s insane how much power the engines are making. Street racing is harder on engines than racing at the track, and we have to cater our work to the customer’s needs.” Unlike at a track, street-race engines need to be able operate in normal driving conditions. Even if the car is trailered to a race, it needs to drive from where the trailer is parked (often several blocks away) and idle during all the starting-line shenanigans without overheating while making upward of 1,000 hp. And it has to last because the guy can’t afford to rebuild the engine after every race.

To build an engine that will make this much power, Mike says ring-seal and head-gasket technology has become a critical factor in planning a customer’s build. Off-the-shelf LS or Modular Ford rings won’t hold the excessive cylinder pressures in a high-compression, forced-induction, street-race engine. He’s been working with Total Seal to develop stainless-steel ring material, once normally reserved for race-only engines. “It used to be that a good race engine with stainless rings lasted maybe 10 to 15 passes before it needed to be rebuilt. Stainless is a harder material than cast-iron or moly-faced rings found in street engines. They wear the cylinders quickly, and ring seal goes away. We’ve developed honing procedures that let us run stainless rings in a street-race engine that seal well and last a long time,” Mike says. Of course, lasting a long time is a relative term when dealing with the engines in a street racer’s car, but Mike says his (theoretical) customers bring engines back because they either pushed too hard and broke the engine or because they want more power, not because ring seal went away.

“I’ve heard all these guys do strokers,” Mike says (theoretically, of course). “If I were to build an engine for a street racer, I’d build for horsepower rather than torque. Too much torque is hard to control on the street. Building for horsepower lets you catch the other guy on the top end.” Mike also says they sleeve a lot of engine blocks to gain maximum displacement. “With sleeves, we can put a 3.700-inch bore inside a stock-looking 4.6 and a 4.165 bore in an LS3.” Those are increases of 0.170- and 0.100-inch, respectively, and both go a long way in building extra compression and power. “The sleeves hold all the cylinders true, and that also improves ring seal. Plus, because they’re made from ductile iron, they expand less than factory castings, especially in aluminum blocks. We can run tighter piston-to-wall clearances than we would in a stock-bore engine.” Mike adds.

Among other tricks Mike’s heard of for building horsepower in a stock-looking engine is improving valvetrain efficiency. Using shaft-mount rocker arms, polished valvesprings, and titanium retainers stabilizes the valvetrain and allows for higher-revving engines. “Not all cylinder heads need to be ported—stock LS3 heads work really well—but all cylinder heads will benefit from a good valve job and bowl-blending,” Mike says. Following QMP’s formula, you’d be able to build an engine that would dominate on the street. In theory, of course.

The Cover Stars

We wish to thank everyone who showed up for this month’s cover shoot. Because most of the cars are shrouded in a thick veil of fake tire smoke, here are the names of the folks and their cars.

Even with all the time we spent preparing this article, we realize we’ve only just scratched the surface of the scene here. We will continue to follow up with the guys we met and will also expand our scope to look at other parts of the country. Know a good scene near you? Email us at

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