Doug Yates continues to pilot the ship at Roush Yates Racing Engines. He grew up in engine shops while his father, Robert, established himself as a premier engine builder in the top levels of auto racing — along with building a championship race team. When his father decided to move on, in the late 2000s Yates assumed the helm of the company and has continued to move them forward during some of the most uncertain times in the history of the sport. Yates was intimately involved in the Electronic Fuel Injection project for the Sprint Cup Series, and continues to fine-tune that offering. Roush Yates also supplies engines to thousands of local short track racers who compete in all kinds of cars. While the race team may not be around anymore, Yates’ expertise and experience provides the customers of his company with the highest quality product. It’s one that not only produces tremendous horsepower but also offers the durability that local competitors require.
During the 2014 Sprint Media Tour presented by Charlotte Motor Speedway, Yates sat down with Frontstretch for a Tech Talk session to start off the season.
Mike Neff: We’ve now had two years with the EFI system. Have we figured out everything there is to know now or are we still in the early stages of development?
Doug Yates: I’ve been working on this engine now for, this is my 24th season. The base engine still has a lot to learn about it and improve on it; EFI is the same way. This is year three. The first year was to just try and get to the track, hope we did our homework well enough that nothing falls off of the car. There are a lot of different parts, coils, fuel rails, and just a completely different system than what we’d had for 60 years.
Last year was a year of, “OK, year one is in the books. Let’s work on tuning it for the different drivers and the different tracks. We’ve got a year under our belt – can we simulate this on the dyno better?” That’s how last year unfolded. Now, this year it is time to figure out how we can win. How we can earn an advantage with this thing that nobody else is doing? We’re excited about that. It is a mature system. I was just talking to someone else about the Ford EcoBoost engine that we raced at Daytona during the 24 hours. It is direct injection, twin turbos, traction control, paddle shift, electronic throttles. That is a complex system. When you look at what we’re using, we had a big learning curve but it was nothing compared to that. It is a great opportunity for our company to do both.
Mike Neff: When they introduced the EFI system, NASCAR limited the number of map points that you could utilize. Are they still keeping you in that tight of a box or have they opened up some options?
Doug Yates: They’ve worked with us, but they’ve also turned off some things as well. One of the big things that people worried about was traction control. They wondered if people were using dual stage rev limiters to achieve traction control. They turned off some functions that would have allowed that. I don’t think anyone ever used it, but you never know. We have some really smart guys who work on this every day. Part of their day is just throwing out “what if” ideas. Some of those have already been shut down by NASCAR. The fuel maps are still pretty tight. We’d like to have some more brake points. The same thing on the ignition side. If we had more, we’d do more, but I think it is a very adequate system and has done a really nice job for our sport. It is a good first step towards technology in our sport. I’m really pleased with where we’re at and looking forward to year three.
Mike Neff: Is the FR9 engine still receiving updates on a monthly or even weekly basis?
Doug Yates: Yes, it is. Everybody is on an even playing field at this point in time, everybody has the same geometry, and the same parameters. If you’ll remember back that Dodge started by raising the cam, Toyota came in with their Formula 1/NASCAR block, then GM submitted their new block. Now, everybody is on the same geometry. The same opportunity is there for everyone. The cylinder head layouts are different by manufacturer, which gives them their identity.
You never quit working on engines; you can always find something. There are always better coatings, better materials, better something. Lots of times with engines, when you improve one part, it unlocks a bunch of other options. You thought you were in a box and couldn’t get out. It felt like you couldn’t make any more progress and then suddenly, you change a cam profile or a cylinder head and then you can go redo the entire system and develop all sorts of new options. That is the cool part of our racing and especially working on our engines.
The Muscle Behind the Hustle. Doug Yates has picked up where his father Robert left off, heading the horsepower race for Roush Yates Racing Engines. The company supplies engines to all Ford NASCAR teams, as well as motors for local competitors as well.
Mike Neff: You also have a year under your belt with the new Gen-6 car. Has the body styling of the Fusion, in this iteration of the car, impacted how the engines perform?
Doug Yates: The biggest thing that we know at this point is the RPM range that the engine is operating in. With this year’s rules and more downforce, the center of the corner speeds are going to be higher at mile and a half tracks — which means our range is going to change. We’re going to have to change our power curve to accommodate that change. That is a good thing for us. Our engines seem to perform very well at high speeds and high RPM. Hopefully, that is going to play in our favor.
Mike Neff: OK, without getting deep into trade secrets because this is where you earn your money but, what goes into changing the power curve? Is it a timing perspective, is it fuel mixture, does it all build on itself?
Doug Yates: It is really an air flow component. It is camshaft design, rocker ratio choice, intake manifold, cylinder head and your headers. That is how you adjust your power curve. If you want more bottom end, you make longer headers/primaries. If you want more top end, you make them shorter. Same thing with the intake manifold, longer runners, or shorter runners. That is one way to adjust the power curve. Also, with your camshaft you can change durations and lobe separation. That will change your power curve around as well.
Mike Neff: Awesome. A while ago, you were talking about being at Daytona for the 24 hours and all of the different manufacturers, engines and sounds. At the Cup tracks, guys from the same manufacturer still seem to have different engine notes. Is that from the header design as well or is that an EFI issue?
Doug Yates: You can do a lot of things with headers and tailpipes. NASCAR has locked a lot of that down but, through the years we’ve tried a lot of crazy stuff. We’ve tried 180 degree headers where they swap underneath the oil pan. We tried equal length tail pipes. When the exhaust goes out one side, one side of the engine’s pipes will be longer than the others obviously. If you make the pipes the same length, it can really make it sound like you’re revving the engine a lot higher than you really are. You can really change the tone and sound of the engine with different tailpipe combinations. However, with all of that technology, you really have a hard time making a V-6 sound like a V-8.
As the 2014 season unfolds, we’ll see how well the Roush Yates engines can take advantage of what they’ve been presented to make their powerplants perform even better. One thing is for sure: Doug Yates and all of the minds over at Roush Yates Racing Engines will be trying everything under the sun to get that last ounce of horsepower out of their engines.
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What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.
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