The School of Automotive Machinists — also known as SAM, located in Houston, TX — is not only a place to learn about building performance engines, but also a place to learn what it takes to compete in heads up racing. The students at SAM participate in building some of the fastest naturally aspirated race cars in their respective classes, and also receive experience that goes far beyond building engines. The projects that they have assembled are competitive in both NMCA and NMRA classes. Owner Jud Massingill was kind enough to not only let us talk to him about his school, but also take a look at some of his 8-second race cars!
The school doesn’t just build, maintain, and race naturally aspirated class winning race cars. They also build engines for other racers, and they’ve competed and done well in the Engine Masters Challenge. Students not only get an education in building race winning engines, they also get to be hands-on with design. We started out our tour by taking a look at some of SAM’s 8-second all-motor race cars.
’99 Camaro w/427ci N/A Engine!
LSX engines are known for responding well to modifications and making big power, and there has been substantial interest from both students and employers, so SAM decided to build a 1999 Camaro to compete in the LSX Shootout. The Camaro has run anywhere from the 13-second range with just bolt on’s, all the way to the 8.70 range. Currently it competes in the 8-second N/A LSX Classes.
Along with a 427 cubic inch LSX engine (built using GM C5R Block and Heads) the Camaro received the following modifications:
- Jericho 4-speed transmission
- Moser 9-inch rear end
- Block and heads – both GM C5R parts that have been worked over by the students at SAM
- Comp Cams Solid Camshaft
- Aeromotive Fuel System
- Big Stuff 3 Electronic Fuel Injection
- BMR Suspension
- Specialty Metalcraft Roll Cage
The ’95 Mustang that SAM races is not only competitive, it has won several races. That’s saying a lot given the fierce competition in the NMRA’s Hot Street class. It has also run in the mid-8 second range under the substantially more restrictive rules of the NMRA sanction.
Some of the parts that are being run in SAM’s Mustang include:
- 401 cubic inch small block Ford Dart engine
- Edelbrock Victor heads & intake (ported by students at SAM)
- Rossler turbo 400 transmission
- Moser 9-inch rear end
- Racecraft front suspension
- Competition Engineering ladder bars
- Specialty Metalcraft Roll Cage
The neat thing about both of these cars is the fact that the students had such a huge hand in the assembly and competition of both race cars. After getting a preview of both cars, we sat down with Jud Massingill, owner of The School of Automotive Machinists, and he answered some of the questions that we had for him.
PowerTV: First, I have seen the motors your students are building for your cars and I just have to say “wow!” This entire interview will be based on one question: Can you teach me to build my next motor?
Jud: “Sure can. The engines in our cars are used by the instructors as class projects. The students are truly hands-on during the machining, assembly and dyno’ing of these engines.”
PowerTV: SAM has been involved with heads up racing for a few years now.
Can you tell us why you started and why you chose the class you did?
Jud: “We wanted to show people the school was for real. We could build our own engines and be competitive in a heads up class. We took the 99 Camaro from 13.30’s to 8.70’s, winning a couple of LSX races. The Hot Street Mustang was built to show we were not just a Chevy engine builder.
The NMRA Hot Street class was chosen because it is an all motor class, and one of the most competitive ‘street car classes’ in the country. Although we appreciate the incredible power the power adder classes make, we feel the students learn more about the engines when naturally aspirated. We do build some turbo and nitrous engines for some other racers to expose the students to these types of engines.”
PowerTV: How does traveling to the races and working on competing cars help the students?
Jud: “It works two-fold. The students get to work in the real world. Also, other teams meet the students and call when they need an employee. Once we were testing our Camaro at the Houston track. It was the week before the NHRA Gatornationals and John Force was testing. He hired one of our students on the spot. The student left the track with Force. John Force racing has hired five of our graduates.”
PowerTV: How does it feel knowing that teams like John Force’s have the confidence to hire five of your students?
Jud: “I used to take pride in building engines and making horsepower, but now I take pride in putting out productive students. When you get the second call from a big name team, it’s really gratifying.”
PowerTV: I noticed that another racer is also running an engine built by SAM. Can you tell us how that came about?
Jud: “We are now building the engine for Mike Demayo Sr.. The car is driven by Max Gross in Hot Street. This gives us another engine to work on. Having two engines in the same class to get data from is a big help. When we set the Hot Street class record in 2007, we had the worst 60-foots of any competitive car. Demayo has really helped us with our suspension. We have gone from 1.26/1.27 to 1.21 sixty-foot times with his changes.”
PowerTV: So it is more of a partnership with Demayo?
Jud: “Not so much a partnership. Mike saw the power we made by setting the record and the not so great 60-foot time we had. He wanted us to build him engines for both cars, but I thought we could only handle doing one, so that is what we did. He has helped us get our 60-foot down each race we have been to. We also get to use his lift when we are changing converters. And being able to look at data from both cars helps both programs.”
PowerTV: The Mustang you race in NMRA’s Hot Street class runs well into the 8’s naturally aspirated. Was all of the work on the engine done at the school, and if so, how much of the work was performed by the students?
Jud: “The entire engine, including the heads, was done at the school. All the work is done with the students: bore, hone, balance, cam degreeing, head flowing, assembly and dyno’ing. The students actually do a lot of the setup and actual machining, supervised by an instructor.”
PowerTV: One of the keys to making all motor horsepower would be the cylinder heads. Can you tell us which heads you have on the small block Ford and why they were chosen?
Jud: “When word got out we were going to run Hot Street and do our own heads in-house, a number of the ‘experts’ said there was no chance of us being competitive. They changed their tune when we qualified number three at our first race.
My head department, Casey Snyder, Shawn Hooper and Ryan Fischer are incredible. The incredibly competitive Engine Masters Challenge competition shows the ability of the cylinder head department very well. We have competed three times and finished in the finals each time. In 2007 we entered two engines – one a Ford, the other a Chevy. The Ford qualified number two and the Chevy number four. The heads for both engines were done at the school.”
PowerTV: Do you have anything to say to those experts now?
Jud: “No, not really. I like to live by the ‘speak softly and carry a big stick’ motto. I think our car is doing the talking for us.”
PowerTV: How much work was done to the heads to get them competitive in a mid 8 second class?
Jud: “The guys in the head department, students and instructors, sometimes work ’til well after midnight porting and flowing. They destroy castings and start over. It’s expensive and time consuming, but worth the effort.”
PowerTV: How does it feel for the school to go out and be competitive with engine builders like Kuntz, BES and Roush?
Jud: “This is what it’s all about. If you’re not serious, don’t even think about it. We are very proud just to be racing with those guys.”
PowerTV: How much time and work do the students put in on the Hot Street Mustang between events?
Jud: “It starts on the day we get back from the races and doesn’t stop until we are ready to go again. The short block is good for about 100 passes, the heads about 50 passes, and valve springs 15-20 passes.”
PowerTV: Are the students able to learn about the other aspects that make the car competitive aside from just the engine?
Jud: “Absolutely. We take the information from the data recorder and put it on the big screen in the classroom. Understanding data acquisition and weather stations is part of the curriculum. We go over altitude corrections, jetting, and timing changes. In the car shop, we use scales at each wheel to learn weight set up changes for the suspension.”
PowerTV: Was SAM the first to dip into the 8’s with an all motor LSX engine? Can you give us some information on the combination?
Jud: “We actually were not the first in the 8’s with the Camaro. We let it sit for about a year while concentrating on the Mustang. The orange Camaro is a 427 inch C5R block, C5R head, fuel injected engine. This gives us one carbureted and one injected car to learn on. The motor is not near as radical as the Mustang engine. It is only 13.5 compression, .850 lift, standard tension oil rings etc…”
PowerTV: What is the difference between tuning an EFI versus a carburetor on an all motor 8 second car?
Jud: “Not really any different at all, just the way you make the adjustments is different. One you make with pushing buttons. The other you make with screwdrivers.”
PowerTV: Do you feel there is much left in the LSX combination that you have been running?
Jud: “We are almost finished with the new engine. It will be an LSX cast iron block, as opposed to the aluminum C5R block. After 850 horsepower, we reached 945. We can’t keep the cylinders round. The LSX block will cure that. This engine will be 15.5 compression, .980 lift and .8, .8, 2mm rings. We are retiring our faithful Jericho 4-speed for a Liberty clutchless 5-speed. We are hoping for 1000 h.p..”
PowerTV: How fast do you expect it to be?
Jud: “The car will take a weight hit this year for the manual transmission and have to weigh 3500 pounds, but I still think 8.70 is what it will take to win the LSX event.”
PowerTV: Tell us your thoughts on porting and the improvements found in the LSX heads.
Jud: “The availability of LSX heads is growing monthly. Chevy did an incredible job on the base heads and the aftermarket has taken off from there. We use the flow bench extensively, but after a certain point you must start dyno’ing. There are things we find on the dyno that don’t show in just flow numbers.”
PowerTV: You are currently offering two courses, one in block machining and the other in head machining. I also understand that you will be adding a third class on CNC machining. What do you want the students to take away from SAM?
Jud: “I want the students to leave the school with an education that will allow them to be able to work in almost any part of the race industry. The CNC course will be a great benefit.”
PowerTV: I understand that you will not accept every student that walks through the door. What’s the most important attribute that you’re looking for in a potential student?
Jud: “The student must be able to pass a mechanical aptitude test. This tells us if he or she is cut out for this industry. Give me a student with aptitude and motivation and we will take care of the rest.”
PowerTV: Have you had any females go through the course?
Jud: “We have had four females go through the school in the twenty plus years we have been at it. Two of those girls were very good students.”
PowerTV: Can you tell us your thoughts about airflow? Is this the real secret to your all motor 8 second cars?
Jud: “Like I mentioned earlier, the flow bench is not the answer. It’s sad that the head suppliers have to race flowbench numbers to sell heads to the general public. It is true nearly all good heads flow well. But it is not true that all good flowing heads make power.
The exhaust side is where the flow bench, in our opinion, is really off. We can lose 40 numbers on the exhaust side and pick up power on the dyno. The heads on the number two qualifying Engine Masters Competition engine never had the exhaust ports flowed. We knew what generally worked, started there, and then ported and dyno’d.”
PowerTV: In your Block machining course, I am sure you start with the basics and teach the fundamentals. Are you also passing on years and years of experience in component matching?
Jud: “There are no secrets at the school. Everything we know is exposed to the students. We do tell them they don’t need to share this info with others. They are the ones paying the money and making the commitment to get this information.”
PowerTV: Which is more important – the block machining course or the head machining course?
Jud: “I’ve been asked that a lot and I just don’t know the answer. It is a combination. About 95% of the students take both the head and the block courses. Some enjoy one more than the others, some equally. As far as employment, having taken both courses is an advantage of course.”
PowerTV: Tell us a little about some of the employers that are hiring SAM graduates.
Jud: “We are very proud of our list of employers. Just as a start, every competitor you mentioned earlier has SAM graduates as employees. Currently eight of the top ten in NHRA Pro Stock employ our graduates. We have about fifteen graduates working with the Top Fuel and Funny Car teams. In NASCAR, every single car in the top fifteen employs our graduates.”
PowerTV: What appeals the most to them about the SAM graduates?
Jud: “We have clean cut, educated, and motivated people.”
PowerTV: Does SAM’s curriculum cover the latest advancements in metals – coatings and surfaces?
Jud: “Many of the manufactures help us with the latest innovations. We are provided samples of their latest innovations. We work closely with Sunnen on the latest honing techniques. We have our own profilometer to check surface finishes.”
PowerTV: Does SAM teach the tradeoff of durability in stock-like motors vs. the higher performance of a tricked out motor and how to help a potential customer find a balance?
Jud: “Not only with the potential customers, but also with the students. All students are allowed to build their own project. They pay only for their parts. We have to tone down some of the ideas for their street motors.”
PowerTV: What does SAM do to stay on the cutting edge of technology, and does your racing program help this?
Jud: “This is why we race. We are continually updating our equipment.”
PowerTV: With every sanctioning body discussing “going green” are you experimenting with “Green Racing” alternatives?
Jud: “Not at all. We believe in conservation, but not at the track. If all forms of motorsports quit running today, it would not make a dent in consumption. Do you know that the latest information shows that when the consumer buys a higher mileage car, they just drive more, so the consumption stays the same?”
PowerTV: Would you be willing to build my next motor?
Jud: “Let’s do it.”