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The Ring's The Thing

By Wayne Scraba

It’s been said that some of the best sealing engines in all of motorsports are found under the hood of NHRA-legal Stockers. And that could very well be true. Just take one look at the restrictions facing a Stock Eliminator racer: Replacement pistons with OEM ring grooves. Limited creativity with regard to valve configurations (and valve jobs). No add-ons such as crankcase vacuum pumps. The methods used to seal these creations is pretty finite, and one of the keys is the piston ring. Sound interesting? Read on.

Now, it’s no secret that you can seal an engine pretty well, but there are also plenty of trade-offs. And the worst one could very well be ring drag. That’s where Stock Eliminator becomes an enigma: Use a ring that seals the engine tight and in many instances, you’ll be met with considerable drag. The result is wasted horsepower. Of course, there are plenty of clever racers out there who have figured out how to have their cake and eat it too: The cost though, is quite often a bunch of added maintenance: Honing cylinder walls and re-ringing the engine in short-term intervals.

There’s more here too: Given the rules, a Stocker is pretty much forced to race with a big, fat ring. At least that’s what the piston rule more or less dictates. Typically, most Stockers use a piston with some form of 5/64-inch top and second ring groove along with a 3/16-inch (or thereabouts) oil ring package. Big heavy rings such as this (we’re primarily discussing the top two rings) are fine for low RPM engines, but when the tachometer needle starts cranking hard to the right (and more often than not, far beyond the range the OEM manufacturer originally intended), then ring weight becomes an issue. That’s one big reason why applications ranging from Pro Stock to Formula 1 use skinny, light top rings.

A heavy ring can be terribly upset by flutter. What is flutter? Ring flutter is believed to be caused by pressure that leaks by the top ring and but does not get by the second ring. Theory has it this creates pressure between the top and second ring that pushes down on the second ring and up on the top ring. This pressure, during proper circumstances, is said to be able to lift the top ring off its ring land creating ring flutter.

There are a couple of theories out there on how to fix this dilemma: One is to open the gap on the second ring, and allow the pressure to escape. This might work, but it should also raise some red flags: If you open the gap, then you’re inviting blow-by, effectively kissing away the sealing capability of the ring. It should be no surprise to any of you that filling the oil pan with combustion gases isn’t a great idea. And if you have no means to evacuate the crankcase, other than something like a PCV valve and a breather, it gets even worse. Blow-by not only robs the engine of power, it shortens the lubrication life of the crankcase oil and it causes internal engine parts to wear out prematurely. But in a Stocker, the biggest problem just might be might be the fact that power is continuously eroded as the ring gap increases in size.

This simply looks like rings. But it’s not. This is the top ring set from the “Advantage Ring System” manufactured by Total Seal. It’s targeted toward the little guy racer and/or enthusiast.


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