Once viewed as a power-tuning tool for racers and engine builders, the carburetor seems to be heading towards the realm of the obsolete. Back in the 80’s car manufacturers dumped the use of carburetors for more fuel efficient electronic fuel injection systems. But the racing industry kept using carburetors because they produced the most power. Over the years, the tuning capabilities they learned allowed race teams to adjust the engine’s power for variations in track and weather conditions.
After 60 years of prepping and tuning carburetors, it was only last year (2012) that NASCAR Sprint Cup Series cars moved to using electronic fuel injection. For many fans, the switch to EFI seemed almost a non issue. But for Sprint Cup racing teams and engine builders, the change was a welcome one. “It’s been a great transition,” said Danny Lawrence from ECR engines in North Carolina, who provides racing engines for NASCAR teams like Richard Childress Racing, Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing and others. “We’ve had zero issues.”
Many of the teams have used a Holley four-barrel racing carburetor and are now using a Holley EFI throttle body. “We’re in a zero defect business,” says Tom Ghent of Roush/Yates engines. “Every component used in our engines has to be thoroughly inspected and have the highest level of detail. We expect to continue winning with the new Holley throttle body, just like we have with the Holley carburetors.” Lawrence says, “It’s actually one of the few pieces that we’ve put on the engine without having to rework it.”
It’s no coincidence that Holley carburetors, and now their throttle body and EFI systems, are being used for racing venues that have relied on carburetors for more than six decades. The company has been manufacturing carburetors and fuel systems since 1903, and has dominated the industry ever since. It began manufacturing aftermarket EFI components and complete systems in the 1980’s. Because of the company’s dominance in NASCAR, NHRA, and other major racing venues, the switch to EFI puts their products right back into the hands of the racing elite.
Yet, sportsman drag racers who don’t have big budgets like NASCAR teams, also found it affordable switching to using aftermarket EFI products. An example is the ’98 Camaro Z28 belonging to The School of Automotive Machinists (SAM). The car is a test bed for students learning how to build professional racing engines. The Camaro, equipped with a 427 cubic inch LS engine making 774 horsepower, broke its best speed record, running 200.4 mph at the Texas Mile track in Beeville, Texas. This was accomplished after switching to a Holley HP electronic control unit. “With a touch screen monitor, tuning unique engines is much easier,” says Chris Bennett, an instructor at SAM. “New EFI systems like the Holley HP are by far the most user friendly. It has proven to me to be as powerful, or more, than comparable EFI systems.”
While auto manufacturers switched from carburetors to EFI long ago, General Motors recently announced using an aftermarket EFI system on its factory race ready COPO vehicles, (Central Office Production Order). These factory race cars come with a Holley EFI engine control unit and a Holley Hi-Ram intake manifold as standard equipment, right off the assembly line. The ECU offers lb/hr based fueling and self-tuning fuel table strategies, plus internal data logging with 2GB of memory. This allows racing teams better tuning capabilities than the factory EFI systems for use in drag racing. “We’re excited about the future of EFI in racing and we intend to be the racer’s choice for integrated EFI and ignition control,” says Holley CEO, Tom Tomlinson.
But what does this mean for the old carburetor? Fortunately companies like Holley don’t foresee any slow-down in production yet. As a matter of fact, Holley now makes a wider variety of carburetors than ever before. These include Original Performance carbs for stock or slightly modified vehicles, and a wide variety of street/strip performance carburetors. In addition, the company says its sales of carburetors that come with blue, red or black anodized components and brightly polished fuel bowls are more popular than ever. These offer muscle-car enthusiasts an easier way to build a performance engine that’s also turns heads when the hood is up.
Racers who still like to use carburetors on their high-powered engines, also still have a wide range to choose from. A variety of mild to highly modified racing carburetors are still available from manufactures like Holley. Some are even made from lightweight aluminum and are available in a brightly polished or with a matte-black anodized finish for sportsman and professional racing applications.
While EFI is definitely becoming affordable, easy to use, and more popular with racers, it’s good to know that the old performance carburetor won’t be completely obsolete anytime soon. “There’s still a huge crowd of muscle car purists and sportsman racers out there that rely on our carburetors,” says Bill Tichenor, Marketing Manager at Holley. “They will ensure that the hobby and the art of carburetor tuning won’t go away anytime soon. Carbs still cost much less and work great. With our expanding line of EFI systems and carburetors, we want to make sure we have everyone covered.”