Written By Steve Baur and Troy LaCrone
Photography Courtesy of Troy LaCrone
As racing is a competitive sport, it’s not surprising that a great many of racers tend to keep trade secrets to themselves. Competitive nature aside, being ahead of the next guy usually requires lots of time, money, and effort to find what works and what doesn’t, and the result is the racer earning his or her way to improved performance. Now that’s not to say that a great many racers won’t occasionally give tips to point people in the right direction, and nitrous racer and Induction Solutions customer Troy LaCrone recently offered up some advice to racers on Induction Solutions Nitrous Tech Facebook page and Race Pages Digital decided to contact Troy, his nitrous tuner Jim Gray, and Steve Johnson of Induction Solutions to put a spotlight on the tech tips.
“I am not at the expert guru level of nitrous, but what I do know comes from good teachers with proven hands-on learning,” LaCrone said. “It comes from putting the work in and pushing the envelope to learn. I am blessed to have an amazing team around my car and all of them are smarter than me.”
While LaCrone may not be a multi-time champion in any particular category, he has more than a few years of racing under his belt, and has taken part in Hot Rod’s Drag Week as well.
“We ran Drag Week in 2017 and 2018. We ran Pro Street NA the first year, as I didn’t want to mess with the nitrous the first time out. We ran low 9s and finished third in class.” In 2018, LaCrone ran Pro Street Power Adder and came home with a second-place finish.
“We only had a single-stage Sledgehammer plate, and were possibly one of the quickest plate-only cars ever. We averaged 7.70 at 174, and had to rebuild the engine on Wednesday night of Drag Week. I didn’t go to sleep that night, and basically went two days without sleeping. I had a cooler full of ice water in the car and I would just dump cold water on my head to stay awake while driving to the next track.”
Expanding his portfolio of racing accomplishments, LaCrone started doing some grudge racing and raced on season premiere of Memphis Street Outlaws.
“We won; we beat Lee Roberts and got to know J.J. and them pretty well,” LaCrone told us. “We hosted a race at an airport by us and J.J. beat me in Old Heavy by an inch. Then we had a race about a month ago and he called me out again and I beat him. We go 1.0 to the 60-ft on no prep, “I put a move on him that should haunt him forever.” LaCrone also told us that he smoked the tires when he engaged the third nitrous kit and “beat him by a parachute and a couple of trains.”
“The car hooks better on the street than the track—it usually requires a 4-link change to run on the track. I have really good Santhuffs on the front and with the steamrollers in the back, I can go down a virgin road without a burnout and it’ll go wheels up.”
LaCrone’s car is currently equipped with three nitrous systems.
“I originally had an X275 kit from Steve [Johnson]. It was a Sledgehammer single-stage and I maxed it out. I sent it back to Steve one winter and he converted it to an 800-horse plate and this year, I sent it back again and he converted it to two 400-shot stages and have a direct-port fogger, too. I would have kept it just on one plate if it weren’t for the grudge racing. I had no panic button and was a sitting duck without more kits.”
Here are LaCrone’s 15 Nitrous Oxide Tech Tips:
- Before the nitrous comes on, ask yourself if your engine is well-tuned and healthy in its naturally aspirated form? Be sure there is no funny business going on. If you have a vacuum pump, is it pulling a healthy amount and not going to zero when you floor it? Dumping nitrous oxide into an unhealthy engine is not going to begin or end well.
- Read spark plugs. Procedure: Warm up the engine just before getting ready to make a run. Then, install the new plugs you’re going to read. Tow the car to line and then make the hit. Shut the engine off at stripe, or as soon as safely possible after. Tow it back to the pits and pull the plugs and keep track of what hole they came out of. Always read all of them. We even have labeled containers to put them in to keep track of the pass they’re from for future reference. Jim Gray adds, “It cannot be overstated how important good accurate plug data is.”
- The plug reader is key. It’s better to have someone good at plug reading do this if you’re not sure how to read them correctly. Some people are not good in my opinion, and even worse, they think they are. I, for example, struggle to tell sometimes if what I see is the cadmium burning off or the heat/timing line. It can fool you. Or, sometimes…is that no heat, or heat all the way around the bend? This is important, so you need good help to read them and if possible, ask the person to teach you. If they can’t teach you, that may indicate a problem. Taking photographs of plugs can be helpful for your own reference, or if you need to send them to someone else to read. I am not a good plug picture taker—sometimes they look slightly different in person. Also, get the best plug light you can find. “I always tell our customers to take the picture of the plug, then look at it and ask yourself does it look like the real plug,” said Induction Solutions’ Steve Johnson “It has to for me to read it accurately.” Jim Gray explains, “There is a lot to truly understanding everything the plug can tell you. Troy is right; there are some internet plug readers that don’t always give the best advice. Find someone you trust to help you on this.
- Air/Fuel Ratio—Run the Air/Fuel ratio where your nitrous guru tells you to run it. In my experience, as an example, a healthy 580 ci engine on tune ups up to 500-600 hp are pretty forgiving… if you hit a range the engine is happy in. Mine for example, is 11.0:1-12.5:1 on compression ratio and it seems to be high on life. It runs strong and never hurts stuff. Is 11.0:1 better than 12.5:1? I think opinions vary and so do engines. So I don’t know for sure. On my engines, it seems to be similar performance wise. Caution: most carb people do not have 8 wideband sensors! Over time, we have developed a correlation to A/F ratio and how the plugs look. A 12.5:1 plug is very clean, an 11.0:1 plug is less clean. The look of the plug matters more than the wideband read out, especially if you don’t have 8 of them. Also, the ET slip doesn’t lie. What is the mph telling you?
- While plug reading matters most, having 8 wideband sensors has proven helpful for us and here is why. On a single-carb engine, air/fuel ratio can vary a lot from cylinder to cylinder, and if you have 8 ratios, that’s more data to go along with plug reading. Also, the plug reading is a cumulative reading from a run. The wideband gives you readings at every rpm throughout the run. In other words, an engine could start at 13.5:1 and be 11.0:1 at the end of the run. The plug will not show that change and unless you datalog the A/F ratios, you will never know that change during the run is going on. The plug is only a picture of the cumulative run. This is basic tech, but from an advanced user’s standpoint, I can tell you we have learned a lot about putting 800-900 hp (well over 3,000 pph) through our 580ci engine and A/F ratio is on that critical list. We also do a lot of individual cylinder tuning on the dyno. My friend has a dyno with TFX cylinder pressure transducers, 8 EGT sensors and 8 wideband sensors. He can map a lot of stuff of what the engine is doing on the dyno and we can find out a lot before we stick it in the car. It really saves us down the road.”
- A typical question goes something like this: I have an 11.5:1 compression engine. Can I spray 200hp on 93-octane pump gas? My answer to that is always, ‘It depends.’ In other words, I feel that going into a nitrous program this way means you are asking the wrong questions. The right approach/question is…. I have 11.5:1 compression and want to spray 200 hp. What is the safest way to start out? Then, you work at it in a manner that respects the engine. For example, start on 100 hp and run 100-octane fuel instead. Why push the envelope starting out if we do not need to? Start as safe as possible and take your time working up to the big pills.
- Keep detailed notes. I keep every run we make with around 50 note-worthy details each. It helps me learn what the engine wants and I am too old to remember it all. Jim Gray adds, “When I started working with Troy’s nitrous program, I was very impressing with his analytical approach and detailed notes. This made it easier to help him go faster. I also appreciated his choice of nitrous companies—Induction Solutions is a top notch company.”
- Make sure your fuel delivery system is healthy and up to par. Is the pump performing as expected? Have you changed the filters recently? Did you put the filters back in the same orientation? Have you inspected the fuel cell recently? Different fuels can affect the physical components of a fuel system in different ways.
- Make sure the wiring is up to par. An insufficient electrical system can cause ignition, fuel delivery, and nitrous delivery issues at the least, and catastrophic engine damage at the other end.
- Read instructions at least five times if you have them.
- I have an extensive back ground in problem solving with advanced statistics. That has taught me to hold as many variables as possible constant. Like, keep your bottle pressure exactly the same every run—for us, it’s 880 psi. Don’t let it vary. Some guys change too much from pass to pass and end up chasing their tale. I had a buddy who would run 4 gallons of 91 octane mixed with 4 of 110 octane. The next time he may have 1 gallon of 110 because he ran out, 4 of 93 octane and then for fun, two cans of octane booster. That’s way too many changes that should be held constant.
- We check our flowing fuel pressure before every pass. Everyone runs the 12-803 Holley regulators. You flow it at 6 through the Induction Solutions flow kit and it’s not uncommon for it to flow 6.2, so you reset it to 6. Some guys set it once when they get to the track, but that’s a mistake. On a huge amount of nitrous, .2 can make a big difference. And be sure to hold the gauge vertical, otherwise the gauge can read inaccurately. The regulators, despite being the best and most used on the market, are not entirely repeatable. Jim Gray added, “This is just another example of taking a detailed and methodical approach. Even if not necessary for a typical enthusiast, why not form good habits early on so if you step up your program, it will go smoother.”
- I prefer to keep things as simple as possible. If you are spraying a 150hp shot on a car with plenty of traction, you do NOT need to buy a progressive controller. Let it eat, and keep it simple. When you are spraying more than the chassis and tire can handle, then consider a progressive controller. This goes back to keeping as many variables constant as possible.
- There’s no need to be a jerk. Sharing knowledge should be a positive thing. Steve Johnson adds, “We are all about helping racers. Guys like Troy are good brand ambassadors for us because they help others. We encourage that because it’s the right thing to do.”
- Induction Solutions—here is a company that will do a few things for you. One – sell you a flowed system that’s right and ready to go out of the box! Without that, you’re making the game harder than it needs to be. Also, they help make sure you’re successful after you start using the system. You are buying a system and an awesome nitrous expert. For me, that made life much easier. I’d be an idiot not to acknowledge how beneficial they are to us, and all of my buddies that run Induction Solutions systems. Here’s a Steve Johnson tech tip; don’t call him for a first-outing timing recommendation when you’re next up in the staging lanes. Call him a few days in advance.
Some of these tech tips may seem pretty simple, but it’s remarkable how often people look past the basics that provide a sound, repeatable baseline from which to start. Here is one advanced tech tip that LaCrone offered as a bonus:
“Our 60’ dropped a bunch with one simple change. We leave the line at our base timing, say 28 degrees, and ramp timing out from there. Both the MSD Grid and MSD 7531 can do that. Be careful with this if you try it and speak to a guru or technical expert. On my car, it made a ridiculous difference. We started with a .5-second ramp—I’m not going to say where we are today—this is a Jim Gray deal and it works well.” Jim Gray commented, “You have to sneak up on this carefully. We have helped Troy reach some pretty lofty levels of performance, but we always try to get there without damaging the engine. His car is 60-fotting very well for a 3,100lb car.”
As much as LaCrone has learned about his program on his own, the biggest tip he might be able to offer just might be the most difficult for some to follow.
“I fired myself as a tuner. I’m pretty good at 500-600 horsepower, but we’ve sprayed up to 1,000 and I’m not smart enough to do that. Jim Gray does the track-side tuning now and we’ve learned a lot this season.”
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