In 2016, national short track technical inspector Ricky Brooks expelled Jimmy Cope Engines from the Florida Late Model approved sealed engine program for an illegal modification to their powerplant following that November’s Florida Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna Speedway.
Just over two years later, Hamner Race Engines committed a series of technical infractions that arguably could have resulted in an expulsion from the national Sealed Engine Alliance Leaders (S.E.A.L.) program as well.
Or at least, that’s how the other two primary engine builders in Super Late Model racing view it.
Dewaine McGunegill and Steve McInnis of McGunegill Engine Performance and Progressive Race Engines both believe they would have been expelled from the national program regulated by some of the most prominent promoters in the country if they had ordered what Hamner got caught doing over the winter.
The official press release from S.E.A.L. on Wednesday stated that Hamner will now have to utilize a 1.350” restrictor at participating events following dyno testing that took place after the Snowball Derby in December revealed a performance enhancement.
S.E.A.L. participating sanctioning bodies include the Southern Super Series, CARS Tour, ARCA CRA Super Series, ARCA Midwest Tour and SPEARS SRL Southwest Tour.
In an interview with Speed51.com on Friday, Hamner Race Engines owner Justin Oertel was critical of the S.EA.L. program and said he didn’t agree with the process that dyno’d the engines and that this was just a result of his company building a higher quality product.
“Whether I’m okay with (the decision) or not, it’s not about what I want,” Oertel told Speed51. “It’s what the racers want. I don’t believe it’s fair. I’m going to get to the bottom of it and fix this problem. It’s a program that has been broken for many years and never had a sense of direction or anything in black and white to say what engine builders – including Hamner, Progressive and McGunegill – they never had nothing in writing to say what you could or couldn’t use for parts in motors and what was legal and wasn’t legal.
“It wasn’t that we used anything illegal in any of our motors, it’s just that we put more time and preparation into building better quality and reliability for our customers. We’re being penalized for that.”
Oertel also had a problem with the dyno test taking place at RW Racing Engines, a Seymour, Tennessee, owned by Robbie White, another engine builder within the industry.
McGunegill took exception with that narrative from Oertel, who has only owned Hamner Engines for several months.
“That upset me to hear Justin say that because that’s not the purpose of the sealed engine program,” McGunegill told Short Track Scene by phone on Friday. “That’s not how we operate. We have been successful doing it the way we have over the past decade. Yes, you want to do the best you can for your customers, same as me, but there’s not a point where you can start taking it upon yourself to say ‘I’m going to make mine better.’ That’s not the name of the game.
“I was taken aback by Justin’s statement that the sealed program was ‘broken’ for awhile and he’s going ‘to fix it.’ This program isn’t broken… It’s very strong because a lot of people have dedicated money and time to make sure it stays that way. He’s misinformed a little bit. He’s only owned Hamner for a few months. He’s new in this. But he needs to get his facts right before making statements.”
That was a sentiment shared by McInnis at Progressive.
He says Hamner has changed multiple components on their engines and raised the price of their motors. And to his point, Hamner engines are $5,000 more expensive than its counterparts at Progressive and MEP.
McInnis says this entire ordeal centers around a custom piston that team Hamner developed.
“He had a custom piston made,” McInnis said. “You could have the same piston made, with a dome, like what he was using without cutting the head. He had one made with a flat piston where you angle the head, you roll the head, and that makes more power when you peel the head out and it’s more expensive to build because you have to do more to the head.”
McInnis said he disagreed with the sentiment that he and McGunegill should follow suit and build their engines the same way, since all that will do is make them sell their motors for more — at the expense of the racer.
McInnis also said that Hamner also began porting their intakes and changed their rod lengths all without approval, consent or dialogue from the S.E.A.L community — a process they have engaged in since the sealed engine parity program was founded in 2008.
And most importantly to both McInnis and McGunegill is that they believed Hamner committed an intentional infraction that surpassed what Jimmy Cope Engines did back in 2016.
“Jimmy Cope had the same piston but with a bigger bore size and Ricky caught him and he was thrown out of the deal,” McInnis said. “This? This way surpasses a bigger bore size. If it were me? I wouldn’t have been standing here. We would have got thrown out for this.”
McGunegill said ‘I want to tread lightly’ as to not speak out of turn but said there was indeed a noticeable difference in the Hamner engine.
“I was definitely surprised with what I learned in that meeting. I don’t know that I feel comfortable with what they have been doing … but we reached an agreement in that meeting and I walked out the door feeling like we were on the same page.
“I guess Justin and Jeff (Hamner) have changed their minds from what they told us in the meeting.”
The dyno numbers were not made public but McInnis provided the numbers — at least from his standpoint.
He said that in 2007, that his Progressive made 602-604 hp with 500 ft:lb of torque and the numbers were within two percent of that mark this winter. He said that the Hamner Engine made 597 horsepower in 2007 with 504 ft:lb torque.
Now? It made 618 hp with 522 ft:lb torque.
McInnis said he was first made aware of the disparity when Jeff Fultz placed a car on his chassis dyno at FURY Race Cars and saw the difference and called to make him aware.
Oertel disputed the numbers that have been made public too — in the same Speed51 post.
“There are a lot of rumors out there that go from three horsepower to sixteen horsepower,” he said. “Does anybody know the exact numbers of what it really was except for the people that attended there and a piece of paper that they showed us? What’s the truth to this? What made those horsepower numbers? Was everything consistent? Did all of the motors have the same parts in them? You have four different engine builders. The whole purpose is to not have the same stuff. Why can’t we build a product that is better than something else so people do buy it? Obviously, that’s what this is all about.”
Ultimately, both McGunegill and McInnis are in favor of a unified S.E.A.L. program and just needs everyone to work together for the betterment of the industry.
“I hate that this situation came up but it needed to be dealt with and addressed now,” McGunegill said. “This is a strong program and it’s good for the racers and it’s been good for us.”
He said that if left unchecked, costs will spiral out of control for both the manufacturers and teams.
“What I like about it, is this helps the racer,” McInnis said. “Take a track like Kern County. The promoter called me and said they needed this…
“We’ve got to keep the racer racing, otherwise none of us get to do this.”