Honing Expertise Gives Elite Performance the Winning Finish


Honing Expertise Gives Elite Performance the Winning Finish
Nick Ferri's honing mastery is behind 57 national event Pro Stock victories
and five championships, including back-to-back titles for 2015 champion
Erica Enders-Stevens.
"Winning finish" has a double meaning for
Elite Performance, where the honing
expertise of co-owner Nick Ferri has put the
winning finish into engines behind 57
national NHRA Pro Stock wins and five
championships, including back-to-back titles
for 2015 Pro Stock Champion Erica EndersStevens. Ferri says honing finish rates a "10"
in importance for engine seal-up, which
Nick Ferri (L) and machinist
Casey Gardner (R) with the
Sunnen SV-20 honing machine
at the Elite Performance Shop
in Wynnewood, OK. Ferri says
honing rates a “10” in
importance for achieving
ultimate track performance
with a race engine.
translates into higher vacuum, greater fuel
pull and ultimate track performance. After
30 years of developing his honing expertise
and secrets in several engine shops on
various Sunnen machines, Ferri says he has
taken his science to a higher level with
greater control, flexibility and repeatability
in what he can achieve using a new
computer-controlled Sunnen SV-20 machine
and multi-stone diamond abrasives.
"With today's thinner rings and
inherently lower ring tension, you need the
bore geometry and low-friction sealing
surface in the bore that get the most from
your rings," he says. "The computercontrolled hone head and stroker on this
machine provide flexibility for fine tuning
and repeating surface finishes, overstroke,
and crosshatch pattern. It all contributes to
our performance on the track."
Ferri started his career at Madcap
Racing Engines in 1986 and later worked at a
number of other shops, refining his honing
recipes at each stop. He began with a
Sunnen CK10 machine, then a CK21. In
December 2012, he teamed with Richard
Freeman of Elite Motorsports to purchase
the equipment of a N. Carolina engine shop,
which was moved to Wynnewood,
Oklahoma, home of various Freeman
enterprises. Freeman and his family have a
history in the automotive business including
dealerships, drag racing, and race-related
equipment. The objective of the new
company: establish an Elite-branded engine
building operation to support cars
sponsored by Elite Motorsports – including
the one driven by Erica Enders-Stevens –
then build a larger business from there.
"We are all about Pro Stock engines,"
Ferri says. "We started with just two, but
today we have eight engines we can run in
rotation as we campaign three cars full time
and one part time. We also produce engines
for sale, ranging from Stock Eliminator to Pro
Mod and even some engines for other types
of motorsports."
We do leakage testing on our engines, but
think vacuum is a more important metric.
On a healthy engine, we can pull a 22-inch
vacuum with the oil pump alone. Our Pro
Stock engines conservatively dyno around
1420 hp and 800+ lb ft torque. We use 0.023"
tungsten hard-coated top rings, with a
Napier second ring, and 2 mm oil rings."
The piston's important, too. It must be
well designed and stable in the bore to keep
the rings flat, he adds. But cylinder finish
and geometry, which create the other half of
the seal interface, are bigger factors because
they have so many variables, he emphasizes.
The engine building team of Elite
Performance shares the joy of
winning with two-time NHRA Pro
Stock Champion Erica EndersStevens. Left to right: Casey Gardner,
Brian “Lump” Self, Nick Ferri, Erica
Enders-Stevens, Jake Hairston and
Kyle Bates.
The Pro Stock engines for Elite
Motorsports cars start with an OEM block. In
the case of Erica Enders-Stevens' Camaro, it
was a 500-cid GM DRCE 2 block of CGI. "Elite
Performance specializes in the high-end
engine work that's most important to final
engine performance," Ferri explains. "We
have the machines for our part of the work,
but farm out much of the basic machining
to a few shops we trust."
Honing these CGI blocks is a specialty
for Ferri. "Everyone thinks it's all about the
heads and cam in these short blocks, but I
learned early that ring seal makes or breaks
track performance," he says. "Your other
components won't make up for a lack of
good seal. You can see this in the fuel pull on
the dyno, and I use this as a key metric. For
example, you can have two motors make the
same power on the dyno, but one will pull
more fuel than the other. On the track, the
one pulling more fuel will be the winner.
How they pull fuel and run down the track is
all about ring seal. We've proven we can
make the '23' ring work, and though it's only
a slight weight and inertia advantage, it
makes a difference in engine acceleration.
But when you run a ring of that size and
tension at 11,000 rpm, it has to be flat
against the piston lands and well sealed, so
the condition of the cylinder wall is crucial.
Elite Performance Machinist Casey Gardner uses a
Sunnen bore gage to check bore size before
"Our new SV-20 with a true vertical
stroke, plus special tooling and abrasives
from Sunnen, allows us to produce a rounder,
straighter bore than possible with the rockertype machines," he says. "Setup of the hone
head and stroker is through the computer
control, so it's precise and repeatable. The
servodriven stroker allows precision control
of the stroke reversal point, eliminating all
the manual adjustments and variability of
earlier machines. In a perfect world, we
would want at least 3/8" overstroke, but
we're lucky to get 1/4” because of our deck
height and cylinder lengths. We try to get the
tool as close as possible to the top of the
main web without contacting it, and it's
much easier to do this with a computercontrolled, vertical stroker."
Sunnen experts say
spindle reversal on the
SV-20 honing machine
allows users to improve
bore roundness and
surface finishing results,
while maintaining
stone condition.
Ferri says Sunnen's 12-stone honing head
produces superior roundness because of its
greater surface contact.
Ferri says honing with a heated torque plate
helps ensure ideal cylinder size and form when
the assembled engine is at its working
Diamond stones in the 12-stone
honing head have been a great aid in
achieving good bore geometry on the total
cylinder length, he adds. "In the past, we
would make tapered 'cheater' stones to take
out more metal at the bottom of the bore to
get the taper out," he explains. "The multistone diamond tool produces excellent
roundness without special work. This much
abrasive contact in the bore also requires a
powerful spindle to turn the tool without
chatter, which can ruin a finish. This machine
handles it easily. Spindle reversal was
another new capability on this machine, and
we do utilize reversal but are still working to
determine how and when to use it for the
best effect."
According to Sunnen, spindle reversal
in a cylinder bore provides quite a few
advantages and duplicates the capabilities
of machines used by the OEMs. It can be
used anytime in the process, but is especially
helpful during the finishing strokes. It
requires programmable spindle control and
a honing tool/abrasives that can be run in
both directions. Spindle reversal helps create
a slightly rounder bore and aids in achieving
the desired surface finish. Reversing causes
the honing stones to take out any less-thanround shape left after initial passes, while
shaping up and dressing the stones
themselves. Reversing the spindle, with
abrasives or a brush, also aids in removing
folded-over metal and cleaning out "honing
trash" hiding in the valleys of the surface. On
a more subtle level, reversing the tool
applies force to the block from the opposite
direction, allowing the workpiece to
Ferri says on a new block he'll use 150grit diamond stones to remove stock, then
switch to 400-grit and hone to size. "I don't
like to hone in one hole for a long time, so
may limit it to 20 or 30 strokes and make
multiple passes around the block, reversing
the spindle direction as we get to final size,"
he explains. "We'll then plateau with 900grit diamond and brush at various stages,
mostly to remove folded metal and trash
from the surface. All these grits can produce
a huge variety of finishes, depending on the
pressure applied. After plateauing, we'll
measure our surface numbers. With lower
tension rings, I prefer to have the rings take
off most of the surface peaks during the first
pull. I believe this optimizes our seal-up."
Ferri also learned the value of honing
with a heated torque plate. "I have seen over
0.001" expansion in the top of a cylinder as
the block rises from ambient to 120°F. If we
hot hone at 120° and make the bore
Ferri does not disclose details, but
says he looks at Rk, Rvk and Rpk surface
parameters, not Ra or Rz. He has used
crosshatch angles from 30 to near 40, but
says the sweet spot is midrange.
"I've been very lucky to work with
some well-resourced groups that have
allowed me to bring my skills up to the level
they are," says Ferri. "With the support of
Freeman Motorsports and drivers like Erica
Enders-Stevens on the starting line, we hope
our winning cylinder finish will be behind
many more winning race finishes and
Erica Enders-Stevens’ Elite Motorsports Camaro takes on Deric Kramer at Las Vegas on her
way to winning her second NHRA Pro Stock Championship in 2015.
straight, then it will be looser at the bottom
when measured at ambient. On the flip side,
I can pull a hot-honed block after 30-40
runs, tear it down, put it in the hone, bring it
to temperature, and after just two strokes
there won't be one shadow in the bore.
Others who don't hot hone may have to take
out 3-4 tenths to clean out the shadows
around the bolt holes. If anything, hot
honing from the start of a block's life has
saved me lots of time in salvaging used
Honing expert Nick Ferri uses different honing
abrasives much the same way a surgeon uses
different instruments, so a generous selection is
always on hand at Elite Performance.
a le gac y of e xc ell enc e s inc e 1 924.
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