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Ignition Maintenance Tips For Optimum Performance

Proper maintenance of these critical systems is key in order to extract maximum power and reliability.

By Ilona French

Components like rotor contacts, plug wires and spark plugs break down over time. Unfortunately, most racers tend not to replace these parts until they reach a point where engine performance is negatively impacted.

But according to Keith Jessee from Holley/MSD in Bowling Green, Kentucky, what these competitors don’t realize is how they are potentially bypassing horsepower even before they get to that point, reminding us that wearable parts such as rotors and caps, spark plug wires, spark plugs, and ignition coils must be replaced and kept “in tiptop shape so you are maximizing power, performance and reliability.”

When it comes to ignition wires, customers often stretch their life expectancy, and frequently overlook when wires are subjected to high heat situations. To keep racers’ wires in working order, Moroso Performance Products in Guilford, Connecticut, offers various options for wires, sparkplug boots and distributor boots, as well as universal wire sets, where wires can be cut and terminate to specific lengths, and tools to help in the building and maintenance of race wire sets.

“Maintenance really is key,” offered Terry Johnson from Fuel Air Spark Technology (FAST) in Memphis, Tennessee. Over time, connections deteriorate due to weather conditions, vibration and temperature cycling, he noted, and inspection of ground points should be performed to ensure that they are clean and secure. Plugs such as Weather Pack and Deutsch should have a good seal, and pin crimps should not be frayed or cracked. Johnson also reminded racers to never weld or charge the battery with the ignition system hooked up.

For a COP system, maintenance can come in the form of ignition setup in the ECU. “Many people think that maxing out the dwell time on the coil will give maximum energy, but that is only a half-truth,” said John P. Concialdi from AEM Performance Electronics, Hawthorne, California. “It is true that a coil can be overdriven to get higher energy, but once the maximum threshold is exceeded, then the coil starts to break down internally due to excessive heat buildup, and the performance significantly drops off.

“In drag racing,” he added, “where the coil may be at maximum duty cycle, a racer may get away with one to three seconds. But in other cases where the race is longer, it is best to stay within the recommended dwell times.” AEM publishes the maximum dwell times with each of its Direct Fit and High Output Smart Coils.

Ignition systems hate moisture—and magnetos are no different. Because magnetos generate a tremendous amount of heat, and are subject to cycling of hot then cool over and over again, this causes condensation inside the generator itself. And if that’s not bad enough, anytime you wash an engine with a magneto—and most types of dirt track racing engines are washed often—this leads to corrosion, explained Robertson, and that is a magneto’s worst enemy.

“Even if you cover the mag with some kind of waterproofing, you’re still going to get corrosion inside, and it will rob the amperage output and kill horsepower,” he explained, offering the following tip: After washing, pull the mag cap off for a day and let the mag air out. This will help fight the corrosion (but won’t fully stop it).

Among today’s selection of available ignition choices, Concialdi told us most are great alternatives to the OEM systems when greater energy is needed to accommodate turbocharging and other power adders. The key, our experts agreed, is that regardless of the system that’s chosen, it must always be appropriate for the user’s application.

Ignition Maintenance Tips For Optimum Performance

Maintaining ignition systems and individual components like spark plugs, coils, wires and more can help prevent corrosion, deterioration and other adverse effects of inattention.

Performance Racing Industry