Spud Miller: An American Hot Rodding Success Story

 

This story might sound familiar. Boy shows an early aptitude for machinery and goes out on his own at an early age, tinkering with any motor that others will let him touch. He turns drag racer in his teens, starts tuning for his friends for beer and parts, and later for money. He eventually sees a need for some whizzy part that doesn’t exist or dreams of finding some elusive bit of engineering info that will get him down the 1320 at 500ths quicker. When he can’t find just the right part or tool, he has to make it himself, and ends up in business doing it for everyone else too. This story has been told countless times in rodding and racing history. In this example, though, it began in 2002 rather than 75 years ago.

 

Spud Miller is an automotive mad scientist and the man behind FIE.

Spud Miller is an automotive mad scientist and the man behind FIE.

 

Spud Miller grew up attending Stock Car races at the local quarter-mile dirt track. He served as a pit crew helper at an age when most kids were focused on Saturday morning­ cartoons rather than wrenching on Saturday night dirt track smash boxes. His first business venture was Spud’s Specialties, changing oil and doing ignition tune-ups for family friends when he was only 9.

 

At the ripe old age of 12, Spud began building a 350 for his ’57 Chevy, a gift from his dad. By 15, the motor was running and the white shoebox began terrorizing the country roads around Monroe, Oregon. Equipped with dual quads, a tunnel ram, fenderwell headers, a nose-up attitude and no grille, it was a throwback way before retro gassers became the next hot trend.

A friend suggested the Chevy would be right at home on the strip. So, in the early-’80s, he took the ’57 to Woodburn Dragstrip and spent countless hours and every nickel he could scrounge racing in the high school bracket class.

Attending school to learn the machinist’s trade meant giving up racing. Stints as a tool and die maker, designer, CNC programmer/machinist and a long hitch with Hewlett-Packard as a software engineer further interrupted his racing dreams. In 2000, 20 years of pent-up drag lust boiled over, leading him to purchase a very clapped-out front-engine dragster, shipped in from New York. Spud spent the next year rebuilding it into One Hot Chili Pepper, an alcohol-injected bracket fighter. Little did he know this would start the ball rolling on what would become Fuel Injection Enterprises (FIE), which would eventually take over the famed Super-Mag and Sprintmag product line from Mallory Ignition.

Bracket racing an injected front-engine digger seemed like an uphill battle, but Spud had even bigger plans. The goal was sub-seven-second runs with a nitro-injected, cast iron, 23-degree, low budget, naturally aspirated mouse motor. But info on how to use the “nasty-juice” is more legend than cold, hard repeatable fact. So, when you have the ability to design and make your own parts, and want to learn the tiniest detail about how mechanical fuel injection really works, you do the only logical thing: Build your own computer-controlled flow bench capable of testing a full fuel system and measuring every aspect.

 

Super-Mag pole shoe assemblies await the final OD grinding operation (foreground), while the epoxy cures on finished stator windings. Meanwhile, an FIE employee winds another rack of Super-Mag+ bobbins.

Super-Mag pole shoe assemblies await the final OD grinding operation (foreground), while the epoxy cures on finished stator windings. Meanwhile, an FIE employee winds another rack of Super-Mag+ bobbins.

 

 

A wee-bit of careful calculation is required to figure out if that perfectly measured flow will actually do any good. Inputs, including compression ratio, runner length, valve overlap, etc., contribute to accuracy when calculating the amount of fuel that will actually burn and not just pass out of the exhaust. Spud’s background prepared him well for such tasks.

Once he knew exactly what the injection would do, the real fun started. Spud put his toe in the water with 30% nitro, then 50%. Soon, others started bringing their hardware to Spud for massaging and tweaking. Things snowballed and before he knew it, he had two full-time jobs fighting for his attention.

Holding steady at 75% nitro for a few seasons allowed him to be competitive in a local nostalgia class while working out the Powerglide/torque converter combination. “Of course, the extra power stressed everything.” Spud said. “Our approach was to deal with one problem at a time and slowly upgrade things as we went along, keeping the eventual goal in mind.”

Another batch of the Super-Mag’s big transformers are ready for assembly.

Another batch of the Super-Mag’s big transformers are ready for assembly.

 

Finally, in 2011, everything was in order and ready for full boogie. Spud and crew dumped 98% in the tank, doubled the fuel volume and shot from 7.40s at 178 to 6.90s at 199. “We only had a few issues. The torque converter was too small and we drove right through it, which unloaded the motor and put out all eight holes at half track. Also, our starting line setup needed to change.”

To help cure that problem, Spud dreamed up a barrel valve design that greatly enhanced the leave-from-an-idle situation that nitro demands. In the design process he added everything but the kitchen sink. “Besides a built-in idle needle to handle the high idle fuel pressure, it has a start-up circuit to allow firing the motor on methanol prior to changing over to nitro before a pass. It also has an idle nozzle circuit that will cut out completely and allow 100% down nozzles on a run—really important for a naturally aspirated setup with poor heads.” Spud told us.

The final issues were traction and tire shake. “We’d either blow the tires off or rattle my brains out, requiring an early shift on every run. To me, that indicated that gears were probably the answer to the shake. We went to 2.91 gears and it was completely cured. I thought it’d be a slug, but when we could hook up we had our best 60-foot times ever,” Spud said. Not satisfied to simply take his chances at the starting line with traction, he decided timing control was the solution. Running a points-mag setup, the answer had to be mechanical, so Spud and company designed a piece that has become a very popular product for FIE. “To really burn the fuel we needed to be at 60-plus degrees, and that made for impossible starting and marginal traction at the line. So, we start up and leave the line at 45 degrees and roll in another 17 degrees smoothly over the first second. We can handle any race track now. End of problem.”

Spud and One Hot Chili Pepper finally broke into the six-second barrier in 2011 with a best E.T. to date of 6.91. “While we could put more fuel in it and go even quicker, eventually we’d blow it all up and that isn’t my goal. We are abusing some very modest parts. A 6.80-something best with consistent 6.90s are what I’m after.” he says.

Fuel pumps are being refurbished and flow tested.

Fuel pumps are being refurbished and flow tested.

 

Spud always finds a solution, applying creative thinking coupled with great engineering design in the products and services offered by FIE. “With small Chevys, the Siamese exhaust ports in the center can cause frequent head gasket problems. I designed a CO2 cooling system, aiming the CO2 directly behind the center exhaust ports in the coolant passages. We run the motor with no coolant, but a single small CO2 bottle keeps the heads cool enough during a run that the O-ringed copper gaskets live season after season. We turned this around as a product and others have had excellent results as well,” he said.

FIE offers a full line of parts, full fuel system flow testing, pump and tune-up service. Customers routinely lay down their fastest runs ever once their systems come back to them flowed, tested and tuned by Spud and his crew.

FIE was off and running on fuel systems, but getting the fuel lit perfectly became an obsession for Spud. He went back to the mad scientist’s workbench and built a magneto stress tester that would put any decent Frankenstein movie lab to shame, complete with full instrumentation, flashing strobe lights and miniature lightning bolts. He could stress test and measure everything about any mag to 11,500 rpm.

After FIE tested many marginal mags, Spud began applying that engineering improvement drive to solve the problems. The first step was to retro-fit what he calls Severe-Duty Contacts to the big amp Super-Mags. These can be sprung to handle more than 10,000 rpm, have no problems with heat and stay perfectly aligned.

Looking to exit the magneto business, Mallory Ignition approached Spud in 2011. FIE had become their biggest customer, making it a natural choice to continue the Super-Mag/Sprintmag legacy. “They wanted to make sure they sold it to someone who was going to keep making the parts and pieces to supply customers for years to come.”

Mags serviced at FIE first get a pre-test to determine condition. After complete tear down, cleaning and reassembly with new hardware, the mag is loaded hard, run-in and post-tested. Individual cylinder timing is checked and adjusted, and the customer receives a report showing before-and-after performance.

With the rise of nostalgia racing, particularly nitro Funny Car and its rules restricting electronics, Spud started thinking about creating a more powerful and reliable points mag than currently available. “Mallory never took the points version of the Super-Mag beyond 8 amps because the points were marginal beyond that and reliability suffered. Once we licked the points issue with the Severe-Duty Contacts, we decided to bump it up a notch and see how it would affect the nitro motors. We fiddled with a new stator/winding assembly and bigger magnets to get over 10 amps at an idle. The result was something 30% more powerful with unbelievable reliability.

“Since Mallory already burned through all the Roman numerals, I decided to call this new 10-amp version the Super-Mag+” says Spud. “This mag has the Nostalgia Funny Cars rocking. Tuners can now richen the idle way up and enjoy better early incrementals than ever. No dropped cylinders at either end of the track results in better, more predictable performance as well as less engine damage.”

 

FIE's hottest new creation is the Super-Mag+ severe-duty points mag.

FIE’s hottest new creation is the Super-Mag+ severe-duty points mag.

Last fall FIE moved to a new larger facility and is now up to full speed servicing fuel systems, pumps and mags of all makes. Manufacturing new Super-Mags, Sprintmags, blower drives, transformer coils and other accessories keeps the crew hopping as well. If you race anything with mechanical injection or a magneto, they have what you need.

 

It’s a modern day retelling of an old story: from boy racer in a shoebox Chevy to nitro slingshot pilot and racing parts manufacturer. Spud Miller and FIE are two more names you need to know in the history of racing and hot rodding.

 

Text by Scott Charters

Photos Courtesy of FIE

 

 

 

 

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