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HomeValve Cover Racing

The Principles of Valve Cover Racing
by Don Butler, CACC member



In recent years ‘Valve Cover Racing’ has become a popular event at numerous car shows around the country. It is an opportunity for the senior crowd to participate in an event and to entertain a younger crowd that will hopefully follow in their footsteps of Automotive Appreciation.

The sport is evolving and as such there are continual tweaks in the process to make it functional, competitive, and entertaining. We do not know where the event originated although numerous automotive enthusiasts talk about enjoying these races years ago and then everyone got away from the sport.

There appears to be a resurgence in race popularity and with that a trend of adapting the races to different indoor and outdoor venues with distance versus speed events, and customized styling competition. The racing events have been faced with the challenge of adapting their event to the different venues while still adhering to a defined set of rules. The rules must be kept fairly uniform so that the ‘Valve Cover Racers’ will be eligible at different event locations.

Current Regulations.

The following guidelines are being followed regarding the valve cover racer design:

  1. Small block Chevy valve covers only. No other series is allowed. It should be off a 265 ci to a 350 ci motor.

  2. This is a gravity race with no propulsion of any type.

  3. Maximum weight allowed is 8.0 pounds. Official digital scale at the event will prevail.

  4. Maximum width of racer is 10.5 inches from outer left front tire to outer right front tire.

  5. Maximum tire diameter is 5.0 inches.

  6. Maximum number of tires per racer is 4 each.

  7. Front and rear tires shall not exceed beyond the actual length of the valve cover.

  8. Weights must be affixed to the racer with no moving parts except wheel rotation. No

    liquid weights are allowed.

  9. This is a good clean sport with No Cheating allowed.

Distance Versus Speed Events

The author has attended both types of events at car shows put on by two different clubs in conjunction with their specific venue. The Miracle Strip Corvette Club of Pensacola, Florida has Valve Cover Racing – Rev. 1 CACC – March 18, 2013 1 of 14, an outdoor venue and they have chosen to conduct a distance race. The Central Arkansas Corvette Club of Little Rock, Arkansas hosts an indoor car show and they have chosen to conduct a speed race.

Both types of events have their place in the differing venues and will be addressed below with supporting pictures. The pros & cons of each will also be discussed.

Types of Venues

The type of venue chosen by different clubs is contingent upon the time of year the show is hosted and the available facilities.

In cool or extremely hot weather and when the potential for rain showers exist, it is preferable to host indoor shows. Space is always at a premium and show participants as well as vendors take precedence over other events. Due to the limited space, ‘Valve Cover Racing’ is generally assigned to a confined area.

At other times of the year and when indoor facilities are not available, clubs must host their events outdoors. Generally the outdoor venue has additional available space for spectator parking, larger vendors, co-hosted events, and larger track space for the ‘Valve Cover Racing’ event.

Racing Surface

The type of surface upon which the race takes place will have a dramatic effect on the outcome and layout of the event. Valve cover racers have good wheel bearings and thus the only other resistance is the track surface. It is preferable to have a level and smooth surface without grooves, holes, and other imperfections that will affect the racers.

Indoor floors will surely be smooth finished concrete, vinyl / linoleum surfaced, or wood surfaced. We could mention a tile surface but you would surely note the imperfections and its effect on the race.

Outdoor surfaces will likely consist of a concrete or asphalt surface. The concrete surface can vary depending on the quality of the finish and the number of construction joints and their spacing. Asphalt surfaces will vary drastically depending on the size of the aggregate used in the mix and the differing compaction requirements. Streets get higher compaction and continual traffic while parking lots may not be compacted with large equipment and thus are rougher. Age will also play a factor on both surfaces as weather will cause cracking and holes. Parking lots that receive regular maintenance with seal coating will naturally have better racing surfaces.

Distance Racing

As the name applies, the racer that travels the greatest distance wins the race. Due to the distances involved, the track does not have guide rails along its entire length and thus the valve cover racers are not confined to a narrow track. I suppose a special track could be configured with guide rails the entire length made out of steel or boards fastened to the racing surface. To avoid having racers collide along an unguided surface, participantsrace one at a time. Since they race one at a time the launch ramp only needs to be wide enough for a single racer.

The racers are allowed to travel until they stop or until they reach a distant curb, say at perhaps 200 feet distance. Some racers will wander to one side or the other due to wheel alignment on the racer or imperfections on the ramp or track surface. Generally the event is set up between two rows of show cars and spectators will line both sides giving the racers about a 15’ – 20’ wide track. Spectators are instructed to stop wandering racers before they leave the track and possibly strike a show vehicle. Racers generally have time for a few practice runs before the event and then each participant will have two runs with the best distance being recorded for their valve cover racer.

Race officials will setup and mark off the course. They may place tape at 10’ or 20’ intervals over its length and then measure the actual distance between the marks for a cumulative total for each racer. In case of a tie, the participants will run off until there is a winner.

Speed Racing

If your event organizers are anyway associated with track racing or Nascar, then there is the distinct possibility that your event will consider some version of competitive valve cover racing. With this in mind, you can actually time the racers over a specified track distance or race a couple at a time in an elimination heat over a specified distance.

If an automated timing device is not available then the elimination race between two racers is your only option. The track must be divided and guide-railed to keep the racers separated over the length of the track. This type of racing is more adaptable to indoor events where the racing surface is smooth and the length of the track somewhat confined.

The width of the track lanes on your ramp setup, say 16” – 18” wide, will determine the width of the track over the defined length of the race. The CACC club chose speed racing versus distance racing with the event utilizing a dual bracket (winners & losers) hierarchy. Each side will progress with the final winner’s side taking 1st & 2nd place and the winner of the loser’s side taking 3rd place.

Race officials will set up the track and allow early time trials before the elimination competition. An official will monitor the starting lineup & the actual start, and another official will judge each heat winner at the finish line. A third official will record the winners of each heat & announce the next competitors.

Launch Ramp & Track Configurations

As we discussed in the ‘Type of Venue’ section above, some events may be limited by available space for the track and this can apply to both indoor and outdoor events. In this section, we will discuss single and dual lane launch ramps and the pros & cons of various track configurations. The current regulations stated above do not address any ramp specifics so varying designs have been left up to the event organizer.

Typically, the hosting club will only stage a car show once a year and most likely that will also apply to the ‘Valve Cover Racing’ event. Regardless of your indoor or outdoor venue, the launch ramp will need to be portable and easily moved and stored for your next event. Depending on your amount of portability and available resources (vehicle and trailer), clubs may consider demonstrating this event at other car shows & even promote the sport for increased participation.

Newton’s Laws of Motion

Now you are thinking.... What am I getting into here!!! Don’t worry, I am not going to delve into the engineering aspects of ‘statics & dynamics’ or ask you to recall calculus equations, long past studied, to design the most efficient racer and launch ramp. However it is possible and functional to have a basic understanding of mass, force, and acceleration and how these with vector analysis can precisely assist in your designs. If your neighbor is a college physics or mathematics professor, you may want to pose this problem to them during your next televised Nascar event and see what they come up may contact me with the results and we will provide an optimum design in the next version of this document as the sport grows.

We know that the weight of the ‘Valve Cover Racer’ is going to determine the resulting momentum of it and the distance it will travel vertically and horizontally to the racing surface and beyond to the finish line. So far we are addressing the weight of the racer (maximum 8.0 lbs.) and the acceleration factors (height and length of the ramp) until it shoots across the level or semi-level racing surface. We are assuming that your ramp surface is as smooth as possible. Your racer will have to reach terminal velocity before it will start to slow down due to friction and sufficient track length should be allowed to optimize this location & distance. Once again consult your mathmetician over a beer or other beverage of your choice. Beer reduces friction up to a certain point!!!

Resistance to the speed of your racer will be dependent upon the imperfections in the racing surface, the types of bearings and wheels on your racer, and whether it is running straight or bumping into the guide rails.

Single Lane Launch Ramp

The single lane launch ramp will result in increased portability due to its smaller size and less storage requirement than a dual lane ramp. As we have noted above, this ramp is limited to a single racer event with the advantage that a track guide is not required to separate or confine the racers.

For the most part, participants will conduct trial runs with their racer to make necessary adjustments in wheel alignment. This will help prevent the racer from bumping into side rails on the ramp or guide rails along the track if it is so equipped. The following photos taken during the 2011 “Vettes at the Beach” car show hosted by the Miracle Strip Corvette Club of Pensacola, Florida illustrate the launch ramp being utilized at this event. The racing surface was average asphalt in the race location and the slope of the track angled upwards in the parking lot. The same ramp was utilized at the 2012 car show but it was positioned in a different location with the track angled on a downward slope. This increased distances from the previous year.

This single lane ramp is approximately 3 feet tall to the top of the ramp, roughly 7 feet long and roughly 16” to 18” wide. It is equipped with wheels for ease of moving and has aluminum edging along it length sides. The running surface of the ramp is aluminum or steel metal flashing material.

This surface was damaged and buckled about 2 feet from the bottom during storage between the 2011 and 2012 car shows and resulted in a poor racing surface for the event and affected the racers depending on where the wheels rode on the ramp.

As a single racer ramp for a distance event it was not critical to have a racer stop mechanism as part of the launch ramp. To eliminate human reaction time error in a dual lane setup some type of stop mechanism is needed. A sample of this will be discussed in the following section. 

Dual Lane Launch Ramp

The dual lane launch ramp because of its larger size will make it less portable and require more storage space than a single lane ramp. This larger ramp will accommodate two racers at the same time although this configuration will require a central track guide to separate the racers. Depending on the allowable space, an outside guide rail on each side may be needed to confine the racers as well as limit the distance of the track. This ramp could also be used for single distance racers with a choice of either side.

Time trials at these events will allow participants to make necessary adjustments in wheel alignment and also evaluate left versus right launch lanes. If this ramp is used for a distance event with two racers, then it is not critical that both racers takeoff at the exact same time. However, if this is a speed elimination event, then human reaction time must be the same for both starting racers. To achieve this, some type of hold and release mechanism must be incorporated into the ramp.

The following photos were taken at the first ‘Valve Cover Racing’ event hosted by the Central Arkansas Corvette Club of Little Rock, Arkansas during their 14th annual “Corvette Weekend” held in Hot Springs, Arkansas. The racing surface was the smooth & level concrete floor of the convention hall. 

This dual lane ramp is 11.5 feet long and stands 5 feet tall to the top of the ramp. Each lane is roughly 17” wide and has 1” x 3” guide rails on the outside edge as well as a similar dividing rail. Rails had to be this tall since the axle height is 2” on the 4 inch 


The running surface of the ramp is 3/8 “plywood for the upper 3 feet and then 1/8” masonite for the remainder of the track.
The stop / release mechanism on this dual lane setup was necessary to make the elimination run-offs fair for all participants. A race official will set & then trip the mechanism for each race heat. The mechanism used on this ramp is simple and shown in the following photos. 

This dual lane launch ramp is much taller than the single lane ramp and 50 percent longer as well. Due to its length, it was made in two sections for better handling and storage. The following photos provide measurements for this ramp as well as some of the details. A hinged 2” x 6” board was attached to the bottom of the back end frame and secured with 2 bolts to raise the ramp during storage. This allowed the lower shorter section to be stored under the higher & longer section of the ramp. 

The above right photo shows the overlap joint between the two sections of the ramp. Below are another two photos of the ramp and the starting mechanism. 

Track Configurations

We have described the track courses in several sections above and have shown them in several photos. The following photo shows the Florida track during the event and you can see the number of spectators lining the course. You can also see the seam in the asphalt pavement below the center of the ramp that affected racer alignment.

In reviewing the 1st photo of the dual lane launch ramp at the CACC car show you will notice that the length of the track was very short. Two 8 foot extensions were added to the base of the ramp along with a 3 foot bumper section to end the track. This proved very restricting to the race for many of the facts presented in sections above. First of all, the limiting weight of the racer was not adjusted down to compensate for the short track. Second, the height of the ramp compared to the Florida ramp was increased by another 2 feet.

We briefly discussed in the Newton Laws of Motion section the result of weight and vertical drop on acceleration and velocity. This was readily apparent at this event as racers were possibly just reaching terminal velocity when they reached the end of track barricade and rolling resistance was not an important factor yet. This track needed to be extended to at least 50 feet. 

Judging Valve Cover Racing

We have touched on numerous tasks of the race officials in sections above and need to discuss additional criteria that will ensure a successful event. Photos of these events demonstrate that they are quite popular and draw a good crowd. Organization is imperative and a separate team of car show individuals should be assigned to assist in this race. Officials are needed to register, inspect, and weigh the valve cover racers, set up and prepare the ramp and track, take measurements, and decide winners at the finish line. 

Distance racing is less complicated than elimination speed racing and one recorder can assist the measuring officials. The recorder will scan the list and determine the winners based on total recorded distances. 

Speed racing is exciting but requires a winner / loser elimination chart and a recorder to keep this posted in a continual hectic session. The speed race in Hot Springs presented several issues among them being the first event with new racers and participants and the extremely short track where it was difficult to see which racer crossed the finish line first. It was a dead heat in many instances to the finish line and the abrupt stop just adjacent to it presented problems and resulted in minor damage to some of the racers. Extending the length of this track and separating the finish line from the end stop would improve the race and possibly reduce racer velocity so more racer separation would be apparent. 

The following picture of a winner – loser elimination chart is just one example of what can be utilized to keep track of each heat. The center column lists pairs of racers that will run off in competition. Should there be an odd number of racers, then the last odd racer will get a ‘bye’ to the winner’s side. Of each pair racing in the first heat there will be a winner posted to the winner’s side and a loser posted to the loser’s side. Note: From this first heat forward the losers will be eliminated on both sides of the chart with only the winner advancing to the next heat. After the winner’s advance to the winner’s side of the chart, any ‘bye’ racers will go against the winner of the next heat to determine who advances. This should eliminate the odd number racer from the advancing tiers. The final pair on the winner’s side will be 1st & 2nd place and the final winner on the loser’s side will take 3rd place. This is the formula that CACC uses for it’s events and is credible as long as it is consistent and explained in advance. 

For the technical wizards or security / alarm professionals out there that are looking for a challenge, please come up with a relatively cheap start and finish timing system that you can present to us. Some type of light system that would activate when the ramp stop was dropped, thus starting the race, and then a light that would record the first to cross the finish line. Perhaps some type of chronograph could be used to record the speed of each racer at the finish line or at the bottom of the ramp. 

Custom Racer Show Competition

Valve Cover Racing is not only competitive as a distance or speed racer but also as a show racer. The creativity and decorations are beyond belief and almost to the point where they are not able to race. There are no limits thus far to the amount or type of decorations that adorn these valve cover racers although some regulations should be enacted to define parameters. 

Parameters to be discussed could possibly include the following:
  • Upper shell of the valve cover could be altered but the base rim dimensions must remain the same and intact except for the wheel areas.

  • Valve covers can be shown and / or raced upright or upside down as long as wheels remain within the current regulation parameters.

  • Attachments must be securely fixed to the racer.

  • Would it be necessary for the show racer to actually race and have affixed weights or can

    there be a separate combined event just for showing the customized racers. Perhaps they would be required to be functional and make at least one run for the judges & spectators.

  • Trophies should be provided for 1st through 3rd place as well as Best of Show for the racers.

  • Perhaps the custom show racers should be divided into 1 or 2 categories with a 1st & 2nd for each category and a Best.

    Following are numerous photos of custom show racers that have surfaced at these two events and perhaps this dispersed document will lead to ‘Valve Cover Racing’ events at your car shows. Come out & visit & cast your votes!!! 


    We hope that you will find the premier version of this document intriguing and will share it with your fellow automotive enthusiasts. It is a work-in-progress and everyone’s ideas will help this event flourish and hopefully be included in your local car shows. If you have participated in this event in the past and wish to share your stories, pictures, criteria, and other notable facts, we’d love to hear from you.