For a young fellow only 26, Scott Brayton has a lot to say about what made this country great. You find some old boys, sitting in the shade of sweet gums out by the high wire fence at Gasoline Alley or drinking coffee down at the canteen, who enjoy telling stories about what made this country great, about pain and sacrifice and Sunday school and such.
But most of the young people -- those who seem to find greater satisfaction looking at each other than at the cars -- like to lean back on the aluminum bleachers, stare off into a blinding sun and catch a tan. Seems like nobody wants to fool with or talk about engines anymore, even when everybody knows engines helped make this country great.
"You wanna talk about engines?" Scott Brayton said early this morning. "Talking engines, there's not an owner of an American car who doesn't want to pull up the hood, look down on that hunk of metal and parts and talk about fuel injection. That's what driving's all about, not just sticking in the key and handling a steering wheel. Everybody wants to know what makes the thing go."
Brayton, who set a one-lap Indianapolis Speedway record of 214.199 mph a few weeks ago, tends to carry on like a man twice his age -- one who figured out the secrets of getting along and seems not at all reluctant to share this knowledge. He has a way of framing the continental United States with his hands when talking about it, then pointing at the places he's been.
For some reason, he attracts great crowds of longhairs, who feel alternately moved and saddened by his expostulations. It is not uncommon to hear a phantom fife, drum and bugle corps, working on a slick version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy," when young Brayton starts.
"We in America," he likes to begin, "we know that every day of life holds only 1 percent enjoyment and 99 percent work. But I like to work hard and get that little bit of enjoyment. Now your average person finds it hard to be doing the same thing every day, especially when you're working hard and not having the results you want . . . This racing business, it really is like that fellow pushing a rock up a hill only to have it come rolling down again.
"You might blow an engine in Milwaukee, for example, making your first lap, but you're right back in the shop again, getting ready for the next race. That's what life's all about, friend. It's all day in and day out."
Who among us can begrudge Scott Brayton for rattling on like an ancient? What he did during the first week of qualifications was climb into a car powered by an American-made engine, a Buick V-6, and drive it around the 2 1/2-mile oval at Indy faster than anyone else has done in the 500's 69-year history.
Had his transmission not tightened up 300 feet from the finish, forcing him to coast on the tail end of his record spin, Brayton probably would have won the pole. His average speed on the four-lap haul was second only to Pancho Carter, who also used a turbocharged, Buick V-6 production-line based engine. Carter's mark of 212.583 mph broke the speedway qualifying record of 210.029 mph set last year by Tom Sneva.
In recent years, British-made Cosworth V-8 engines have dominated Indy-car racing, although some drivers like Brayton refused to surrender their dream of winning the 500 with an American-made engine. Carter's Buick V-6, a 209-inch turbocharged power plant developing 800 horsepower at 8,200 revolutions per minute, is the first production-line, or "stock-block," engine to take the pole at Indy since Russ Snowberger wheeled a Russell 8 into the top position in 1931, at a speed just over 112 mph. The last time someone won with a stock-block was in 1912.
Asked today at a news conference if he was getting tired of responding to questions about the unreliability of the Buick V-6, Carter said, "Yes."
Then: "I know what the Cosworth (engine) people, and a lot of those who've been talking to them about it, are saying. But percentagewise, the Cosworth has expired a lot more engines out here since qualifications. I think it was four, and we've had no trouble with our engine . . . The actual internal components are just as reliable as any other components running right now."
Brayton said he felt like "a pioneer, but not like Christopher Columbus crossing the ocean and finding this great country. It's something pretty close."
But Ed Keating, who helped develop the engine with Buick's division of special products engineering, said there is "nothing radical" about the engine, except that it will probably serve as the racing power plant of the future. The Cosworth, he added, was designed strictly for racing, while the Buick V-6 is basically the same engine you find in a family car, although modified for speed.
"If you can imagine a water tap," Keating said, turning an imaginary spigot with his hand. "The Cosworth engine will allow you to open the tap only halfway, giving you half of the potential water pressure. The Buick, on the other hand, will let you open the tap all the way . . . This engine has the same basic design as a family car you see out on the street, but with changeable parts and upgraded materials and designed to handle 800 horsepower. A regular Buick V-6 model has 125 horsepower, and the turbocharged model has 200."
The United States Auto Club, which sanctions the Indy 500, permits the stock-block 10 more inches of mercury boost pressure, or turbocharger boost, than the Cosworth engine. That amounts to 100 more horsepower -- about 850 in the Buicks to 750 in the Cosworths -- a difference, Brayton says, "that gives us more torque and should really help us coming off the corners.
"It's not like we have a 10 miles per hour advantage coming into the straightaway. But the car gives you a good feeling. You can actually feel it building up to what seems like perfection. Everything begins to flow, you know, and the excitement builds. When my transmission went to hell during qualifications, it wasn't the fault of the engine. It was a manufacturer's part that was wrong and had to be corrected. I can say I really believe in this engine."
Carter, whose father Duane Sr. raced at Indy, said he "did not know" if the Buick's extra boost of horsepower should be considered unfair. "My straightaway speed hasn't showed it," he said. "But if there's a disadvantage, it's that our engine is heavier than the Cosworth package. (The Buick is a 3.4 liter engine, the Cosworth 2.6.) The only way you can judge the advantages and the disadvantages of the Buick is with the speed gun, and we're running faster."
Brayton and his father, also a former Indy driver, have worked on developing the Buick engine for about three years now at their shop in Coldwater, Mich. Because he lives "in this great country," Brayton said, and so close to Detroit, "I want to help out any way I can. This engine, it's my way to contribute. To own an American product and to win here -- that's what we're after.
"I think this engine will help us develop a sense of the good life. You got to where all you heard about for a long time was the Cosworth. Me and Pancho, we've got the same type engine worked to our own specifications. And we'll both be pushing it out on the front row. There's been a great competition going between us. But like I told him, 'You got the pole, but I got the record.' "