Stephanie Johnson photos used with permission.
Tommy Keeter is in the business of building big-power custom engines, and his finished products are nothing short of intimidating. Tommy got his start young and has been professionally entrenched in racing and engine building for nearly two decades now. Five years ago, he started KPE Racing in Wichita Falls, Texas, where he and his five-man crew build race engines with pure passion for a wide variety of motorsports.
Engine Labs was lucky enough to steal some of Keeter’s valuable time in between qualifying and race day to learn more about KPE Racing’s newborn, nitrous-burning BBC powerhouse. KPE was commissioned by Tim Miller of Altus, OK to build this nitrous-breathing 588ci BBC, built specifically for competing in the X275 drag circuit where Tim Miller’s Miller Time Nova punishes the asphalt.
“75 to 80 percent of my business is all related to drag racing of different classes…I also do a lot of packages for off-road, circle track, drag boats, tractor pulling, and monster trucks,” says Keeter.
KPE specializes in small-block, big-block and LSX Chevy-based race engines. Keeter explains, “I would say that seven out of ten engines that go through my shop are blown or have a supercharger of some sort.”
Based on that, it sounds like Tim Miller has come to the right place.
Choosing The Parts
Tim Miller’s “Miller Time Nova”
The X275 heads-up racing format is gaining serious ground an eighth-mile at a time. What started in the Northeast in 2008 has spread like wildfire nationwide. X275 gets its name from the 275/60/15-sized drag radial rear tires competitors are required to use. The X275 rulebook promotes racer participation thanks to its financial feasibility and stimulates spectatorship by requiring the car to retain the vast majority of its original appearance, which fuels the fans’ identification with the cars.
After thoroughly reviewing the X275 rules, and with Miller’s desires in mind, KPE chose to maximize Miller’s winning potential by building the largest naturally aspirated big block permitted in the X275 class—588 cubic inches. Providing the foundation is a fourth-generation DART Racing Series cast iron Chevrolet big block with a 10.2-inch deck height.
To make room for a big stroke, the block sports a 0.600-inch raised cam tunnel and a widened pan rail for clearance while maintaining an advantageous valvetrain geometry. Another benefit to raising the cam tunnel is that it allows for a bigger cam tunnel, clearing the way for more cam while capitalizing on the clearance benefits and shortening-up the push rods. Otherwise, Keeter says, “the block is pretty conventional.”
This is what an engine looks like when Business and Beauty breed together.
The parts Keeter has called to duty remind us of an episode of the A-Team; every part specializes in its individual arena while maintaining a style that complements the team as a whole — all with a touch of crazy. First up, a Crower Enduro 4.375-inch stroke crankshaft, and making the connections are some beefy Carillo billet aluminum rods, topped with CP custom pistons for the 4.625-inch bore. Filling that raised and oversized cam tunnel is a Crower 60mm custom grind cam complemented by Crower’s .937-inch diameter Enduramax lifters, with Crower 7/16-inch dual taper custom pushrods actuating the valvetrain. Timing duty has been placed in the capable hands of Jesel, with the engine employing their camshaft belt drive and distributor system.
Different views of the nitrous system.
Airflow passes through a set of Brodix Head Hunter BP HH BB 395 MC Cylinder Heads. stuffed into the ports are a full complement of Manley Titanium Valves and PAC valve springs, retainers, valve locks and spring locators, with Crower steel-body shaft rockers. Above and below you’ll find Moroso‘s valve covers, billet oil pump and a fabricated aluminum oil pan. Sealing the deal is a complete set of Flatout gaskets.
Crowning this king of combustion is a highly modified 1680 CFM Holley Dominator carburetor equipped with billet metering blocks, custom built by Jim Parr of Parr Performance Carburetors. Below it is an Edelbrock Super Victor intake manifold that’s been modified in-house at KPE to accommodate the two Nitrous Express Vortech STD direct port nitrous systems being utilized. All the NX hard lines were custom-bent, flared and polished by the boys at KPE. The X275 rules only allow the use of one system in competition. Miller wanted a second set installed to have on tap for doing some outlaw and heads-up type racing. When competing in an X275 sanctioned event, one set of solenoids and plumbing must be physically removed to participate.
Above: The modified Edelbrock intake manifold for the pair of Nitrous Express direct port systems.
Whenever nitrous is part of a KPE engine build, Keeter relies on Mike Wood, owner of Nitrous Express, for technical direction. Since 1978, Wood has been involved with the nitrous phenomenon and has turned his passion for nitrous-fueled horsepower into a business. Over the years, KPE Racing and Nitrous Express have teamed up on many occasions to put together killer builds like this.
This particular NX system employs a Progressive Nitrous Controller to custom-tailor ramps for peak performance and track condition adaptability. Keeter explained that nitrous tuning on the dyno is a completely different game than on the strip. To optimize performance in each race, the progressive controller will get a custom tune based on track conditions. The custom ramps that are programmed into the controller are crafted after considering numerous factors. Getting nearly 1,900 horsepower to the ground is an art that requires an endless amount of trial and error.
Miller Time Nova in action.
When talking with Keeter, one thing becomes immediately obvious — this guy is not just an engine builder, he’s a racer too. He does not build you an engine and wish you good luck; he stands behind every build, and every customer has his cell number.
When he’s not building engines you can find him at race events all over the country standing behind what he creates. He believes that there’s no knowledge gained that’s more beneficial than the knowledge he gains by working with his customers at the track.
Keeter noted some areas that require special attention when building an engine like this, one of which are larger rod and main bearing clearances. Also, he used a special Total Seal AP TNT Ring Package (.043-inch, 1/16-inch, 3/16-inch) that are stainless steel with a special coating to prevent micro-welding in the ring lands. With this in mind, special attention is required while honing the cylinders to ensure proper ring seating.
”In a naturally aspirated engine like this, by the third dyno pull, it will pick-up around 75 horsepower once the rings are seated, then you can do some real tuning,” says Keeter.
Dyno results at KPE Racing.
After completing all the break-in pulls on the dyno, this X275 competition crusher has put up some impressive numbers. Peak dyno numbers on the spray were 1,310 lb-ft torque at 7,300 rpm and 1,845 horsepower at 7,600 rpm. Sporting a compression ratio of 14.5:1 and burning VP‘s NO2 racing fuel, this KPE colossus will be a force to be reckoned with for the area’s X275 competitors.