SAM Tech Equips Students With Nitrous & EFI Tuning Knowledge

The School of Automotive Machinists (SAM Tech) is revered in the industry for its advanced courses that equip the engine builders, machinists, tuner, and mechanics of tomorrow’s high performance industry with the tools and skills they need to succeed.

Among SAM Tech’s many courses on offer is its EFI Calibration program, which is intended to prepare students for entry into the world of high performance tuning, to calibrate and troubleshoot Engine Management Systems on the engine dynamometer, chassis dynamometer and at the racetrack. In the program, students learn how to add performance accessories, modify powertrains, tune custom engines, work with traction control and launch control, suspension, exhaust systems, and use dynamometers and other diagnostic equipment. Of course, part of any skilled tuners’ repertoire is the ability to set up and tune nitrous oxide systems, which is the most accessible and affordable form of power-adding.

SAM Tech, recognizing this need — and following on requests from its students and the marketplace — recently added a nitrous oxide tuning curriculum to the EFI Calibration program, utilizing its in-house 1957 Chevrolet as the testbed for students to gain hands-on experience. SAM Tech has long been known as a naturally-aspirated (N/A) engine school, focusing on the core fundamentals needed to extract horsepower out of the basic N/A engine. But SAM Tech’s Brian Massingill has spent the last decade working to grow and expand its curriculum to develop in-demand skills.

“The way that my dad [SAM Tech founder Judson Massingill] always looked at it was, the power-adder is increasing cubic inches … that’s it. Most people don’t have the machinery and the ability to go do the kind of work we do on an N/A engine. A nitrous kit for a few hundred or a thousand bucks, a person can understand and do that. We can run lines a lot easier than we can go bore and hone an engine. So this is about listening to what the market is dictating. As a tuner or calibrator, this is knowledge that you’ve got to have. But we also listened to our students, who were telling us they wanted to work on something with a turbocharger, something with nitrous oxide, with superchargers. And we probably wouldn’t be talking about our 1957 Chevy again if we weren’t putting nitrous on it. For us, it’s always about what is the new, next big thing? We’ve had this 525 horsepower car since 2015, and we did the intake manifold and picked up a little power, so what’s the next thing? It’s putting nitrous on it.”

SAM Tech’s nitrous-specific curriculum spans two weeks — one week of coursework going through the in’s and out’s of nitrous oxide in the classroom, and another week of live work in the shop applying that knowledge. This is part of the larger, eight-month-long EFI Calibration program.

“As a tuner, any type of system that you need to calibrate, we teach. We go on in-depth reading spark plugs, why nitrous, explaining what nitrous oxide is, how does nitrous really make power, and how can we use nitrous for our benefit. We go in assuming students have very little to no nitrous oxide knowledge, that this is their first time using it, and build from the very start,” Massingill says.

Students learn the nitty gritty details, such as measuring their nitrous, air, and fuel and performing calculations to determine solenoid and jet size to deliver the appropriate amount of nitrous oxide to the engine. They wire and plumb everything, using a plate-type system that’s common to most any street car and even many purpose-built race cars.

“The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air is the perfect use-case for showing students how to measure jet sizing, with one solenoid feeding two plates, making it the most common street setup that you’re going to run into. It’s the perfect vehicle to teach the students with. We can’t just Google just sizing for this plate an this solenoid, we actually measure our nitrous and our fuel to determine what ratio we have,” says Massingill.

The ’57 sports a stock-bottom-end LS3 out of a 2012 Camaro, with a set of small-bore PRC LS7 cylinder heads, a SAM Tech-designed billet intake manifold, and dual throttle bodies from Nick Willams. The students installed a 165-horsepower-shot kit to the car. Said system is a 105mm dual plate from Nitrous Outlet, with .122-inch nitrous solenoid and 15-pound bottle with -6AN lines. Everything is managed via a Holley Dominator EFI system. This particular car is memorable, as it was built by students over 56 days in 2015 and taken on Power Tour. The company drove it to high schools for demonstrations, and hauled it to car shows, but wanted to bring it back out and utilize it in its school curriculum.

Students were tasked with troubleshooting some issues with the car, as it had not been driven for a time — switches had been wired backwards, there were fuel pump voltage issues, and others.

The system is currently set as on/off on a solid-state MSD 120 amp relay brick for the solenoid and fuel pump. The students set the system up as a progressive dry-shot in the Dominator; even though the system is a wet-shot, the students did the progressive dry-shot so they could modify the fuel when it hits. The wet system is dry, because Holley affords a table to add or take away fuel, which wouldn’t be there if it was operated as a wet-shot. This gives the students ample room to tune, and while proper jet sizing calculations are part of the curriculum, they don’t have to be perfect on the jet, because fuel can be adjusted. About 4 lb/hr of fuel was added to get the proper AFR of 12.8.

“We’re going really in-depth with this nitrous training — it’s not just strapping on the kit and seeing what it does. We’re doing the math,” Massingill says.

“Engine building and doing chassis is one thing, but calibration is a whole different deal. I think it’s an art, because you’ve got to be able to hear and smell the motor, learn how to look at the data, and make decisions while it’s happening,” instructor Chris Ramirez says. “Only an experienced calibrator knows how to identify what’s going on and fix that issue. This could easily be a 12-month course to really learn everything. But we keep adding to this program and you do get a lot out of it — we’ve added new programming, managing engine conversions, and so on. There’s a lot to learn.”

Dave Vasser of Nitrous Outlet, another Texas-based business, has shared knowledge with the students of these courses in the past, and was key to providing the products and information used in the 1957 Chevy project and the course.

“People often ask how much knowledge you have to have to come into the class, and really, it’s better if you don’t know anything, because if you do, it might be the wrong thing,” Massingill says. “These preconceived notions of ‘this is how I learned it’ can sometimes create problems, depending on who taught you how to do it. There are some very intelligent people out there, and if you learned from them, then you might know it; but there’s a lot of bad information out there, as well. There’s bad math and bad concepts that some people take on.”

Upcoming SAM Tech’s EFI Calibration program start dates include February 28th, July 9th, and October 29. The program takes approximately seven months to complete, and the cost is $15,905.00. Financial aid is available for those that qualify, and SAM Tech is approved to accept veterans and other GI Bill-eligible persons.

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Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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