IRL: Olds returns to racing roots in Atlanta

Oldsmobile's Racing Roots Run Deep in Stock Car Country DETROIT, April 25, 2001 - Can success on the racetrack enhance an automobile manufacturer's reputation in the marketplace? The histories of two Oldsmobile engines- the venerable Rocket V8...

Oldsmobile's Racing Roots Run Deep in Stock Car Country

DETROIT, April 25, 2001 - Can success on the racetrack enhance an automobile manufacturer's reputation in the marketplace? The histories of two Oldsmobile engines- the venerable Rocket V8 of the late '40s and the 21st century Aurora V8 - are case studies of the power of motorsports in two vastly different eras of auto racing.

Five decades ago, Oldsmobile Rocket V8s dominated the fledgling NASCAR racing series for "Strictly Stock" cars. When the Indy Racing Northern Light Series returns to stock car country on April 28 for its first Saturday night race of the season at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Oldsmobile engines will again be in the spotlight. This time, however, the powerplant of choice is Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8 racing engine.

Introduced in 1948, Oldsmobile's original Rocket V8 captivated a generation of car owners with its power and reliability. This landmark motor was one of the first high-compression overhead-valve V8s introduced to the public after World War II, and it secured Oldsmobile's reputation as producer of responsive, exciting automobiles.

Oldsmobile offered the Rocket V8 in both its flagship Futuramic 98 and the smaller, lighter 88 model - the forerunner of the modern muscle car. The Rocket 88 was one of the hottest cars on the road. With a zero-to-60 time of 12.2 seconds, Motor Trend magazine proclaimed that a 1950 model was the fastest car it had ever tested.

Stock car racers soon put Rocket V8s in the winner's circle. Oldsmobiles won five of eight races in NASCAR's inaugural season in 1949, and "Rocket racer" Red Byron was the series' first champion. Oldsmobile won ten out of 19 Grand National events in 1950, 20 out of 41 races in 1951, and captured the championship both years.

Forty years later, Oldsmobile unveiled the all-new Aurora V8 - a state-of-the-art powerplant designed to reclaim Oldsmobile's position of leadership in powertrain technology. In contrast to the six-cylinder engines that were used by many competitors, Oldsmobile's luxury-performance sedan offered the smooth, responsive power of a V8. Aurora won Popular Mechanics' "Design and Engineering Award" and was named "Best Luxury Car" by MotorWeek and "Best in Class" by Kiplinger's magazine.

Aurora also won accolades in auto racing. Motorsports versions of the Aurora's 4.0-liter engine set 47 speed records in 1992 and won championships in international road racing in 1995 and 1996. In 1997, Oldsmobile entered the arena of open-wheel Indy car racing with the production-based IRL Aurora V8.

Just as the Rocket V8 dominated NASCAR in the early days, Oldsmobile engines reigned in the IRL's formative years. The IRL Aurora V8 was undefeated in its first three seasons on the circuit. Race Tech magazine described the IRL Aurora V8 as "arguably the most advanced normally aspirated race engine ever made in America." The GM Racing engineers who designed and developed Oldsmobile's Indy car engine were awarded the Louis Schwitzer Award for excellence and innovation in race car design.

The Oldsmobile engines that will race on Atlanta Motor Speedway's high-banked 1.5-mile oval have little in common with their Rocket V8 ancestors - except eight cylinders and a winning record. The cast-iron Rocket motors that roared on dirt bullrings relied on a single camshaft, pushrods, two overhead valves per cylinder and a carburetor that metered high-octane gasoline. In contrast, the IRL Aurora V8 features a lightweight aluminum block and cylinder heads, four chain-driven overhead camshafts, 32 titanium valves (four per cylinder) and electronically controlled fuel injection that precisely dispenses methanol fuel.

The roster of Oldsmobile winners in NASCAR included Lee and Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Darrell Waltrip, Terry Labonte and Harry Gant. Now a new generation of open-wheel racers is making its mark with Oldsmobile power in the Indy Racing Norther Light Series: points leader Sam Hornish Jr., rising star Sarah Fisher, defending race winner Greg Ray, 1999 Atlanta 500 winner Scott Sharp and dozens more.

The IRL Aurora V8 has proven itself a worthy successor to the original Rocket V8. Since January 1997, Oldsmobile engines have won 39 IRL events, started on the pole in 40 consecutive races and won four straight Indianapolis 500 titles.

A half-century of progress in powertrain technology has produced a dramatic difference in performance. The original 304-cubic-inch production Rocket V8 produced 135 horsepower at 3,600 rpm; today a 214-cubic-inch IRL Aurora V8 racing engine produces over 650 horsepower and revs to 10,700 rpm.

One thing hasn't changed, however. Just as the young sport of stock car racing created heroes, today's wheel-to-wheel competition on gleaming speedways provides opportunities for racers to display their skill - and for automobile manufacturers to showcase their engineering expertise. The Rocket V8 is gone, but its spirit lives on in Oldsmobile's IRL Aurora V8.

-GM Racing

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Darrell Waltrip , Terry Labonte , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Scott Sharp , Richard Petty , Harry Gant , Cale Yarborough , Sam Hornish Jr.