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Dispelling 5 Myths Linked To Racing Oils

Even if retailers have an excellent product on the shelf, it may take hard facts, data, and a measure of professional expertise to convince racers that your stock contains the winning formula.

By Ilona French

Customers are usually leery of products that seem too good to be true (think snake oil). So even if you have an excellent product on the shelf, that far exceeds the rest, it may take hard facts, data, and your own expertise to advocate for the winning formula, especially when customers can easily be misinformed by what they’ve read or heard from other unreliable sources. Below, our experts explain the top five myths they’ve encountered, along with solutions to help you address these misconceptions with your customers.

Myth: You can use standard or street oil for racing applications.


In the last 10 years, standard/street oils have undergone major formulation and ingredient changes due to government regulations on emissions (EPA) standards.  Most importantly, zinc levels, the key ingredient in engine anti-wear protection, have been significantly reduced in commercial motor oils. These products typically contain about 800 parts per million of zinc per quart of oil. For many racing applications, this zinc level must be at least 2000 ppm of zinc per quart to ensure maximum anti-wear protection and to prevent engine breakdown or failure.—Bruce Firkins, Cam-shield Lubricants/Mr. Race Oil Professional High Performance Lubricants, Randolph, New Jersey

Myth: More zinc is always better. 


Many people think they need increased levels of zinc to protect against wear in race engines, especially since many race engines still utilize flat tappets, which are prone to more wear. However, more is not always better. The components in an engine oil are all competing for the surface, so if there is too much ZDDP, it can decrease the efficiency of other properties, such as friction modification, which helps with horsepower. It is best to have the right amount of zinc, instead of the most. Keeping a balance between all of the components in a lubricant provides an optimal overall benefit.—Erin Findley, Valvoline, Lexington, Kentucky

Myth: When it comes to viscosity, one size fits all.


I generally subscribe to the ‘old school’ mentality of ‘the heavier the viscosity the better’ when it comes to the ultimate protection of an engine…whether the actual application is put through very severe service, like those associated with racing, or just your classic ‘weekend’ driver. When it comes to viscosity selection, I generally ask that one considers three major criteria: the actual bearing clearance, OEM/engine builder recommendation, and ambient temperature operation. It is true that today’s crate engine offerings recommend lighter viscosity oils, due to the fact that modern engine bearing clearances are much tighter, generally equating to better fuel economy. But I have yet to meet a racer/car enthusiast that valued mpg over the ultimate protection of his/her engine. The problem with running lighter viscosity 5W-20 or 5W-30 oils is that most end users/customers will end up selecting modern-day equivalents, which were previously discussed as containing ‘reduced’ anti-wear chemistry. Modern-day oils are great for the needs of the modern application, not so much for the needs of the high-performance racing, classic, muscle, street rod, vintage and legacy cars that simply require higher anti-wear protection.Ken Tyger, Brad Penn Lubricants, Bradford, Pennsylvania

Myth: Synthetic oil can leak out when it is put in an engine.


This was true many years ago when engine builders used gaskets made of cork or properties similar that dry out over time and crack. Today’s engine builders use advanced materials for gasket and sealing composition. No leaks!—Karl Dedolph, Champion Oil, Clinton, Missouri

Myth: Most of my engine wear happens when “I am really on it.”


Actually most of your engine wear happens at start up, that one-to-two seconds before you have full lubrication flowing through your system. Notice I said “engine wear” not “engine failure.” In fact, tests have shown that between 65 percent and 85 percent of all engine wear happens during this start-up period, before the oil that has drained into the sump/oil pan, since the last running can recirculate through your lubrication system. This is such a well known and severe issue that the industry developed multi-grade motor oils. These oils, such as a 5W-30, have the advantage of being thinner at cold startup, allowing the oil to “spread” through the lubrication system more rapidly, helping slow engine wear by flowing more easily during the first few seconds of engine startup. However, there is still a time delay between hitting that starter button, engine firing and full lubrication. It is not uncommon for your camshaft to rotate 50 times or more before oil is pumped to it. And there is a drawback to these multi-viscosity (multi-weight) oils, especially for racing purposes. The multi-weight oils are achieved with the addition of additives (polymers and viscosity improvers [VI]) which in extreme heat or high shear force operations will break down, causing eventual sludge buildup. Additionally, as this happens, the additives begin to “break down.” This means you will have a thinner motor oil than you thought you had or, more importantly, needed. In essence, 10W-30 motor oil could and will become a 10W-20 or even effectively an 8W-10 motor oil, which will not have the film strength to properly protect the polished metal surfaces of your crank, camshaft and their respective bearings. Not what you want to happen in your race engine. Typically, the broader the range in weights (i.e., 20W-50 versus a 10W-30) the more VI was added. A better solution is to use a molecular-based additive that will bond to the metal and not drain into the sump, so it is protecting the metal during startup—protecting the engine from wear.—Jon Apogee, Prolong Super Lubricants, Pomona, California

Dispelling 5 Common Oil & Lubricants Myths

Performance Racing Industry