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Behind John Lingenfelter - Tunerology

Gary Castillo
May 1, 2004
0405_impp_01_z_+drag_racing+race_track Photo 1/1   |   Behind John Lingenfelter - Tunerology

In an industry that is so typically young, we seldom hear of our race legends passing away. For one, some of our future import race legends are still in their prime, boasting a low- to mid-30 years of age. Of course, I'm talking about the people that have been in the import drag racing scene from day one, but regardless, sometimes it's not age that takes the life of heroes. These days we see people jumping in from all around the world trying to get a piece of the action. That's all good for our industry but one thing that our young readers don't understand is the fact that some of these newbies jumping in are actually race legends in other segments of motorsports. On Christmas day motorsports lost a man that is well known in the racing and engine performance industry. As far as our industry goes, most will remember him as the guy that crashed at NHRA finals in 2002 but to the rest of the motorsports world he will be remembered as a legendary driver and engine guru. The man I speak of is John Lingenfelter who, two years ago, tore up the 1320 in an Ecotec-powered Cavalier. It's a tragedy that a man of this caliber died in an industry that's filled with so many young people. Most enthusiasts in the scene will only know him as the guy that drove the Cavalier.

Personally, I'd heard of Lingenfelter from my V8 domestic days, and believe it or not, he was a lot like us. He was a tuner by testing the water in fuel injection in an industry that never gave the technology the time of day. While most V8 guys replaced late-model fuel injection with the trusty carburetor, John was the guy that was down to give the new technology a try. He is a true pioneer in electronic fuel injection technology. You see, it's not only import guys that started to believe in keeping up with the times. Lingenfelter often challenged the limits of fuel injection as well as turbochargers, which made him an icon in small block, high-powered engines. From taking the Chevy 350 tune port injection to its limits, to designing a TPI intake manifold far superior to the factory unit. It was just month's before John's first NHRA sport compact race that I had a meeting with GM Racing's powertrain president to discuss their participation in the NHRA Sport Compact drag racing series. This was to be the first day they informed the media that John Lingenfelter was to pilot an Ecotec-powered GM truck in the pro-RWD class. My typical response was, "You can't get a push rod V8 guy to be admired by young OHC groupies. Plus I don't think he could build an OHC four cylinder to make power." I'll tell you what, that was one day I should have held my tongue and let his actions speak at the track. It was at his debut event that he proved me wrong and I'll be the first to admit he made me look dumb. Later that year the old man went on to hold a world's fastest four cylinder e.t. in a Cavalier. While he was known as a master in small block technology, no one knew of him in our industry until he made unheard of horsepower numbers out of an Ecotec engine. Sure, all the racers knew who he was, but the people I speak of are spectators attending the race. As I stated earlier, to most he was just the guy that drove that Cavalier. Hopefully, this will shed some light on who the fearless Cavalier pilot was. May he rest in peace and our condolences go out to the Lingenfelter family.

By Gary Castillo
45 Articles

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