In preparation for the approaching NASCAR Winston Cup season it is helpful to remember that, without a good engine builder, every one of the Winston Cup stars would be walking. With this in mind, NASCAR’s hidden heroes of racing took centre stage at the T. Wayne Robertson NASCAR Winston Cup Preview in Winston-Salem, N.C., for the Clevite Engine Builder Showdown. In front of more than 20,000 NASCAR fans at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, engine builders for the likes of Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon took part in a "head-to-head" competition to see who could assemble and then run their engine in the least amount of time. The Clevite Engine Builder Showdown began in 2000 as a tiered competition for engine builders in the Winston Cup, Busch Grand National, Craftsman Truck, Busch North and Winston West racing series. The competition has a total prize package worth more than $50,000 U.S. and has become one of the premier honours in the world of engine building. In addition to kicking off the Showdown at a new venue, engine builders assembled brand new 357 cubic inch Ford engines similar in design to those used by NASCAR’s Ford race teams. NASCAR fans got to see a virtual who’s who of NASCAR racing and the excitement didn’t end there. Most rounds of building ran extremely close most with less than a one minute time differential. The first build saw Dale Earnhardt Incorporated’s Greg Ollish go up against Robert Yates Racing’s Nick Ramey. Ramey finished in 26 minutes, 41 seconds, beating Ollish whose build time was a very close 26 minutes, 46 seconds. The second build matched veteran Showdown participant Terry Elledge of Bill Davis Racing against Dave Bullock of PPI Motorsports. Elledge gave his usual impressive performance and finished his engine in 26 minutes, 52 seconds. However, Bullock was able to finish just 16 seconds faster with a total build time of 26 minutes, 36 seconds. The third build was the closest in Showdown history. Lanny Barnes of Richard Childress Racing met two-time Showdown first runner-up David Evans. Both builds were flawless with a mere one-second time difference. Barnes achieved a trip to Round 2 with a winning time of just 25 minutes and one second. Don Desrosiers of Hendrick Motorsports met last year’s Showdown champion and current record holder Danny Lawrence of Richard Childress Racing. While Lawrence didn’t brake his build record of 20 minutes, 26 seconds, he won his round in a very respectable time of 26 minutes, 23 seconds. Steve Gagnier of Dale Earnhardt Incorporated met Bo Montgomery of Team Amick Engine Development. No one would have guessed that this was Montgomery’s first Showdown build, as he completed his engine in just 33 minutes and 57 seconds. However, Gagnier gave an equally impressive first time showing and finished in 29 minutes and 31 seconds. Barry Cook of Joe Gibbs Racing (build partner for 2001 Showdown Champion Mark Cronquist) exhibited his engine building skills against fellow Showdown veteran Tom Karas of Hendrick Motorsports. Karas finished in 28 minutes and 57 seconds, but Cook showed that he’s ready to be a champion in his own right and finished in just 28 minutes and 16 seconds. It was obvious to everyone in the crowd that Jay Wiles of Hendrick Motorsports came to win. Building against Bob Fisher of Chip Ganassi Racing, the two presented the crowd with one of the fastest builds of the show and another very close race was decided by a mere 13 seconds. Wiles won his build with a penalty free build time of 26 minutes and 4 seconds. The final build saw Brad Thrower of Bill Davis Racing face Jeff Clark of Michael Waltrip Racing. Clark finished in a brisk 28 minutes and 56 seconds, but Thrower won out with a build time of 27 minutes and 33 seconds. Each winner of Round 1 received a $1,000 check and will advance to the second round slated for this spring. The final round will take place on May 20, 2003 at the new NASCAR Technical Institute (NTI) in Mooresville, N.C. Highlights of the first and final round will be aired later this year on NASCAR Tech. Highlights of the future rounds will also be available on Clevite’s Web site.