This engine was designed, engineered and built at Brayton Engineering in Coldwater, Michigan, to power the INDY car Scott Brayton was to drive in the 1994 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. Scott was the son of Lee Brayton, former racing driver and founder of Brayton Engineering in Coldwater, Michigan.
When most Indy engines of the 1980s and 1990s were overhead cam designs, the Brayton push rod V8 engine used a single camshaft, located high and center in the engine block, and short lightweight pushrods to actuate intake and exhaust valves. Why did Brayton favor push rods instead of overhead cams in this new engine?
Brayton Engineering helped build and develop the stock block Buick V6 IndyCar engine, as well as fielded a car in the CART series, primarily for Scott, from 1981 to 1986 and then fielded an Indy Racing League (IRL) car in 2002. The team entered two cars in the 2001 Indy 500, but both missed the field. Their single 2002 Indy 500 entry also failed, as did their Michigan 400 Indy Car attempt that year. Brayton Engineering had a long history of building engines for INDY car competitors and numerous Brayton-built engines won CART and INDY races, including the INDY 500.
In 1991 USAC regulations changed to allow a stock block push rod engine of 209-c.i. to compete with ten inches of turbo boost pressure. Brayton and his group realized this rule change could facilitate a potential horsepower advantage. The Buick push rod V6 race engines they helped develop put out about 800 horsepower, then the highest horsepower of any engine on the INDY 500 grid, but were not typically reliable over the stresses of a 500-mile race. Brayton and his crew believed they could design and build a push rod V8 that was USAC rules-compliant, could produce 900+ horsepower, and be more reliable than the Buick.
Brayton had patterns and castings made in Ventura, California, and parts for about 20 engines were created, machined and shipped to Coldwater. The heads were designed and flow tested prior to final design, and yielded 25% more airflow than did the Buick heads. At that point, the team than knew the resulting horsepower from this new engine would be the highest ever created for an INDY 500 engine. Assembly began in the fall of 1992, and when the first engine was completed and dyno tested, output exceeded 928 horsepower at 10,000 RPMs on alcohol.
Lee Brayton, in an effort to recoup some of his investment in the new design, set out to see if he could provide INDY teams with engines for the 1993 INDY 500 Race. John Menard was the first team owner to see the engine on the dyno and quickly purchased the Brayton V8 engine program, with a stipulation that Scott Brayton would be a Team Menard driver. Menard proceeded to further develop the Brayton push rod V8 during early 1993 with help from Louis Meyer.
By this time, other INDY racing teams had gotten wind of the Brayton engine and of its performance advantage. Many were already locked into contracts with Ford and Cosworth and could not fund new engine campaigns. There was one team, however, that decided in July 1993 to develop their own version of the Brayton/Menard V8 push rod engine for the 1994 INDY 500 – Team Penske. The engine Penske fielded was the Mercedes-badged push rod V8, designed and built in less than six months.
Time ran out with Team Menard to race the Brayton V8 push rod engine for the 1994 INDY 500, due to contractual reasons with Buick. Eddie Cheaver, lead driver for Menard, had a “Better or Best” clause in his race contract to run the best engine. However, Buick sponsorship prevented the use of the Brayton V8 in Scott Brayton’s race car for the 1994 race.
Team Penske’s push rod V8 of similar design to the Brayton push rod V8, completely dominated the 1994 INDY 500, and in 1995 USAC changed its rules and reduced or eliminated the turbo boost advantage for push rod engines. Scott Brayton died during a practice lap in 1996 at 230 MPH, and he was never able to race the gift his dad wanted to give him.
The Brayton/Menard V8 push rod engine was the first engine developed to take advantage of USAC Rule 1107. It was the dream of one man wanting to give his son a great chance to win the INDY 500 and the necessity to offer it to multiple teams to cover his costs. That dream and the unbelievable power that engine developed was a two-sided sword in that its reputation spread throughout the racing world and eventually into the hands of the most formidable competitor in the INDY 500 racing world.
The engine was fully developed in December of 1992 when purchased by Team Menard. Team Penske discussed the idea of a similar engine in June or 1993, some six – eight months later. This amazing Brayton push rod engine led the way to produce the most dominating INDY win in years and perhaps the most powerful engine ever produced to compete at INDY, and for that reason stands alone as a pioneer in the world of the greatest spectacle in racing.