Prev Article Next Article

Boost In A Bottle—Compressed Air Supercharging delivers cold, consistent boost that produces worry-free performance

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Boost In A Bottle—Compressed Air Supercharging delivers cold, consistent boost that produces worry-free performance
Written by the FSC staff
Photography courtesy of CAS and Mark Griffin
As the light switches from red to green, Mark Griffin releases the transbrake. With his foot to the wood, a flap closes and the earth’s atmosphere is closed behind an airlock. The 540-cube big-block inhales a deep breath of sub-freezing air as the car ignores the conditions and clicks off another consistent lap.
This is no sorcery. Mark Griffin’s rides are equipped with systems from Compressed Air Supercharging, a company masterminded by founder Dale Vaznaian and principal engineer, Karl Staggemeir. The former co-founded Nitrous Oxide Systems and the latter was the company’s chief engineer, so the duo are well versed in the development of bottle-fed induction.
They assembled an engineering team of engineers with expertise in data acquisition, engine management, thermodynamics, and the development of high-pressure gaseous regulation and metering to create the Compressed Air Supercharging system, which was proven and refined via thousands of hours of engineering development and testing.
Mark Griffin stumbled onto a large, compressed air bottle at Danny Soliz’s Hill Country Performance. Intrigued by the CAS concept, Griffin joined forces to go all-in on pushing the technology to see just how well a car could perform by breathing from a portable supply of atmosphere. 
When CAS application engineer David Phillips first explained to Mark and Danny the concept of compressed air supercharging, Griffin thought, ‘Man, this is better than sliced bread.’” 
“They've worked on the development of the system for many years. They did not want to get it out there and have hiccups,” Soliz added. It’s been flawless. In fact, they developed more stuff because of Mark’s car They don’t want to just try something and have it go out there and not work, so they test everything over and over again. How do you say something so new can be so plug-and-play, but they got it down to where anybody now could just pretty much you know, never have been a computer guy could do it.”
The Compressed Air Supercharging system delivers air that is 60-to-100 degrees below zero to the engine’s intake manifold. Griffin’s 1968 Camaro was set up to run just 16 pounds of air pressure at the ejector, which he says equates to about 32 pounds of conventional boost due to the high charge density and absence of parasitic losses.
“There is no outside air coming into this car as it runs down the track. The ejector has a 5-inch flat valve that shuts off 100 percent, so whether I’m in Houston, or whether I'm in at Bandimere in Denver, it does not matter. I’m still I’m running off a bottle of compressed air, which is always consistent. It's breathing air. It's what a person would breathe in if they were scuba diving.”
To put the system to the test, Griffin enlisted Soliz to construct a robust engine that would support testing the boundaries of the CAS system without issue. 
“Mark was in, which costs a lot of money to be in front of development like that, but he stepped up and said, ‘I'm willing to do it, put it on the car correctly, and do it,” Soliz said. “It's been a great partnership between the Compressed Air, Mark, and I.”
Despite Griffin’s willingness to invest in the exploration of this technology, they didn’t want to build an engine so exotic that it would garner all the credit for the success of the combination. Instead, the duo focused on rugged but attainable hardware. 
“I didn’t want to build a big engine and have everybody say with that engine anything’s possible. I wanted to build something that anybody out there could go to Jegs or Summit and put a 540 together,” Soliz explained. “…What we did do is that Mark agreed right at the beginning that we were gonna throw the right kind of money at it and use the best hardware so that we could develop it and start putting more air to it, so Mark let us build a bulletproof 540.”
To that end, Soliz based the big-block on a World Products Merlin block with a 10.2-inch deck and filled it with a billet crankshaft delivering a 4.25-inch stroke. That crank swings custom rods measuring 6.8 inches fitted with CP-Carillo pistons wearing Total Seal rings that run tighter gaps than a typical power-adder engine due to the cooler inlet temps achieved by the CAS setup. Spun by a Jesel belt drive, a Bullet custom-ground camshaft works with PAC springs and T&D rocker arms to actuate the valves in a set of Brodix BB2X cylinder heads. It is nothing exotic but Griffin and Soliz’s goal is to push the CAS technology until they find the limits of the block, which is rated for 2,000 horsepower. 
“Since the low charge temperatures eliminate preignition and detonation, I’m thinking we could do 2,500 or 3,000 in the same block, even though under normal circumstances it shouldn't be able to handle it,” Soliz said. How much is too much? We haven’t seen any evidence of the bearings, rings, or gaskets suggesting they are near their limits. 
With the Camaro’s big-block pushing beyond 2,000 horsepower at the flywheel already, the duo has yet to find the limit of the Merlin block.
“The inlet air temperature is so cold that we get no detonation. The thing that ruins engines, especially for the nitrous guys, and even the blower or turbo guys is detonation, but the nitrous guys are worse. It lifts the head gasket, and when you blow a head gasket, you tear the deck up, you tear the cylinder heads up, and the weakest link to all power adders is the head gaskets, because of detonation,” Soliz explained. “…Here comes Mark’s engine, and we only have a receiver groove in the block and we use an old-fashioned copper head gasket. It's a great, brand-new head gasket, but it's a copper head gasket.”
In practice, the cold air inlet temperature not only makes for a durable combination, but it allows for keeping ignition timing at maximum brake-torque timing as opposed to retarding it as you do with a traditional power adder. In Griffin’s case, he keeps the Camaro’s timing locked at 34 degrees. 
“You can vary power at any place or time (such as at shift points) on the track changing air flow… instantly. It’s so simple, and it doesn’t tear stuff up,” Soliz said. “You don’t think about breaking the tires loose or tearing stuff up. He can put the air in as soon as you get rolling, and he can determine where he wants the air.”
Four tenths of a second after Mark lights the second staging bulb with the Camaro the CAS system shuts off the outside air completely and the engine comes up on boost. “So if you notice on the starting line, it's calm up until a split second before I leave. Then it gets really loud,” Griffin explained. “The actual launch sequence is controlled by a Mega 450 delay box. On the Roadster, I use a throttle position sensor to activate the CAS system, so at 70 percent open; Whenever I get up to the line, activate the transbrake and it’s over 70 percent throttle it activates the air.”
That’s right, Griffin had so much fun with the Compressed Air Supercharging-equipped Camaro, that he decided to build another race car. While he is continuing to improve and refine the setup on the Camaro, investigating improved hose routing and reducing restrictions to push the combo to 2,400 or so horsepower, Griffin put together another Compressed Air Supercharged project to have fun in Super Gas because the CAS combos run so consistent.
His latest endeavor is a ’32 Ford roadster with a single CAS system and Holley HP EFI system. This car only produces 1,000 horsepower, but in the lightweight ride, it is still plenty of fun and just as consistent as the Camaro. Griffin is a believer in the Compressed Air Supercharging setup and his efforts racing two rides with these systems might just make a believer out of other racers, particularly those running bracket or index categories where consistency is key.
The setup is so consistent and easy to dial in by just adjusting the boost level that Griffin says he ditched his weather station altogether because he brings his atmosphere in a bottle or three.

Mark Griffin embraced Compressed Air Supercharging and deployed it on his ’68 Camaro that campaigns in NHRA Top Sportsman where it runs low-4-second elapsed times in the eighth mile. It is also capable of high-6-second passes at more than 200 mph on the quarter mile. In either environment, its runs typically only vary by a thousandth of a second due to the consistent supply of cool air from the CAS system.

Under the hood is a rugged, but traditional Chevy big-block displacing 540 cubes and cranking out 650 horsepower in naturally aspirated form. With the CAS system that number skyrockets to more than 2,000 horsepower. However, due to the gentle nature of the compressed air and the control afforded by the CAS boost controller and Holley Dominator EFI system, it is tame while driving at part throttle inhaling outside air. “He could drive this engine on the Power Tour tomorrow,” Soliz said. “I wanted to keep the valvetrain reliable. The lash does not change. It’s only a .700-lift cam. It's nice and reliable because until you put the air to it, it's a mild big-block. “It’s only 11:1 compression.”

Based on a sturdy World Products Merlin block, the 540-cubic-inch Chevy big-block that powers Griffin’s classic Camaro is filled with good hardware, including a billet crankshaft, custom rods, CP-Carillo pistons, Total Seal rings, a Bullet camshaft and more. The short-block is topped by Brodix BB2X cylinder heads that breathe through a Wilson intake manifold. Though the block is only rated for 2,000 horsepower it has supported more than that Griffin intends to find its limit.

When the Camaro is driving through the pits or doing its burnout, it breathes the same air that Griffin does. However, when the throttle position and rpm reach the levels set by his tuning, the 2,500-horsepower CAS ejector slams its mechanical isolation valve shut and the big-block breathes only sub-freezing, high-pressure air from the CAS system.

The basis of Griffin’s system is a trio of 158 SCF carbon fiber cylinders that contain 3,400 psi of air. The only limit to how much power the system can support is how many cylinders are feeding the ejector(s). These bottles are specially designed for supercharging with high-flow necks and threads designed to mate with the CAS valves.

The specially designed CAS bottle valves are engineered to support both filling and full-flow performance. The company spent years in the development of this system to ensure trouble-free operation.

The systems are plumbed with special high-pressure, low-temperature Kongsberg hoses that ensure unimpeded flow and durability. 

Compressed air released from the bottle is controlled by a dual-outlet-port Mechanical regulator by way of a high-pressure WYE Block. The pressure is regulated from 100 to 140 psi from the bottles and it can be programmed as a function of time to deliver power to the wheels in a controlled fashion. Griffin’s Camaro big-block discharges the compressed air through two -20 AN lines. Meanwhile, a high-pressure three-way valve facilitates in-car refilling of the cylinders or evacuation of pressure for long-term storage.

The system’s electronic boost controller controls shut-off valves and the electronic pressure regulator to deliver a fully programable boost at any engine rpm.

The aforementioned pair of -20 AN high-pressure, low-temperature hoses deliver the compressed air to a CAS 5-inch Ejector designed to support as much as 2,500 horsepower. The ejector provides a solid, sealed mount for the compressed air discharge nozzles as well as the mechanical isolation valve that seals the engine inlet off from the atmosphere while it is inhaling compressed air. 

So enamored with the performance of his Camaro, Griffin set out to run a CAS setup on his latest race car — a ’32 Ford Roadster. It runs a single bottle and an ejector with just one discharge nozzle which is designed to support up to 1,300 horsepower. 

With its lightweight and bottle-fed horsepower, the CAS-boosted roadster is good for high-7-second passes in the quarter mile.

A compressor in the trailer keeps Griffin’s mother bottles filled with clean, dehumidified air so that he can quickly fill the bottles in the car in about 15 minutes. “Just as soon as I get back from a run, I'll crank my compressor up and I'll start filling the bottles. It will fill the bottles in the trailer usually before we leave,” Griffin said. “If I’m hot-Iapping, I can make it through the semifinals and finals without ever starting up the compressor because I always keep those full in between rounds. I’ve even run two cars off of it. I've run the Roadster and the Camaro at the same time.”

join our

email list

You’ll be first to know about NMCA events, race results and so much more!