For a few years now, Harbor Freight's Ghost 212 engine has been just that, a ghost. The rumors that Harbor Freight was making a karting-specific variation of its popular 212cc engines have been highly debated on social media and 4-cycle karting forums, with many doubting the engine's existence.
It appears this is no longer a rumor as google search has revealed as of March 15 that the Ghost is, in fact, a real kart racing engine. Truth be told, we had already been made aware that it's been testing with a karting parts manufacturer and has been very promising in their results. I can't elaborate any more on that currently, but I hope to soon in the future.
The big question is, what does this mean for karting? I see a lot of possibilities and have a lot of hope for this program.
Undoubtedly, the Harbor Freight 212 has been a prevalent and relatively successful class for many local or small tracks. So much that it has found its way to more significant national-sized events, it's not hard to imagine that Harbor Freight sells more engines than all the other engine importers or manufacturers in karting. I would even say those engines bought specifically for karting alone exceed those numbers.
Obviously, it's enough success that Harbor Freight made the conscious decision to make a dedicated kart racing engine. One of the most immediate reactions will be resistance. I have experienced this firsthand with the opposition to the Tillotson Racing Engines. The Briggs & Stratton customer is fairly loyal to the brand and its US-centric stance, even though most of the engine's parts are produced outside the US. And the others because it will dilute the current range of clone engines. I have some thoughts that make me believe otherwise.
Buckle up because there are many current events and context to go through. Let's start with two of the prominent engine manufacturers: Briggs & Stratton and Tillotson.
Briggs & Stratton
The Briggs & Stratton LO206 is currently the dominant engine for the 4-cycle sprint. The Briggs probably makes up 50% or more of the sprint market in general. It's a program with its foundation in the Briggs Animal that was made in the late 90s. The LO206 variation with a rev limited coil and rules controlled by Briggs created a very successful program over ten years old on its own. It has kept 4-cycle sprint racing alive, but it's not the prominent engine in 4-cycle karting.
Briggs has had many issues if you have kept up with the news. An investment group owns Briggs & Stratton after the business bankruptcy. From our experience as a Briggs dealer, we have seen a decline in the business for a few years. Briggs acquired many different lawnmower brands, which turned many of their customers into competitors. Many of those customers left Briggs for other brands. In 2018/2019, Briggs made a clerical error of sorts that left them with little to no inventory for their lawnmower engine market for most of the year. In 2019/2020, the covid pandemic added to their problems, pushing them into bankruptcy.
Briggs & Stratton LO206 growing program was struck by these problems since the majority of the engine components are made outside of the US. Over the past two years, the LO206 has been very difficult to get in hand. We have talked to some of the figureheads in Quarter Midget Racing and Karting, looking for an alternative. Two of the other options are either Honda or Tillotson. None of them wanted to make the jump to another engine but felt forced into looking for alternatives to keep their tracks or businesses running.
There is one last point to make about the Briggs Program, and that is why it exists? The Briggs Racing program exists because it's part of their marketing program, and since the Intek is no longer made, what are they advertising? Engine performance is very general, but it's hard to explain that your racing engine doesn't offer a power equipment alternative and that the Briggs Vanguard replaces its Intek line. Almost every manufacturer, including Briggs, now has various clones for their generators and small power equipment. I want to make this point because I believe Harbor Freight has a huge advantage and opportunity with their marketing of a racing engine.
Tillotson is the leading alternative for Briggs. The Tillotson 225RS was developed as the next step above the Briggs LO206 in power. While Briggs has the World Formula, it didn't take off the same as the LO206. Both Briggs engines are getting long in the tooth, which is another reason the Tillotson looks appealing.
The Tillotson shares its design with the Honda GX160/200 Engines like the Harbor Freight engine. The clone has not only dominated 4-cycle racing but has all but eliminated all other manufacturers in the small displacement power equipment markets. The commonality of these engines presents a significant advantage over the Briggs as the parts are produced in far larger volumes which makes them very inexpensive. The aftermarket for these engines is also far more extensive. The Honda or Clones are the Chevy LS of the small engine world if that helps paint the picture.
The Tillotson 225RS made necessary improvements to make a superior clone engine. The block is far stronger than any other clone and rivals the Briggs. The engine's increased displacement and combination of parts made it not only faster than the Briggs and other clones but an attempt to future-proof itself against other clone competitors.
Tillotson made a 196cc engine to compete against the 196 engines that ruled over the oval dirt tracks. Briggs & Stratton recognized the competition of the Tillotson almost immediately. The former Briggs Racing Director acknowledged its superiority to other clones and would have an unfair advantage over them. The former Briggs director middling would contribute to the Tillotson 196 being banned in competition. I make this point to say there is an opportunity for either the Tillotson or Harbor Freight engines.
Tillotson's current problem is participation. This problem improves as Briggs struggles to get back on track with their L0206 program. More tracks and kart shops are interested in an engine they can stock, sell and race. The Tillotson 225RS makes 40-50% more power than the LO206 and will have a place in karting as a spec class above the LO206 and Ghost 212.
Sprint Racing, Dirt Racing, and Clone Importers.
One thing that makes harbor freight Ghost 212 unique is that it appears to be designed to run against the LO206, but the Predator 212 has been dominant in the dirt ovals. The sprint and oval karting markets differ in their ideology regarding engines. Sprint racing prefers the touch-and-go(TAG) spec engines that are "equal" to reduce cost and focus on racing. The Oval racer, mostly dirt ovals, like innovation and tinkering with their engines to find advantages in the engine and chassis setup, tire manipulation, and driving. The differences in ideology are the reason sprint racers like the LO206 and the dirt racers like the clone or Predator engines. The Harbor Freight Ghost 212 looks to reconcile these two ideologies or at least give both ideologies a common platform to spread into both markets.
Due to competition, karting has a cycle of using cheap engines that later become expensive engines. It can't be avoided, but when a new engine becomes available, the local and backwood tracks adopt them as less costly alternatives to the current platform. The clone market consists of independent importers who are kart shops that import the engine and parts of the 196cc or 212cc engines.
The 196cc engine was plagued with inconsistency and competition among importers. Everyone was looking for the latest head, carb, and camshaft to find that extra 1/10 of horsepower or a little additional rpm. That freshly built racing engine could be obsolete instantly if a new head were imported. It only made the cost of racing to go up.
Around the time the Predator 212 was available for the first time, the other importers began to import their own 212. Importers acknowledged the threat the Predator 212 could have if it were to take over the 196cc class. So many of the importers, including ourselves, look to have a better version to compete against the Predator engines. The imported 212 engines would compete to establish itself as the 212 recognized by the karting organization and rule-makers. A couple of the importers have tried different strategies to support their engines with complete rule sets and sealed engines.
Each importer has attempted to bring in a 212 to replace the 196 but failed to do so, partly due to the predator's popularity. And each 212 was different, making it almost impossible for the organizations to support one over the other. Importing engines and parts are more complicated between the pandemic, tariffs, and wars. I believe we will see another year of shortages, and prices are going up.
What advantages does Harbor Freight have?
Harbor Freight has tremendous selling and marketing power and is in just about every town across the US. These engines available across the country allow racers to have immediate access to the engine where they don't have to pay for shipping or wait for them to ship.
I believe they sell more engines for karting than all the clone importers, and Briggs combined with an inexpensive generator engine. They haven't even tried to get involved in karting, and it's a force to reckon with now that it has a dedicated kart engine.
The 212 Predator is the largest dirt class without a doubt. It's not officially supported by an organization that has been the only thing to limit its success. I bet that will change very quickly for anyone of them smart enough to act on it.
If you research Predator 224, you will find that it is made by a Chinese Company called Ducar. And if you are familiar with the Ducar 212 or the Tillotson 212E(which is a 212 made by Ducar), you can recognize the Hemi Head Valve cover on the Ghost 212. It makes sense these engines are also made by Ducar. Not only is Harbor Freight eliminating their current Predator 212 engine with the Predator 224 and Ghost 212, but they are cutting off the Tillotson 212E and Ducar 212 from the market. The good news is the Ghost would reconcile classes that include both the Predator 212 and the Ducar 212.
Here's a listed version of advantages Harbor Freight:
- Nation-Wide High-Volume Distribution
- Prominent Traditional Marketing (Paper and Email Ads)
- High-Profile Social Media (Facebook 747,000 likes, Instagram 294,000 Followers) Not including the thousands of Youtuber Videos and other social media tagged posts.
- Common Clone Platform using the same Manufacturer (Ducar) as the two most popular 212 Engines (Ducar 212 and Tillotson 212E)
- Extensive Aftermarket for Stock and Performance Parts.
- Low Engine Cost(Which is the claim of Briggs, Tillotson, and the Clones)
- Other engines supply chain issues.
If I were Harbor Freight, how would I utilize these advantages?
Imitate the Briggs and Stratton Program. One of the reasons for Brigg's success is the control of their rules and rev limited coils. The control over the rules reduces politics and can make the program more consistent. The karting organizations run conflicting rules for the 196cc, which causes racers to have two different engines to be legal and still have a competitive engine. While the organization doesn't have a rule set for the 212, tracks will create basic rules for the current Predator 212 engines. Those rules vary from track to track, making it difficult for consistent participation. If Harbor Freight created a rule set that could be added to any organization or track, like the Briggs LO206, it would unify karting and create bigger events.
The Oval Dirt guys will want to blueprint these engines, and the LO206 has been blueprinted or set up as well. There is no way of preventing this from happening, but you may reduce the impact of blueprinting that would create an unfair advantage. Limiting RPM would do a lot to help since most of the blueprinting with a clone is to get more RPM out of the engine by reducing weight and manipulating the valve springs and valve train. The rev-limiter helps with the engine's longevity and reduces advantages from tapering and blueprinting the engine.
Follow Brigg's weekly racer series prize structure. Harbor Freight should create a Ghost 212 Racing Website where tracks can register their Ghost 212 Program to gain points for prizes. Tracks and that register will be part of their database to advertise where you can participate, which helps both the tracks and racers.
Briggs & Stratton has done well to giveaway engines or power equipment products. Tire manufacturers have also done well-sponsoring tracks with tires, trophies, and leather jackets. Harbor Freight has far more diverse products that help racers. Harbor Freight has many of the same power equipment options offered by Briggs & Stratton. Harbor Freight also has power tools like drills and impacts, hand tools like torque wrenches and screwdrivers, toolboxes of all shapes and sizes, and many other products you use to work on and maintain your engine, kart, and tow rig. Giving back to the sport is vital to tracks and racers. If they offered just in-store credit as prizes, racers would be extremely enticed to participate.
Harbor Freight having its name on the promotional materials would be pretty effective marketing as most racers are already customers, and they would be more inclined to suggest their friends and family use Harbor Freight over other Warehouse Tool Stores.
As mentioned before, Briggs doesn't offer a power equipment version of their LO206, so marketing the performance and reliability of an obsolete engine seems like a waste. However, Harbor Freight's Ghost and Predator engines are clone engines with identical architecture and similar parts.
If Harbor Freight and the tracks act on these advantages, we could see the sprint and dirt market go to a single 4-cycle program which will simplify kart racing for the tracks, organizations, businesses, and racers.
The engine hasn't been released yet. A Spring release would give plenty of time to be sampled and experimented on before the late 2022 racing events or the 2023 racing season. It will be interesting to see what happens.
What do you think of the new Harbor Freight Ghost Engine?