The Power of Nitrous

Sep 29, 2010

For customers who want power and want it now, there’s nothing like a shot of nitrous.

Nitrous oxide systems are providing immediate horsepower to the performance aftermarket, offering neck-snapping speed for racers and attractive price points and the opportunity for repeat customers for shops that refill tanks and carry add-on accessories.

The popularity of nitrous is easy to explain-the stuff works.

“(Nitrous systems) still offer the best horsepower per dollar, period,” says Bill Tichenor of Holley Performance Products, owner of NOS Nitrous Oxide Systems. “The amount of instant horsepower and torque provided is unobtainable from any other product on the market at this price. This is why it is still hugely popular among drag racers and performance enthusiasts in general.”

It’s a thought shared by Randell Mathis, director, Nitrous Express, Wichita Falls, Texas.

“With the amount of horsepower gained for the cost involved, nitrous oxide is a smart buy in most consumers’ eyes.”

If your shop isn’t offering nitrous, here’s a chance to get up to speed on the latest systems and market trends driving this product niche.

All Systems Go

Nitrous can be offered in complete systems or individual pieces for the entire spectrum of speed seekers-from hardcore racers to mild street upgrades. Shops need to be on the ball when it comes to what’s available and what’s appropriate for each customer’s particular application.

Tom Miller, vice president, sales and marketing, of Ny-Trex, and Dan Stark, technical advisor, provide a brief overview of the basic system offerings:

  • Wet systems are the most common. They are easy to tune, combining both nitrous and fuel into one mixing spray nozzle or plate. The horsepower and air-fuel mixture are controlled by simply changing the metering jets. “Wet” refers to adding fuel and requires tapping into the fuel system, using a fuel solenoid valve for delivery and a wet nozzle or plate to blend and spray the N2O and fuel mixture into the intake air. Wet systems are independent, meaning there’s no need to add fuel through the ECU and injectors or increase fuel by raising the fuel pressure.
  • Dry Systems cost a bit less and have fewer components to install, due to lack of fuel involvement. “Dry” refers to spraying nitrous only and requires the need to add fuel through the vehicle’s fuel injectors. Nitrous needs fuel to make horsepower and dry systems either increase fuel pressure or increase the injector pulse through the ECU to gain the extra fuel. Dry systems generally are limited in horsepower due to the abilities of the stock fuel supply, injectors and ECU.
  • Direct Port Systems are the choice of hardcore racers. In general “Direct Port” refers to an injector nozzle placed within each intake runner just before entering the cylinder head. Direct port systems have the greatest potential for making horsepower and require advanced equipment, knowledge and tuning skills to perform consistently and safely. Direct port systems have many more aspects that require fabrication, such as nozzle placement in each runner, bending tubing for nozzles, distribution blocks to route lines and mounting of hardware.

Tichenor notes that nitrous systems are appropriate for basically any performance application.

“If an engine burns gas, we can put nitrous on it,” he says. “We just finished putting nitrous on some go-karts last week.”

Mathis adds that his company has a “full line of nitrous products for all makes and models, all the way down to remote control cars.”

Mike Thermos of Nitrous Supply, Huntington Beach, Calif., notes that racing is currently where the majority of nitrous sales are found.

“There is little doubt, from the supplier side of the industry, that vehicles dedicated to racing with nitrous oxide is the strongest part of the market at this time, regardless of the venue,” he says.

Matt Patrick, product manager for ZEX, agrees.

“Overall, nitrous sales in 2010 have been fairly flat, but racing is definitely the strongest portion of the market,” he says. “Racers find the money, even if they have to race in a lower class than they originally intended, so racing products are doing well.”

But the street market remains viable.

“The rebirth of the pony car competition has really allowed the street performance market to climb,” notes Mathis. “We find that a large number of these owners are true gear heads, and really enjoy modifying their cars.”

Do You Want Fries With That?

One of the attractive benefits of offering nitrous to your customers is the opportunity for add-on sales.

“Probably 50 percent of profits is in accessory sales,” says Patrick. “Some shops just sell the kit and forget about it. But there’s a reason we have all of these accessories.”

Popular accessories include bottle pressure gauges, bottle heaters and purge kits, he says, noting that a new customer who purchases an entry-level kit often returns to a shop within two weeks for upgrade items.

“We have everything from wet single-fogger kits that provide 50-hp for 4-cylinders, plate kits for carbureted applications as well as EFI applications, all the way to 1,000-hp direct port kits for race engines,” Tichenor explains. “We also offer a full range of safety add-ons, heaters, bottle openers and tuning parts.”

Stark notes that do-it-yourselfers will need to select the individual components for their systems including nozzles, bottles, lines, switches and accessories, which is why all-inclusive kits are popular.

“Accessories are important aspects of any well planned nitrous system. Basic systems are just that-basic,” he says, noting that popular add-ons include a good bottle gauge and some method of temperature control, a purge system, progressive controllers, window switches, throttle position switches, timing retard controls, time delays and activation, digital management systems and more.

“Perhaps one of the most important accessories recommended is the fuel pressure safety switch, also known as the Hobbs switch,” he adds. “This simple device is installed at the fuel connection to ensure adequate fuel pressure for a safe nitrous activation. The last thing you want is nitrous injecting without the proper amount of fuel.”

Thermos sees system upgrades as an important profit center for shops.

“For the dealers that in the past made their largest profit pertaining to nitrous oxide from kits, a definite shift is taking place in the market,” he says. “While dealers will still sell a percentage of kits, as the induction systems for nitrous oxide continue to become more refined, more emphasis is going to be placed on upgrade components as well as improved staple items such as jets, miscellaneous fittings and repair parts.”

And Patrick reminds shop not to forget supporting products as well.

“For instance they are going to need spark plugs with a colder heat range, and ignition retard products. The nitrous companies aren’t necessarily going to supply these items, but if you explain to the customer why they are going to need them, it can be a homerun.”

Turbo-Compatible

Another area where nitrous is showing up with more frequency is in turbocharged applications. These days, turbo owners can have the best of both worlds, nitrous suppliers say.

“Obviously, turbochargers and superchargers have become more popular in recent years, but we have designed products to allow nitrous to be used in conjunction with them to add even more power,” Tichenor says. “When used in conjunction with a turbo, nitrous can eliminate turbo lag. Our new Launcher nitrous controller allows you to program the delivery of nitrous based on boost, so you can tell it to shut off at a predetermined boost level, making it perfect to help spool up a turbo.”

Stark notes that the addition of nitrous is particularly attractive in applications with larger turbos.

“We do see more kits being driven not to max-out motor potential, but simply to spool large turbos,” he says. “Spool kits are simple and can save time in the staging lane. All one would need is a simple kit with a small shot, just to bump the airflow to get the turbo ready for the green light.”

It develops on a trend Mathis sees toward more application-specific systems.

“At one point, a universal system could cover a wide range of applications,” he says. “Now the end consumer is looking to have a specific system for their vehicle.”

Take the Lead

To service the performance crowd, and particularly the drag racers that are most interested in adding nitrous, shops need to know their stuff. Several suppliers offer suggestions on how shops can increase nitrous sales.

Says Tichenor:

  • Learn all you can about how nitrous kits work.
  • Find some local racers that are running well with it and promote their achievements in your store.
  • Set up an effective display of nitrous small parts.

Miller suggests:

  • Add a nitrous filling station.
  • Run combined sale specials such as free tank fill-up with a purchase of a system or limited-time discounts on tank fill-ups.
  • Point out differences in the many different nitrous systems and their unique advantages.

Says Thermos:

  • Put more emphasis on items such as accessories, upgrade components and repair parts.
  • Sell refills.
  • Create incentive refill programs.

Mathis adds:

  • Stock the top-selling products.
  • Have a shop vehicle with nitrous installed.
  • Tune up on your nitrous knowledge, and have a full understanding of what’s available and what new products are released.

Patrick notes that education is important to help customers create the nitrous system that’s appropriate for their individual needs. “It’s all basic stuff that can usually be answered by reviewing simple FAQ sheets.”

He also suggests shops keep nitrous products on the shelf to show to interested customers, and also operate a fill station, which encourages repeat visits to your shop and makes you the “go-to place for performance.”

“I think that’s the advantage for brick-and-mortar retail outlets. We refer to our parts as ‘jewelry’ and people love to look at them. Then, once they are returning for refills, then you have them for good.”