For years, (actually since I first installed a set of period correct (1952) Stuart Hilborn's
injectors on my Flathead Mercury race engine for use in the Midstate Vintage Stock Car
Club in 1992), I have heard over and over about the dangers of methanol. It's a wonder I'm
here to tell you this tale.... Frankly, I'm tired of it. On three separate occasions now, in
three different clubs (two of which we never even raced with...) our methanol burning
flatheads have been banned for 'safety issues'. Most recently, Otto Graham described
alcohol (methanol) as the Grim Reaper’s ‘favorite’ and relates that ‘you can be on fire and
not even know it.’ In light of these renewed discussions, I've decided to introduce some
actual facts to the debate, which is something the doomsayers neglect to do.
Mark Twain once said "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please." Here
are some facts:
1.) Methanol has 9,500 BTU/lb - that's British Thermal Units per pound, which is an
accurate measurement of its energy potential and can be directly compared with Gasoline,
which has 18,400 BTU/lb. Conclusion: Gasoline has nearly twice the energy potential as
Methanol hence,
‘one could conclude that Methanol is twice as safe!’
2.) This is a cut and paste from a well written study to which I'll include a link:
Fire Danger. There are several ways to compare and contrast the fire hazard of methanol
versus the fire hazard of gasoline (and hydrocarbon fuels in general). First, we can consider
the lower flammability limit (LFL) for each fuel. Since accidental fires usually occur because
flammable vapor, as from an undetected leak, increases from a very low level to the
minimum concentration at which ignition will occur, the higher the value for the LFL to less
likely a fire will result. So a high value for the LFL is considered to be safer than a low LFL
value. Methanol has a LFL value of 6.0% in air at room temperature. This is significantly
greater than the LFL for gasoline, 1.4% in air at room temperature. Consistent with these
differing values for the LFL of methanol and gasoline, we find that the minimum
temperature at which methanol will ignite (the flash point) is 54°F while gasoline will ignite
at a temperature as low as minus 43°F. Gasoline vapor is also denser than is methanol
vapor and, therefore, gasoline vapor is more likely to accumulate at the lower levels of a
room (near the floor) where ignition sources are commonly encountered. Thus, it is
reasonable to conclude that gasoline represents a greater risk of accidental fire relative to
methanol. A second way to evaluate the relative fire hazard of methanol and gasoline is to
compare the severity of fires. By severity we mean the amount of heat released during
combustion, including radiated heat from flames. In this respect gasoline again compares
poorly with methanol. Gasoline and other hydrocarbon fuels burn with an enormous
release of heat. Much of this heat is radiated by the flames, making it difficult to approach
the fire to extinguish it. The heat of combustion of methanol is less than half that of
gasoline, and methanol flames radiate little heat.
OK - so from all that we can conclude that Gas's LFL of 1.4% compared to Methanol’s LFL of
6.0% makes gasoline (4) times as flammable as Methanol. Again,
‘one could conclude that
makes Methanol 4 times safer!’
Methanol also burns with less heat making it easier to
extinguish!
3.) Methanol is cheaper than racing gasoline.
4.) Methanol runs cooler that gasoline.
5.) Methanol burns, just like gasoline.

Ok - here are some more facts and reasonings... The reason all of our fellow competitors, car
owners and club members, as well as our 'friends' have been attempting to get our
methanol burning cars outlawed all these years is that they're trying to save us from
ourselves, because we're complete idiots and don't know what we're doing. We thank them
for that, we realize that methanol supposedly 'burns invisibly' and that is always the chief
argument behind their reasoning - it's simply not true - Methanol has a blue flame, it may
not be as easily recognizable as a red flame (as from Gasoline) but it's still recognizable just
the same. When something is hot, you know it in a hurry. We have taken several steps to
ensure not only our safety but the safety of others as well - 3 layer nomex suits, nomex
gloves and shoes and a fire suppressant system in our cars as well. To date there has been
not one Methanol fire or incident at any of our clubs events, not one. There have been
several gasoline fires. Here's another thing you won't get with Methanol - an explosion - as
referenced above, Methanol is 4 times less likely to explode than gasoline. Remember the
1964 Indianapolis 500, Dave McDonald was carrying enough Gasoline to finish the race, in
a fuel cell no less, when he hit the inside wall off of turn 4. His car exploded, it exploded
again when Eddie Sachs hit him and both men perished. USAC changed their rules
following the race to limit the amount of fuel carried – eliminating any advantage to running
gasoline since now everyone had to pit - and nearly everyone switched to methanol. Now, to
be fair, Parnelli Jones also had a mishap (during re-fueling, and as you re-call, those
roadsters had their exhaust pipe extending to the rear – right where they were re-fueling..)
and got burned by methanol at the same race - he lived to win again however... My point is
that all racing fuel can be dangerous, racing itself can be dangerous, but it's just not true
that Methanol is more dangerous for any reason, than gasoline. It is, in fact less dangerous
and that's one reason to use it.
Other reasons for using Methanol are less cost and greater cooling characteristics. Since
methanol has only half the potential (measured in BTU's) as gasoline, you have to burn a
greater amount to produce the same amount of power. Actually, you end up using between
2 to 2.7 times as much, which of course helps to keep a hot burning flathead cool. If you
study the Ford Flathead design, you will note that all of the exhaust passages (all three of
them...) route around the cylinder walls keeping everything toasty - good in stock form,
lousy in racing form. We have to keep them cool in order to compete with an overhead that
can produce as much as three times the Horsepower of our Flatheads in stock configuration
(The Mercury Flathead was rated at 125 Hp @ 3700 RPM in 1953). This copious amount of
fuel consumption not only helps keep the engine cool but also does create more
horsepower. AHA! you say... Yes, it's true, you probably have read it elsewhere, so we can
add approx. 20% to our engines output by using methanol. Let's see, 185 Hp (that's pretty
good from 125 eh, bored, stroked, cam, headers, good ignition, etc; - that's about right..)
185 x 0.2 = 37 + 185 = 222 Hp. That's a good flathead, and just about 1/2 the power one
member related his small block dyno'ed at during the fall meeting last year. Fortunately for
us we don’t have to run against a car with that much power in the MVSCC as our
competition committee sees that cars are classified by speed. But I hope my point is clear, a
Flathead does not compare favorably when put up against an overhead.
   This past weekend we met Jerry Higby at Rolling Wheels. He was looking over Dave
Charzuk’s car relating how he had built it, and then reminisce about the days of big blocks
with injectors. My father asked if he had run Methanol and he said yes. My father then
inquired if he felt gas was safer than Methanol. He responded “It’s just the other way
around. I poured out some Methanol once and lit it, it burned of course but in a controlled
way. Then I did the same with Gas, it threw off so much more heat that you couldn’t get
near it.”  The next time you take out a loan and go to the gas station.. check out the fuel
pump. I’ll bet there’s a sign on it that says “Contains 10% Ethanol.” Apparently the
government thinks it’s Ok to run alcohol, and so do many local modified racers. I’d be
willing to bet if we could either carry enough of it around, or get good enough mileage with
it – we’d all be using it 100% as it creates less ozone damaging by products as gasoline as
well..
I suppose it’s possible I’m oversensitive to this subject. Please try to understand that after
having a letter written to the Editor of the Gater News, having it discussed in club meetings
for nearly 20 years now, overhearing your ‘friends’ discussions on the subject, receiving e-
mails complaining about it and finally reading about how Methanol is the Grim Reapers
favorite, I felt it was time to introduce the other side of the story and let you make an
informed decision on the subject. On Sunday, I saw Otto at the DIRT HOF and asked him
about it, he related “I didn’t have anything else to write about.” It’s likely evident that I did
not like his article which I will link
here so if you want, you can peruse. I’ll add this – I like
5 Mile Point, they’ve always treated me good and the racing I’ve seen there in the last few
years has been excellent.
There, that's off my chest - for now anyway. So, if you read about the Grim Reaper coming
around to get ya because you're running methanol, keep in perspective that the fellow
writing that rubbish never bothered to acquire any facts or knowledge about the subject. In
fact, all I've seen complain about its usage never tried it themselves, but instead  rely on old
wivestales and urban legend... which leads you to wonder what their motives are, doesn't
it?  
METHANOL
VS.
GAS