Performance Doesn’t Always Mean "Race Cars"
By Jim Walbolt
When discussing high performance engine work, most shop owners instinctively think about racecars. It might be circle track racing, drag racing, tractor pulling, boat racing or many other forms of "off-street" motorsports. It’s true: motorsports is a huge business potential, but there are other areas of high performance that many shops should look into.
One place you should look is at those very race tracks that you would normally associate with high performance work – but not on the track. Look in the pits. Have you ever noticed the vehicles used by competitors to get their "racecars" to the track – the so called "tow vehicles."
Tow vehicles run the gamut, from a 25-year old pick-up truck to a family camper to the latest design or style of purpose-built haulers to semi trucks. I’ll guarantee you one thing: no matter how much power someone’s hauler has, it’s never enough. Owners of these vehicles are always looking for more horsepower.
One of the most popular vehicles for hauling your toys to the track is a "dually" pickup truck. Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge all offer these trucks with either gasoline or diesel engines. Leaf through any racing publication or RV magazine and you will see numerous advertisements from companies specializing in products just for your "dually" pickup.
Many of the businesses that offer these products are no different than you, except they found a niche and filled it. Do you have an expertise in a certain type of vehicle, engine, or part that can lend itself to this market? Do you have a shop that works on vehicles? If so, you could get into the business of installing performance upgrades even if you don’t manufacture a product.
If you have a machine shop, perhaps you can manufacture a part, or rebuild a particular engine to increase a vehicle’s performance. Hypermax Engineering, near Chicago, has manufactured high performance parts for tractor pullers for many years, specializing in the International brand. It has long been a part of pulling lore that, if pullers wanted to be competitive in Super Stock or Pro Stock tractor pulling competition with an International, they needed to go to Hypermax.
This experience with International products led the company to offer performance upgrades for Ford trucks when Ford began to offer an International diesel engine as an option to its truck customers. The first diesel engines weren’t turbocharged, so Hypermax remedied that by producing a turbocharger kit for the naturally aspirated 6.9L and 7.3L engines.
When the Ford "Powerstroke" diesel engine was introduced in 1994 it sported a "factory" turbo and fast became one of the most popular options available for the Ford Trucks. Later on, Hypermax introduced an "intercooler" kit for diesel engines, in 1998 intercoolers became standard from Ford.
While Hypermax specializes in the Ford diesels, another company, Gale Banks Engineering makes products for many other brands of trucks and RV’s, gas or diesel. And there are many others. The point here is, your shop may have the expertise to enter these performance markets as well.
Race Rocket Revolution
Another market that has really taken off the past few years is the "Sport Compact" market. If you’re like me, you remember the muscle cars of the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s – and their disappearance – at least from the new car lots – in the ’80s. The last really great "muscle cars", at least in my opinion, came off the assembly lines in the late ’60s. Although still providing a good portion of business for a lot of shops, this market isn’t experiencing the heady heydays of the ’60s.
The sport compact market could change this, however, and is on track to dwarf those muscle car days.
Any shop that isn’t looking at this market needs to sit down and think again. The kids who fueled the muscle car era back then are just like the kids who will fuel the sport compact era tomorrow –they’re just a whole generation younger and there’s just a whole lot more of them! I’ll bet every one of you knows at least a neighbor or maybe one of your kid’s friends who has a compact car. I’ll also bet that they have done at least one thing to enhance the performance of that car.
Tom Payn graduated from the General Motors Institute as an engineer, then spent seven years in research and development and design at Kinsler Fuel Injection in Troy, MI. In 2001, he decided to form Payn Technologies when he saw "the need" for a true performance tuner shop specializing in the import market.
Payn Technologies offers everything from performance add-ons to engine building. Working with Dart Manufacturing, Payn helped develop the Dart B series Honda block, a stronger replacement to the standard Honda block, and is currently developing a Honda "crate" motor that will soon be available.
Although the majority of these cars are driven on the street, numerous organizations have popped up to sanction racing of many types. The Sports Car Club of America has had import car classes for many years, probably since the imports first hit U.S. shores. SCCA has a class for just about any car. There are classes where you could drive the car to a race, compete with it, and then drive it back home, or you may have a car that is ultra high-performance that must be towed back and forth. With more than 65,000 members, the SCCA probably has an affiliated club near you, and is a good place to get started in this market.
The National Compact Racing Association was formed in 2002 and is a Canadian based organization. It’s a points series with several classes and is a great place for beginners to start if they’re in or near the NCRA events. The NCRA is a Sport Compact Drag Racing Series.
Even the NHRA has a Sport Compact Drag Racing racing series. NHRA has also recently teamed up with the National Import Racing Association to help expand the series.
The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) reported the sport compact performance market had retail sales of $1.518 billion in 2001 and predicted this market would exceed $2.25 billion in 2002. A recent issue of Import Car magazine reported on the magazine’s "2003 Compact Performance Market Survey."
Some of the highlights of the survey include the fact that 28.6% of respondents currently perform performance modifications at their shop. 12.3% of the survey respondents who indicated they are currently in the market said that 20-30% of their overall shop sales is attributed to import performance work. 7.2% indicated that this volume was 40-50%, while 8% reported the amount at more than 50%. 23% indicated that they have dedicated service bays for this work and 38% said they employ high performance technicians.
While many of you don’t have the facilities to perform "on-car" performance add-ons, if you have a machine shop, are an engine builder, or if maybe you just specialize in one thing, you need to look at this market. If you remember the days when you couldn’t keep up with all the rebuild work that was coming your way 20 or 30 years ago, those days may be here again. No, it won’t be the same engine rebuilds, machine work and valve jobs, but with a few changes in your shop and your focus, you should be able to capitalize on these new, exciting markets.