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Dirt Track Dollars In the Shop and On the Track With Malcuit Racing Engines
By Doug Kaufman
It’s sometimes said that racers have motor oil or high octane racing fuel in their blood. Fearless drivers are accused of having ice-water running through their veins. For Strasburg, OH’s Brad Malcuit, the most likely ingredient pumping through his bloodstream is dirt, a fact he’ll happily attribute to family heritage.
Malcuit is owner of Malcuit’s Racing Engines, a high performance custom engine shop located just south of Canton, OH. The shop’s history is muddy — with good reason.
"My father was in construction," explains Malcuit. "Beginning in 1959, we started doing excavation and ‘dirt work,’ including building about 12 miles of nearby I-77 of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System and other roads in our area. My dad always liked racing and encouraged us to do it, so my brother and I got into racing in high school.
From working in the dirt on the highway projects to working the fast line in the dirt at local race tracks, Malcuit discovered he had a natural talent for driving. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get engines good enough for his skills.
"Back in the early ’70s, there weren’t very many places I felt I could buy good race motors," he recalls. "Shops tended to take advantage of us and I felt if I wanted it done right, I’d have to do it myself."
After building motors for his own racing efforts, Malcuit developed a reputation for quality. In 1974, he bought a race car chassis from racing veteran Ed Howe (Howe Racing Enterprises) and, in return, built a motor for Howe’s car.
"Like the rest of us, Ed had been buying motors from all over the place, but had been having so much trouble finding one that was reliable. Luckily, he won with the motor he bought from me," says Malcuit.
Once his reputation started to spread, Malcuit was forced to make a decision about his career. "I used to race a lot, but once we found a demand for our services, it got to the point where I had to quit most racing just to keep up with the business," he says.
Although he focused more on the building side of the business, Malcuit was reluctant to give up the thrill of the race entirely. "I used to race full time, but I quit that several times, just going back part time every once in awhile. But I haven’t driven for about a year and a half now," he explains.
Don’t think he’s abandoned the nights at the race track, though. Malcuit Racing Engines is one of the primary sponsors of Steve Shaver Racing, out of Parkersburg, WV. Shaver’s number 30 late model modified Monte Carlo competes in dirt track competition on the STAR S National Dirt Car racing circuit and the UDTRA (United Dirt Track Racing Association) Series.
Thanks in large part to Malcuit’s engine building expertise, Shaver has four event wins in 2001 and stands fifth in STARS points and 16th in UDTRA points (as of 10/31/2001). But the No. 30 car isn’t Malcuit’s only customer.
Teams from as far away as Maryland, Minnesota and North Dakota rely on Malcuit engines to power their racing efforts. "We build mostly for other teams all over the United States," explains Malcuit. "Nearly 75 percent of our engines are small-block Chevys, all-aluminum, ranging in size from 360 c.i.d. to 430 c.i.d. But we also do some Mopar stuff and a good deal of Ford engines."
One of Malcuit’s customers who races with a Ford engine has won the most races on the East Coast this season. And part of his Mopar involvement this season came factory-direct.
"We did a project engine for Dodge Motorsports for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at the beginning of the season," Malcuit says. "Dodge took it around to give to the various teams to use for testing. The folks at Dodge liked it — everything turned out real well."
Malcuit explains that the engine was built to Dodge Motorsports’ exact specification. "They designed the program so that teams could see that any good engine builder could build a competitive racing motor by following the factory specifications. It was a very good engine."
Malcuit has built engines for NASCAR competition in the past and wouldn’t rule out further involvement with teams. However, his calendar is booked currently and he says he doesn’t see any letup soon.
Malcuit says his shop builds 125 to 140 engines per year. "Right now we have 14 engines done, ready to go to their owners, and I think we’re about 18 motors behind. Come February, we’ll have 30 engines on the floor with another 30 or 40 to build.
"Actually, that number includes both new and rebuilt engines," Malcuit continues. "We’re constantly taking in old engines and freshening them. Racers in our classes can’t usually afford to just discard an engine. Our role, in many cases, is just to help our customers take care of what they have."
The production process at Malcuit’s follows a prescribed path through the shop. It starts in the back of the building, where engines are brought in through an overhead door and mounted on engine stands for teardown, cleaning and inspection.
The teardown crew utilizes a Grease Monkey ultrasonic cleaner, a spray washer and a solvent tank to clean the parts and engines, but Malcuit believes there is nothing better than good old fashioned elbow grease. "There’s no getting around it. It takes longer and it’s more expensive, but it’s the only way to get it as clean as we need."
"You’ve got to have your hands on so many different things, which is one of the reasons it’s so hard to make money — it takes two to three hours to clean some of this stuff," he says.
Following a thorough cleaning, Malcuit inspects each engine with a magnetic particle inspection system. Cracks are repaired, if possible, and the engine is moved up into the machining area where the process of restoring power begins.
"We have the capability to do everything in house except for crank grinding," says Malcuit. "Although these motors don’t normally need to have the cranks ground, we occasionally send them to Brewster Crankshaft," a local vendor with whom Malcuit has a long relationship.
Although Malcuit says his shop is fully equipped to make most components used in the engines ("We developed our own intake manifold a few years ago and we still manufacture them.") the shop buys most all of its performance parts from top brand suppliers. However, building winning race motors requires more than just slapping in new parts and heading back to the track, Malcuit cautions.
"We don’t buy a single thing that we don’t have to remachine to meet our tolerance requirements," he explains. "We blueprint all of our engines. That way, we increase the team’s chance for success and decrease the likelihood of having a problem."
The assembly rooms at Malcuit’s are at the extreme front of the shop, well away from the machining area. And like the rest of the shop, the assembly rooms are kept spotless to support the most critical assembly procedures.
"We do keep the place extremely clean," says Malcuit. "It’s important to the customers because we’re working on their high dollar motors; it’s important to our employees, because you have to have a good work environment or people don’t want to be here; and it’s important to your machines. The more you take care of your equipment, the longer it will last."
Malcuit says that when he opened this particular building in 1976, he had two goals: to provide the best engines he could and to keep his equipment as up to date as possible. He’s still committed to both ideals.
"Every year we try to buy something new to replace an old piece of equipment or upgrade it," Malcuit explains. "The equipment is so good that if you buy the right machines and take care of them, they’ll last 20 years and still look as good as new. Right now, we’re about at the point where everything has been updated. There’s not much more we need right now."
Engine performance is verified in the shop’s dyno room, using a time-consuming testing procedure that Malcuit feels is absolutely critical. "We dyno every engine we build — a process of at least a day-and-a-half. We spend three hours putting the engine on the dyno, then we get it started, run it for a half-hour and then shut it down for the night. The next morning, we retorque all the bolts, and take a couple of power runs on it."
Malcuit concedes that he could send an engine on its way with only a 4-5 hour dyno procedure but feels that it might be hazardous to his business.
The main reason he does it, he says, is so that, when the engine leaves the shop, he can guarantee there’s nothing wrong with it.
"Number one, it’s a guarantee for us, but also for the customer. Customers will get something and then shoot themselves in the foot because they don’t understand it. We feel confident that when it leaves here, there won’t be any problems. Most problems are caused during an improper installation."
To ensure that the customer will have as little potential for problems as possible, engines are optimized for use with the customers’ own components. "We make sure everything is checked, installed and ready to go," explains Malcuit. "We go over it all – we take the customer’s carburetor, checking to be sure it’s jetted correctly, and the timing is all set. When the engine is delivered, it may still be a used motor, but it’s had everything done to it that a new one would."
That, says Malcuit, is one of the realities his customers must accept – it usually costs almost as much to rebuild an old motor that won’t give the durability of a new one. Still, Malcuit says he gives even the aging powerplants their best chance at Victory Lane.
Convincing the customer that his expertise is a valuable resource is sometimes difficult, Malcuit explains. But, just as his motors allow consistent laps, Malcuit’s shop has shown similar consistency of professionalism. While his approach to business hasn’t changed over the years, Malcuit says he has noticed a shift in the attitudes of teams at the track.
Much of the change, he believes, is directly attributable to the popularity of NASCAR competition. "People read magazines and watch television – they see what NASCAR teams are doing and they want to transfer that technology over to their Saturday night racing. The only problem is, NASCAR Winston Cup teams have multi-million dollar budgets."
Malcuit acknowledges that the big budgets and primetime exposure have helped racing in at least one respect. "It’s brought new development that we wouldn’t have been able to afford to do," he explains. "But at the same time there’s a price for that knowledge. We end up passing the research cost on to the average guy — it makes it expensive but the result is a better product."
"Racing has gotten to be so big it’s unbelievable," Malcuit says. "There are more races now than you can afford. When I started racing, we never started until the week before Memorial Day and we’d end at Labor Day. Now, we start in January and end in November. There really is no off season."
This expanded season is a double-edged sword. It’s great for business, but it can be difficult for teams and suppliers. Serving the racer means being available when needed. Even Malcuit’s shop has faced the challenge of balancing building and racing.
"For the past three years, we’ve worked four, 10-hour shifts," Malcuit explains, "because a lot of the people who work for me race and they were always wanting Fridays off. It’s good because they're racers and they take a little more pride in what they are doing — they know how hard it is themselves. That helps us with customer service to be out with the racers. This has allowed us to race more and be out in the field on Fridays instead of here."
To Malcuit, service means being available when needed with parts as well as technical expertise. "Normally our customers have what they’ll need at the track, but we’ll also have some backup parts just in case they need something. It's gotten to the point where a lot of the teams have a spare car with them."
While Malcuit laments the simplicity of the "good old days," he says he recognizes the physical comforts afforded by better-equipped race teams. "When I started racing," he recalls, "I used a pickup truck with an open trailer. There are times I think that was better. It just keeps escalating to the point where people are complaining about $7,000 to fix the motor, yet they pull into the pits with a $250,000 truck and trailer, with two cars and $400,000 of equipment. Of course, there are guys with open trailers and pickup trucks who win races too — you don’t have to have all the bells and whistles; it just makes it simpler, easier to do and more comfortable."
Another change Malcuit has viewed with mixed emotions involves team sponsors. Bigger potential payouts mean more competition, which means more money is required to build competitive engines. His racing team is in a constant search for sponsors, a struggle he says he knows he shares with his fellow competitors.
"There’s a lot of competition for the sponsorship dollars that are out there," he explains. "And most of our sponsors aren’t the big national companies you see on TV each week. Most competitors spend their own money to race, but we need a couple of larger sponsors as well."
His team provides potential sponsors a great deal of exposure, Malcuit says. "We’ve run 53 races this year, and several have been televised. There’s a lot of opportunity for exposure with a limited monetary investment.
"We have the door open," Malcuit says. "It’s just not opened wide enough yet."
Just as his search for new team sponsors continues, Malcuit’s commitment to his existing customer base has remained unchanged. "I don’t want to get much bigger. At this point, I can keep track personally of what’s going on in the shop. We’re more interested in high quality than high volume. We’d rather make sure things are done right than have an assembly line mentality," he says.
"Our motto has always been to honestly give the absolute best product you can for a reasonable price," Malcuit concludes. "That’s what we’ve done and that’s why we’re still in business while some others aren’t."