Although some automotive machine shop owners believe that with engine
life measured in six figures the good days are over, the shops that
continuously seek out new markets that parallel their talents and
abilities will continue to survive. Those shops willing to invest the
time and effort to find those markets will find that the opportunities
today are every bit as plentiful as those in the so called "heydays" of
this business. But the shops that sit back hoping for a return to those
days will not survive.
Although there are always new opportunities in the automotive market,
it is the "Show and Go" market that will dwarf anything we have seen in
the past. This market includes pretty much anything that is modified in
any way, or has been purpose-built for motorsport competition or show
competition. The list is virtually endless: just fire up the TV and
check out the variety of automotive related programming on dozens of
Along with the huge variety of actual racing, there are also programs
like American Hot Rod and American Chopper. Then there are programs
like Street Tuner, Pinks, Motorweek, Car Crazy, American Muscle,
Classic Cars, TRUCKS! and Trick My Truck, as well as dozens of others.
Remember your first car? You know, that 1957 Chevrolet Belair Hardtop
that you bought for $250 and later sold for $175 so you could buy the
’65 Pontiac LeMans 326 with the 4-speed? If you have watched another
popular automotive show, The Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction on SPEED, you
might know that restored, that ’57 Chevrolet would fetch well over
The popularity of these shows has breathed new life into consumer
interest in owning, building, collecting, racing or restoring just
about anything automotive. This popularity has created tremendous
opportunities for the automotive machine shop industry.
As an engine rebuilder, you’ll find plenty of opportunity in the
performance and restoration markets. As a machine shop with some
production capabilities, particularly if you own CNC equipment, you
could be producing replica or custom parts for many of these markets.
To give you an idea of the unlimited opportunities out there, I will
tell you what one particular shop has been doing for nearly 20 years.
Mark Staab of Staab Machine in Marshfield, WI, started out building
racing engines and small parts in his spare time in the garage behind
his home. A decade ago, he built a brand new shop, taking his growing
business to the next level.
Over the years, Staab has continued to be innovative, always quick to
grab onto new technology and ideas. He has stayed ahead of most shops
in his use of the Internet to promote the company, its capabilities and
While his staff does some industrial work, most of their efforts are in
the motorsport market. While they have been involved in kart racing and
circle track racing, their biggest passion has been in the tractor
pulling market. Currently, they can do a complete turnkey pulling
tractor, from construction of the chassis, to the building of the
engine, intake system, fuel system, driveline and exhaust system. The
pulling tractors of today are as technologically advanced as any Champ
Car or NASCAR stock car – in some respects, maybe even more so.
About ten years ago, Staab designed a cylinder head for diesel-powered
pulling tractors in an effort to help keep up with the alcohol-powered
tractors that were taking over the division. His unique innovation was
to remove the row of head bolts on the intake side of the head. These
bolts were located partially in the runners, which limited airflow. By
moving the bolts away from the runners, he was able to increase airflow
These days, the design and manufacture of pulling heads for
diesel-powered tractors continues to be a big part of Staab’s business.
And in addition to him, there are several manufacturers that design and
build custom heads for the pulling market as well. The cost for these
heads range from $12,000 to more than $16,000.
About six years ago, a big problem began to pop up with the blocks used
in high performance pulling competition. Competitors were pushing them
so hard that the blocks began to come apart on a regular basis. Because
the rules prevent the use of aftermarket blocks, another solution had
to be found to keep these blocks together.
Girdle plates had been used on the bottom of the blocks for years to
keep them together horizontally, but now they were coming apart
vertically. Staab designed a tie-bar system that utilized a newly
designed girdle plate, another design that was highly successful.
Staab has designed and manufactured some of the finest piping systems
for the exhaust systems, intake systems, and turbo systems for pulling
tractors. These systems are all a critical part of the performance of a
pulling tractor, particularly those tractors that are allowed multiple
Staab even manufactures valve covers, cam covers, shifter levers,
rocker arms, rods, and nearly any part used on a competition vehicle
that they can utilize their CAD/CAM to design and then manufacture on
their CNC machines. Staab’s son Eric is the CAD/CAM designer and CNC
A new market Staab has begun working with is the highly popular custom
motorcycle building market. They have been designing and manufacturing
custom billet aluminum parts for several builders.
Staab isn’t afraid to try just about anything to keep is business
growing. Of course, not all the things he has tried have been
successful, but he contends that if you never try anything new because
you’re afraid of failure, you will never grow.
Staab’s newest venture is building component chassis for the pulling
market. In the past, tractor pullers would modify a stock tractor
chassis for use as a pulling machine. However, because of the
tremendous increase in the performance and horsepower of these
machines, the stock, cast chassis are no longer safe. The rules now
allow for tube-frame chassis, just like those used in NASCAR or the
While Staab Machine may be somewhat unique in its approach, at least
some of these ideas should plant at least one seed of an idea in all of
you. For the most part, I don’t recommend shops to be as diversified as
Staab Machine is, but it does show that the opportunities out there are
as unlimited as they have ever been. It’s up to you to find those niche
markets that will keep your business successful now and into the