A few weeks ago, I got into a conversation via social media with sprint car engine builder Steven Hogue. He was in Akron, IN and I was in Akron, OH, but thanks to Facebook, it was like we were sitting across from each other at our favorite local watering hole doing some bench racing.
Despite what Steven and several other top race engine builders said in our December issue (about there being no off season, a great article penned by Engine Builder Managing Editor Greg Jones) it turned out to be a slow Friday night in both the Kaufman and the Hogue households and we spent the next few hours trading messages about crazy customer experiences.
It all started when Steven posted a picture of two pistons that looked like they had been pecked at by the most desperate woodpecker you can imagine. He had this recommendation for his customers: “When putting your carburetors on for this season, please check that your carb base screws are tight.”
Unfortunately, such advice isn’t always heeded. “This engine came in for a rebuild,” Steven told me. “We called the customer and asked him to check his screws… Yep… He was missing a couple. He ended up bringing the carb in so we could get him the ‘correct’ screws to go back in it.”
A happy ending for both parties in this case, but then Steven proceeded to pull more stories out of the “You Gotta Be Kidding Me” file.
“I’ve got pictures at the shop of an engine in which mice actually climbed up in the headers,” he says. “The exhaust valve was open and they packed the whole cylinder full of birdseed. When the customer went to start the car for the season it actually compacted all the birdseed and stuck in the chamber of the head and wouldn’t let the engine turn over!”
Of course, you can’t always blame the little critters – sometimes the big ones are the main problem.
“We had another sprint car engine customer who shoved rags down the injection holes for the winter and then when the season started again he forgot to pull them back out and he shoved the stacks back in and tried starting the car – not surprisingly, with no luck.”
One story led to another and they kept coming – and I kept laughing.
Hogue says he and his father Bruce (last year’s Performance Engine Builder of the Year finalist, of course) always tape up any open spot in the engine after they have assembled it. “That way, when the customer picks it up if he leaves it in his garage nothing can get in there (again…mice?). We had a customer call and say that he could not get water to fill in his engine after hooking the radiator and hoses up to it. Since he never removed the duct tape from the water pump, the engine was sealed off from letting any water flow into it.”
Of course, you celebrate with your customers when they win, you commiserate with them when they lose and you talk about them when they do something goofy. Since we love those stories as much as anybody, I’d like to invite you to submit the funniest to us at Engine Builder. Call, email or write and we’ll start a regular segment of the magazine called “Your Customer Did WHAT?!?” to share as many of your stories as we can.
And hey, since none of us is perfect, if you can laugh at yourself, tell us about the times you may have been less than efficient in the shop. We’ve got some Engine Builder swag that we’ll send your way for the really good ones!
Keep up the great work – and sympathize with your customers. As Steven Hogue points out, sometimes they really DO have a few screws loose. n