If you’re into racing and high-horsepower engines, you’ve no doubt heard Mike Moran’s name. We were first introduced to Mike and his engine shop, Moran Motorsports in Taylor, MI, when he was finishing up a first-of-its-kind engine build back in 2018. That engine, known as the Motor City Billet Bullet, is a 5,200-horsepower all-billet race engine that took nine years to complete due to it requiring a number of things that didn’t yet exist. For use in Moran’s personal Outlaw Pro Mod racecar, the engine obviously features a number of unique elements.
To understand why Moran decided to build an engine that had never been built before, and why Mike’s shop does any of the extremely high caliber work that it does, you have to get to know a little more about the engine builder himself. It’ll also help explain why Moran Motorsports has been named Engine Builder’s 2021 America’s Best Race Engine Shop, sponsored by Autolite.
In the late-‘80s around Detroit, Moran was heavily involved in street racing. He honed his craft, getting better and better, faster and faster, and his competitiveness grew. After placing fifth in a national Hot Rod magazine street racing competition in Memphis in 1992, Moran decided designing and building engines would be his life.
“I got the bug and then never went back to the streets again after that,” Moran says. “I started competing and building. At the same time, I was still working full time as an aircraft mechanic, but I formed Moran Motorsports in ‘94 because it was going so well.”
Moran kept his job as an aircraft mechanic and ran Moran Motorsports until 2000 when the engine business was growing too much to only devote some of his time to it. It was also around this time that Moran decided he wouldn’t focus on winning championships, but rather on being first to break industry barriers.
“When we started racing, we realized we can’t chase championships because you’ve got to go to every single race and I worked full-time jobs,” Moran says. “So, we just started going after barriers and breaking barriers – being the first at things. We had a long line of accolades and things we were first at.”
Moran Motorsports first took up shop in a one-car garage. Later, the business grew to a two-car garage and then a 4,000 sq.-ft. facility. In 2012, Moran moved five buildings down the street to a 24,000 sq.-ft. facility where the business operates today.
“It’s been kind of a crazy ride,” he says. “I never ever thought that we would be where we’re at now.”
Moran’s business is divided into two – Moran Motorsports and Moran Racing Engines – one handles the design side and the other builds the actual race engines The two sides of the business fall under the same umbrella and focus on specialty builds.
“We definitely pick and choose what we want to do because it’s got to be something that is not standard,” Moran says. “We’ll do a standard motor for a good customer if they want a really nice piece, but we’re more into doing what can’t be done. That’s what we like.”
“Efficiency within the shop is an evolution that never stops,” he says. “I think that until the day I’m gone, I’ll always be evolving and trying to make things better and easier to do, but there’s no cookie cutter stuff here. I can say that in anything we do, we want to be the best at it.”
Part of that evolution not only involves the engines themselves, but also manufacturing components such as Moran’s new line of methanol injectors for high-horsepower drag race applications.
“We noticed from a reliability standpoint, drag racing is a very harsh environment,” he says. “Methanol is like acid for fuel. It’s such a high oxygenated fuel that it likes to corrode things and jam them up, so we designed something for durability. If you get an injector failure at that high horsepower, it’s an immediate explosion or meltdown.
“We’ve been designing and building these injectors for the last four years. This year, we’re now to the point where we can say we got a bulletproof fuel injector. We have a patent on the design of the disbursement of fuel, and it’s also about the regenerative seat in the injector, and ours doesn’t fail under normal conditions with methanol, which is the biggest problem with everything else out there. We can flow up to 1,000-lbs. an hour and as small as 500-lbs. an hour, but the biggest thing is it’s durable and it’s got a superior spray pattern.”
Another new development in 2021 for Moran Motorsports has been a first-of-its-kind, 8,000-horsepower-capable hub dyno, which the shop collaborated on with Mainline Dynamometers. Moran even expanded the building in order to house the new dyno setup.
“That’d be the third time in seven years we’ve expanded the building,” he says. “The owners of Mainline said that they’re going to announce this dyno at PRI, but this dyno was built almost a year ago now, and it was the first one they’ve ever done for 8,000 horsepower instead of 6,000.”
It’s just another example in a long line of examples of how Moran Motorsports continues to push the envelope and raise the bar other shops can only follow.
“If you asked me a year or two ago, I wouldn’t have thought I’d be doing what I’m doing now,” Moran says. “Every year it just seems like we surprise ourselves. It just keeps evolving into something bigger and bigger, and I don’t want to put a limit on anything that we’re going to do because the next year it’s always something we never thought we’d be doing.
“Everybody we have here is literally family. We’re made up of different people from all different walks of life, but we’ve all made a home together here and it’s a really, really upbeat atmosphere. Everybody feeds off the other one for motivation and it’s just a really happy place to work. Everybody really loves coming to work here and that usually produces better work.”
The one thing still missing from Mike Moran’s devotion to racing and performance is the occasional day off to go racing himself, which he says is getting closer by the day.
“I think the biggest thing is making sure that everybody is able to do their job and do it without me here, because that’s what I’ve been working toward for the past 10 years,” he says. “It’d be nice to actually have a day off – maybe even a vacation, who knows? I’m getting to the point where if I wasn’t here or if I was sick, things wouldn’t fall apart.
“It sure would be nice in the not-too-distant future to actually break away for a week and go racing. I’ve had that new car for 6-7 years, and if it keeps going on track the way it is, I think this place could miss me for a week where I could go racing again.”
For the time being, Moran says he’s honored his shop has been named Engine Builder’s 2021 America’s Best Race Engine Shop, sponsored by Autolite.
“It’s an honor to get it, and I want to make sure that we uphold those reasons we won,” Moran says. “We’re going to strive to get better every year and not just stay the same. This is something I won’t soon forget – I really appreciate this. In my eyes, I don’t know if it’s because I’m so close to it, but sometimes it feels that I’m desensitized to everything we do. Sometimes you feel like it’s not something that you deserve, but I appreciate a vote of confidence and I’ll try to make folks proud in whatever we do.” EB