THE SHOP

Performance Business - May '13

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He attended college at what was then a small regional school, presently the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Although he learned valuable skills like mechanical drawing and how to operate a slide rule, Dorton says he didn't acquire a degree and wishes he would have gone further with his education. "For one thing, it probably would have saved me a lot of money," Dorton laughs. "When you have to learn things by trial and error, it can get very expensive." When asked about Automotive Specialists' very first paying customer, legendary NASCAR driver Ralph Earnhardt, Dorton recalls a good friend and advisor. "It was a little intimidating because he was a well-known guy and I thought, 'Gosh, what if I screw something up?' We became very good friends; he advised me a lot," Dorton says. Earnhardt's son Dale Earnhardt Sr. drove some of Automotive Specialist's race cars, and the shop eventually built engines for Dale Earnhardt Jr. as well. Dorton says Ralph Earnhardt was a customer of Automotive Specialists when the shop was one of the few in the area. And although textiles were once the most prominent industry in his hometown— employing Dorton's father and several members of his family—the racing and motorsports industry has become a focal point of the area these days. Automotive Specialists now operates with a staff of four, but had as many as 12 employees at one point. Over the years the company has lost people to NASCAR teams with abundant resources and sponsorships as the racing industry continues to thrive. Dorton's brother, who had been working at Automotive Specialists since he was a pre-teen, became a head engine builder for Hendrick Motorsports, which is also based in Concord. Other Automotive Specialists' engine builders eventually left to work for teams from Junior Johnson to Penske Racing. "Back here, the NASCAR teams had a lot of resources," Dorton says. "The more cars they added on, the more personnel they needed. It only made sense for them to pay one of our guys probably double or more than I could possibly pay them." The shop later moved from a 7,500square-foot building to the purpose-built facility where Automotive Specialists has been housed for 13 years. Dorton's son Jeff, Whether it's from Ford, Chevrolet or Chrysler, or whether it's for NASCAR, a Midget car or a hot rod, the company doesn't discriminate when it comes to engines. May 2013 PBMAY 2.indd 27 n Performance Business n 27 3/29/13 10:10 AM

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