Performance Business - May '13

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Automotive Specialists builds complete race engines from start to finish in a 15,000-square-foot facility. Approximately 60 percent of its customers are oval track racers, while the other 40 percent are from other types of motorsports, including road and drag racers, hot rod owners and land speed competitors. several variable compression ratio (VCR) engines for the Department of Energy, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Argonne National Laboratory and Envera Systems. Dorton notes that VCR engines have the same principles of race engines, but the goals are emissions and fuel economy rather than speed. "These are relatively low-rpm and lowhorsepower to what we normally do, but we still work with the same basic tolerances," Dorton says. "Some of the mechanical things about changing the compression ratio while the engine is running are pretty challenging." Automotive Specialists has seen a lot of business from hot rods in the last year. The shop recently worked on a Chevy 283 with four two-barrels that's period-correct from the late 1950s. "I've put together more hot rod engines in the last year than probably in the last 10 years all together," Dorton says. From Start to Finish Although Dorton enjoys the challenge of working on a variety of engines, 30 n Performance Business PBMAY 2.indd 30 n the shop's most common projects involve oval-track V-8s. If Automotive Specialists is building a brand-new engine, the process starts with cylinder block preparation. Then, the right components are selected for the power required, and the durability is confirmed. Dorton says the shop uses past experiences with similar engines to build new ones and sometimes asks for assistance from product manufacturers. The last steps include final machine work, assembly and dyno testing. Engine rebuilds make up the majority of Automotive Specialists' business. "When the engine comes in, we take a number of photographs to make sure that there's no question about accessories, and what's on the engine and what's not. Then we have a check-in sheet we fill out along with that," Dorton says. "Then it's disassembled, inspected, checked for cracks, flaws and so forth. Necessary parts are ordered and replaced." Then, the engine is assembled and dyno-tested. Dorton says Automotive Specialists' biggest achievements include the VCR engines as well as intake manifolds it has designed for Edelbrock and the carburetors it has designed for Holley Performance Products. One of Dorton's current projects is a "sealed engine" developed for oval track racing. Designed to be durable and costeffective, the engines are sealed to prevent modification and can be used for different divisions requiring horsepower restrictions by using different carburetors. Dorton says the engine has greatly exceeded expectations on performance and how long it can run without maintenance. Due to advancements in machining and manufacturing, the shop doesn't stock as much inventory as it once did. The company plans ahead and benefits from the repetition of orders from oval track touring series. Dorton says it does most of its work through contract-type arrangements and never sets an hourly shop rate. "We base all of our prices on what it takes for us to survive," Dorton says. "We've never looked at what somebody else was charging to set our prices, because everybody's different." Although Automotive Specialists continues to regularly update its equipment and facility, Dorton owns two pieces of equipment from the shop's beginnings that are still used on a daily basis. "One machine we have that I bought back then is a connecting rod/piston honing machine, and then we've got a machine that does finish honing on part of the blocks we bought in 1966. Cosmetically, they're looking a little ragged, but so am I," Dorton laughs. No Plans for Retirement One of the challenges Dorton faces is that he's never quite satisfied with what the shop has achieved—he's always looking to get cars around the racetrack a little faster. Other obstacles include keeping cash flowing, being able to pay the bills and managing time. But Dorton says he's fortunate that his family is involved with Automotive Specialists and all get along so well. His wife Patsy has looked over the shop's books May 2013 3/29/13 10:19 AM

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