EM: Jon, you've had a background in racing for a long time. How did that transition into becoming a parts manufacturer?
Jon: We built race engines forever and at some point developed a recognized enough name that I wanted to start selling a few parts to supplement the racing income. In the racing business, you really need more than one profit center. For one thing, it is very seasonable. One of the things that really got us going was the P51 cylinder head for the Ford big-block.
EM: Did you start out building engines for racers before getting into manufacturing parts?
Jon: From 1977 to 1979, I worked for Dyno Don Nickelson. I was the crew chief and built engines. From 1979 on, I opened my own shop building race engines for mostly Pro Stock cars.
EM: How did the race engine building transition into making parts?
Jon: One of the things that happened is I was working with Ford in those days. I was involved with JMP in producing the Super Cobra Jet heads for Ford. I did the design and testing for that project. Ford didn't even know it was coming. I just made a lot of changes and improvements to the big-block head, and I showed it to Ford and told them all the dyno stuff. They tested it on their own and were really happy with it. They bought it from us, and we were producing it for Ford. Eventually, Ford found someone to produce the head at a lower cost than we could do it. At that point, we said the heck with it; we did some improvements on the head and built new patterns and came out with our own head called the P51 and started selling them ourselves.
EM: What were the difficulties in transitioning from making the heads for Ford to selling them yourselves?
Jon: Really, it was mostly just getting the word out that we had a nice cylinder head. We did a little advertising, but one of the magazines picked it up and gave us publicity. We had a presence on some of the Internet sites, plus word of mouth worked to make people aware of what we were doing early on. The P51 has always sold pretty good, and it always sells a little more every year. The heads work well on a standard bore engine, and with a racier combination like a 540-cid engine we tested, we've gotten 940 hp through them with no porting to the head or manifold.
EM: From the P51, you have progressed to making other parts. Can you give us some insight on the chronology of developing other parts?
Jon: We started making an oil pump because all of the pumps on the market are copies of the factory pump, and the factory pumps break off. They resonate and break, and that is a real problem. We came out with a small-block cylinder head that we sold through Jegs. It was a canted valve head that fits a Windsor block. It looks like a Windsor head, and the exhaust and intake bolts on. That program evolved to the P38 small-block head we sell now, but I have to say it remains a product line we are yet to really ramp up.
EM: What was the next big move into manufacturing?
Jon: I didn't have a big plan spelled out, but the next thing we did was the Boss 429. I was driving home from the Engine Masters competition back in 2007, and I thought, I'd like to run a Boss 429 in the Engine Masters Challenge. A lot of the stuff we build is similar to the Ford Boss, and we used the passenger car Boss 429 parts back in the 1980s. I have been working on these engines for over 30 years. The factory Ford heads are pretty weak, and they are not good performance heads—they fall apart and crack.
I figured that if I was going to run a Boss in the Engine Masters, I would have to build our own heads. It was only about two weeks after the Engine Masters competition, and I had already met with the pattern makers. We started doing a bunch of testing. We built the prototype heads and started doing a bunch of dyno work and figured it all out. Then I had patterns built for production. We updated the porting and the chamber, but we kept true to the exterior appearance and the positioning of the original heads.