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County's Prestige Rides Along in Indy 500 : At Least Dozen Firms From World's 'Racing Capital' Represented

May 18, 1986|JEFF ROWE | Jeff Rowe is a free-lance writer

When the green flag flashes next Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, at least a dozen Orange County companies will be watching closely.

That's because engines, airfoils, suspension parts and other components made by these companies will be flying around the 2 1/2-mile oval at better than 200 m.p.h.

Racing is big business in Orange County, and the profusion of racing teams and shops that turn out high performance engines and parts has made the area one of the undisputed centers of speed.

"This is the racing capital of the world," said George Striegel, owner of Clay Smith Cams in Buena Park. Striegel's company builds custom engines for all types of racing in addition to racing cams and high performance engine parts. And like every other racing equipment shop owner, Striegel says his shop is "busier than ever."

Getting a precise figure on the size and scope of the racing industry in Orange County is difficult, but there are at least 35 professional shops and garages in the county. In addition to building muscular engines, sleek frames and racing parts and components of every description, area companies also make roll cages for off-road racers, straighten bent race car frames and perform every conceivable service on just about every wheeled vehicle that races.

Drawn to the Climate

The industry developed here because many of the race car teams were drawn to Southern California's climate. "Most of the people who are into racing live here," said Tim L'Ecluse, owner of Costa Mesa-based D.T. Rollcages, which supplies cages for all types of racing cars.

And now there are so many suppliers and machine shops located in Orange County that most garages can get parts and supplies within hours, shop owners say.

Most racing shops and garages are relatively small operations, like Marc Bahner Racing in Anaheim, whose five-man work force turns out racing chassis, suspension systems and airfoil parts for several different types of race cars.

Automotive Development in Orange, which services and supplies parts for Formula Fords, has three workers in addition to owner Paul White.

"Racing is on the uptrend," said Eric Heisler, a partner in Burns Fabrications, a Costa Mesa shop that specializes in stainless steel exhaust systems for race cars. "Orange County is a good place to be because the money is here."

And money in vast quantities is the fuel that drives competitive racing teams.

Consider these examples:

- A stainless steel header exhaust system for a Trans Am race car, for example, will cost between $1,600 and $3,000, Heisler said. Stainless steel must be used, he said, because the composite steel on a typical street car exhaust system will not withstand the 1,700-degree heat a racing engine develops.

- A new Formula Ford, an entry-level road-racing car, costs about $20,000. Budget an additional $2,000 for each race, advises White.

- Equipping an Indy car with stainless steel hoses and fittings costs $18,000 to $21,000, said George Spiller, sales manager for Torino Motor Racing Ltd. in Orange, which specializes in "competitive plumbing" for race cars. Because so many racing teams live in Southern California, Orange County is "an ideal location" both to get supplies and to deliver finished products, Spiller said.

- Nitromethane, the fuel used by dragsters, apparently has not followed regular gasoline's price descent. The fuel, which is described as "basically liquid dynamite," costs $30 a gallon and a drag-racing car will use 10 gallons on a single 200-plus m.p.h. quarter-mile run.

Dan Gurney's Operation

But those expenses are merely hood ornaments on a multimillion-dollar racing industry in Orange County.

Andial Racing and Dan Gurney's All American Racing, both in Santa Ana, are perhaps the largest racing operations in Orange County.

Except to say that the company "manufactures Indy race cars," All American refused to discuss the company's operations.

Andial, which is owned by three German immigrants, builds engines for all eight Porsche racing teams that compete in the International Motor Sports Assn.'s Camel GT circuit. The racing sector of the company's business is a $700,000 annual enterprise that keeps several mechanics constantly busy during the 18-race season, which stretches from January to December.

The constant quest for more speed means the racing business is as intensely competitive as the races. Company loyalty lasts only as long as the car is competitive, said Al Springer, one of the partners in Andial. "You have to keep doing it better or someone else will come along with something better and poof, they're gone."

Short and Expensive

Like most racing engines, a six-cylinder, 700-horsepower Porsche racing power plant has a useful life shorter than a loaf of bread.

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