Editor’s note: When you speak with Kasey Slemmon, VP of Southern California’s Esslinger Engineering, it’s clearly obvious how he feels about his company’s involvement in racing. On a personal note, I’ve experienced the multiple benefits of designing and producing racing products when you are in a position to control virtually all aspects of the evolutionary process. As you read into this visit with Kasey, you’ll see how Esslinger literally fits into this mode of operation. In addition, he makes some well-focused points.
How healthy do you believe the engine builder market is right now and are you experiencing growth or just maintaining market share?
From our perspective, about five years ago the overall economy had a definite impact on the racing community, in a negative sense. However, since then we’ve seen an improvement in not only the national economy but gains in our sales activities. Right now, I’d say our business is the best it’s been in five years. Keep in mind that we build and sell a variety of race engine components, in addition to the complete packages that we produce. Of course, and I think this applies to a broader segment of motorsports, racers are going to find ways to pay for the equipment they need to go racing. It’s pretty much been that way for a long time.
Are you seeing new technologies appearing in the parts that you use and, if so or not, how do you account for this?
Esslinger Engineering may be a bit different from many engine builders because we design and build quite a number of the parts we use. For example, the Ford cylinder head we sell for the 2.0L and 2.3L OHC, 4-cylinder engine was designed by our engineering staff, we make all the pattern equipment necessary for the casting and then perform all machining operations. This enables us to not only keep overall costs in line but also maintain a high degree of control over the product’s quality and performance. Shops that utilize multiple outside sources have less control over the ultimate price of a product because all these exterior suppliers need to make a profit as well, so end-product pricing is not as easily controlled. As far as seeing new technologies coming into being, we’re continually researching ways to update and refine everything we build, so at least to us, this is an ongoing challenge that only benefits our customers.
In order to meet the power levels required in the engines you build (or rebuild) is it necessary to modify the parts you use or do they pretty much work right out of the box, so to speak?
As I mentioned, we design and build many of the parts we use. However, when we do rely on outside suppliers, like JE Pistons for example, they will typically build to our specifications. I think this goes on frequently in these type relationships between engine builders and certain suppliers. But again, I want to emphasize that we do a good amount of internal engineering for all the reasons we just spoke about.
What role do you see EFI having in the various circle track applications, both now and going forward?
I think it’s inevitable, and we’ve had some experience with this on some of our engines. However, there are still fathers tuning on their son’s cars that grew up racing with carburetors, so they’re comfortable with them. My view is that we’re probably a generation away from seeing EFI becoming of any significance in racing, certainly in a number of circle track classes. And I’m aware there is some cost associated with making the conversion from carburetors to EFI, but when you look at the long-term benefits of EFI, particularly parts durability (cylinder to cylinder), I think there should be fewer concerns about the cost aspect. There’s also the benefit of being able to tune engines more quickly than with carburetors. As the younger people continue to grow into circle track racing, their familiarity with computers should help broaden the application of EFI. Plus, sanctioning bodies who adjust rules to allow EFI will aid as well.
As more is learned about the pros and cons of using E85 in the place of conventional racing gasoline, do you forecast its increased use or not?
In my opinion, I think we need to learn more about using E85. There’s a vast difference in setting up and tuning a race engine using E85, compared to one running race gas. Ultimately, I believe there would be a cost savings but you can easily damage an engine by improper use of this fuel. I recall that Silver Crown racers lost a number of engines from what I think was a lack of experience calibrating engines on E85. There’s obviously less heat content in the fuel, so it requires a greater volume than gasoline. This increase in consumed fuel can affect lubrication efficiency, plus there’s the corrosion issue. So I just believe both engines builders and racers need more time to understand all the ramifications, although some are probably good, when switching from gasoline to E85.
Given the current status of circle track racing and the role your business plays in that community, what are your plans for the next five or more years?
First of all, you have to have a passion for doing what we do. And because we have that passion, we’re continually working to improve everything in which we’re involved. We have a hard-working staff that enjoys being together. We help each other do what we do. As a result, in our ongoing efforts to improve, we’ve ended up with development programs that not only support growth but are reflected in the quality of the engines and parts we produce. You see it throughout the company, and it’s for these reasons that I see us continuing to grow as impacted, of course, by the health of our overall economy.
What rules or rules changes do you think would benefit circle track racing the most?
You know, we frequently hear about what the sanctioning bodies should do to improve this segment of racing. And there’s probably a variety of areas they might address. I mean, we are always trying to find ways to reduce the cost of racing, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially if the quality of racing and competition doesn’t suffer. But there’s one area that we believe would make a difference. It has to do with allowing higher quality parts to be used, particularly in critical areas of these engines. I know it may make economic sense to require less expensive components, but sometimes the initial cost of parts isn’t the complete picture. Here’s an example. Let’s say we’re required to use cast crankshafts. There’s an initial cost savings when compared to a billet crank. But suppose the crank can’t handle the torque and breaks. Now you stand the chance of losing the block, heads, rods and pistons. So I ask, how “inexpensive” was that cast crank? The racer ends up spending much more money rebuilding or having the engine rebuilt when, in fact, the additional cost of a billet crank in the first place pales when compared to what he pays for a fresh engine. In addition, if the rules still call for a cast crank, the racer is right back where he started in terms of risk level to have the engine destroyed again. I think the sanctioning bodies might find that consulting with leading engine builders when they’re writing these type rules for a perspective that may be better for the racer, certainly in the long term.
Over time, it’s been observed that race engine shops that exhibit the longevity of an Esslinger Engineering have learned how to apply their trade in a fashion that promotes good customer relationships, competitive engines and parts, and peels away some of the unnecessary steps and can reduce the racing experience. Having the desire and abilities to combine many of the steps that are required, and doing them in house, has its benefits.
For more information on Esslinger Engineering, including their history, principle products and services, we encourage you to visit www.esslingerengineering.com.