Editor’s note: I met Jack Rhoads in 1967 when his father, James, conceived of a then-revolutionary way to vary valve timing as a function of engine speed. Today the concept is as valid as it was back then . . . as are Jack’s thoughts and observations.
Rhoads Lifters has been in business for almost 50 years. And in that time you’ve probably seen a range of changes within the high-performance and racing communities. Which do you think are the most significant?
In particular, I think that among the changes we’ve observed over time have been those that helped make the racing industry more affordable. That is not to say that racing is inexpensive, but it also relies on the type and level of racing involved. In circle track applications, for instance, limitations on cam size, engine vacuum, engine compression, and related areas have kept the price of racing down so that the common shade-tree mechanic can compete. Fortunately, many race sanctioning organizations have worked to either reduce the cost of racing by certain rules and categories or recognized that there must be entry-level classes in which a racer can not only compete but also have a good chance at being competitive.
Briefly describe how the Rhoads lifter concept works and if there are any limitations to what can be expected by the use or these parts.
Rhoads Lifters vary the cam (valve) timing by reducing the effective lift and duration at the lower end of the rpm scale, and then restoring the full lift and duration on the top. This is accomplished via a precision, patented internal groove. At lower rpm, oil is bled away, reducing the total lift at the valve by approximately 0.020 inch and reducing duration by approximately 15 degrees. This increases low-end torque and engine vacuum. The idle is also noticeably improved. At higher rpm, the lifter has less time to leak, restoring the full lift and duration at approximately 3,500 to 4,000 rpm. Because of the internal leakage system, engine rpm is also increased beyond what is capable with conventional hi-performance hydraulic lifters. I suppose, as is the case with many beneficial concepts, the idea is quite simple. And while it took some time and inventiveness to perfect the idea, it’s pretty amazing how just dropping in a special set of valve lifters can make such a difference. For a circle track application, having a broader, flatter torque curve translates into good off-the-corner power that can last all the way to the flag stand.
What motivated you and your brother to enter the hydraulic camshaft valve lifter marketplace? Was this an innovation that you discovered by accident or was there a plan to meet certain objectives that you still reach out to today?
Actually, it was entirely my dad’s idea. My father, James E. Rhoads, came up with the concept back in 1967. While he made his living laying and finishing hardwood floors, he was really an inventor at heart and was gifted with a keen mechanical mind. My brother Gary and I were the most interested at the time, so we did what we could to promote his idea. I will admit that it took some time to develop awareness of the idea in the high-performance street market, at the time, but once engine builders and enthusiasts began to experience the benefits, it took off, to the point that we still have a strong market presence today.
Looking forward, what is your vision for the performance automotive aftermarket?
To my mind, the biggest obstacle to aftermarket automotive performance and racing is government regulation. Overpowering regulations can cripple any industry, so it is important that the performance and racing industries do all they can to keep that from happening. I may be short sited but 50 years from now, if overregulation doesn’t eliminate it all together, I think the performance industry will look much like it does today. With regard to racing, I think it’s fair to say that the governing bodies impact the racers not dissimilar to how government affects the high-performance parts manufacturer and consumer. However, I as I previously mentioned and in an effort to help grow and sustain racing, a number of sanctioning bodies have created classes that address various issues related to costs. And while I’m aware that these are not always without associated problems, at least the effort is being made.
Is your involvement in the valve lifter aftermarket space directed toward high-performance engine applications or do you also participate within the racing community?
While street performance has been the main thrust for us, certain circle track racing classes are coming on strong, especially lower budget classes that have a wider appeal because of their affordability. Once again, it’s a matter of finding ways to reduce overall costs of racing while providing racers a solid performance gain.
Given today’s computer-controlled powertrains, including variable valve trimming and related advances in onboard technologies, what role do you anticipate having in current and future engine packages?
Rhoads lifters do have a place in high-tech computer-controlled engines, but their primary appeal is for street performance and budget racers that are running noncomputer-controlled engines. As long as there are 350ci V-8 Chevy engines being built for high-performance street and racing, there will be a need for Rhoads Lifters. Nothing else does what they do for so little money. In fact, dollar for dollar, I don’t know of any other high-performance or racing product that produces what our lifters provide. Somewhere along the line, I’ve heard the phrase “The best ideas are the simplest ones.” It seems to me that this pretty well describes our product. I don’t think any of us thought product demand would last as long as it has. It’s truly remarkable.
Looking again into the future, do you see any possible opportunities to become more involved with producing your lifters for race-only applications, and how can you justify your position?
Our Rhoads V-Max Lifters were designed with the racer in mind. They can be adjusted to give any amount of leak down from 0.010 to 0.040 inch. They are noncollapsible and rev even higher than our original design, making them ideal for race-only applications. Today many circle track racers are winning a lot of races using the Rhoads V-Max Lifter, and that makes me very happy. It goes back to what I said about a broader, flatter torque curve. That feature alone makes it desirable for circle track and road race applications. We just took an already-proven concept and applied it directly to hydraulic racing camshafts. And even though camshaft design has evolved in several different directions over the years, it’s clear today that my father had an idea that has lived in that changing world while continuing to give both the high-performance street enthusiast and racer a cost-effective benefit for either application.
Editor’s Note: For additional information on the Rhoads lifter products, visit