Views & Notes: April 2015 Edition | Performance Racing Industry
Views & Notes: April 2015 Edition
By Dan Schechner on April 2, 2015

* 50 Years Of Specialists: Universally revered for his skills, his innovation, his character and, most of all, his race-day success, Keith Dorton is a legendary figure among modern race engine builders. The owner/founder of Automotive Specialists in Concord, North Carolina, is responsible for propelling countless vehicles to victory lane in ARCA, ASA, CARS Pro Cup, NASCAR’s touring divisions and many others over the past five decades.

Yes, 2015 marks 50 years in business for the shop whose roots extend to the famed Holman-Moody racing operations, where Dorton cut his teeth and honed his craft. But beyond the wins—including the Daytona 500, Snowball Derby and Copper Classic—Keith and son Jeff are some of the most generous, genuine people you’ll ever meet. They’ve opened their doors to PRI on multiple occasions; they’ve given us countless hours of insights and opinions for articles on oval track cylinder heads, coatings, the stock car market (naturally) and others; and they’ve served as expert panelists for more than a few business and technical seminars at the annual PRI Trade Show.

In short, Automotive Specialists gives back in a major way. But none of that would matter much if the company wasn’t producing race-winning engines year after year after year. In fact, when asked for his thoughts on Automotive Specialists’ recent milestone, PRI Publisher John Kilroy offered a spot-on analysis: “What they’ve been able to accomplish is nothing short of extraordinary,” he said. “It’s one thing to win races over a span of several years, but to keep doing what they’ve done for 50 years is just remarkable. I’m speechless.”

* ‘Life’ In The Fast Lane: Not a huge reality TV fan, but there is one new show I’m keeping an eye on. ‘Kart Life,’ which airs on TruTV, tracks the “careers” and family dynamics of several promising young karters as they compete for wheel-to-wheel glory and enough prize money to move out and get their own place. OK, maybe not. But the competition is legit, and while some of the track-side drama may be touched-up for television, the premise is compelling.

There’s good action, slick production, and overzealous parents who won’t hesitate to drop six figures on equipment, tuners, cross-country travel and so forth.

But the question remains, in the make-believe land of reality TV, is the show good for karting? “There’s mixed feelings within the sport,” said Rob Howden, editor/publisher of “We know it’s potentially exposing new people to karting, but the majority of us are a little concerned that the image that’s being portrayed isn’t what karting is really about.”

Certainly understandable. Still, he told me, the hope is that folks with little prior knowledge of the sport will take note of its positive attributes and see karting as the affordable, accessible, family-friendly activity it truly is.
* SAFER Crossover: It’s worth noting when popular stick-and-ball sports take a cue from auto racing. In this case it relates to the SAFER (Steel and Foam Energy Reduction) barriers that line the walls at most IndyCar and NASCAR tracks. Indeed, this “soft wall” technology has been a hot topic of debate in NASCAR circles—namely, why it doesn’t cover every stretch of wall at every track on the schedule.

But while officials and stakeholders sort out their issues, the man behind the technology wants to make a similar impact on the gridiron. Dr. Dean Sicking led the team of engineers that designed the SAFER barriers for race tracks; he’s also credited with reshaping guardrails and other roadside barriers across much of the nation’s highways. Sicking, an engineering professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, is now testing football helmets in a bid to help reduce the incidence of concussions.

True, helmets and road/track walls are quite different. But the concepts are related: Both rely on maximizing energy absorption to lessen impact.

At any rate, Sicking’s helmet designs are fairly far along—they’re set for live testing by a handful of smaller colleges in late fall. We’ll be interested to see where this goes.               

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Dan Schechner is the Editor of Performance Racing Industry Magazine.
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