There are guys who like cars and then there are car guys. Sunnen Director of Engineering Dave Rogers received his first set of Craftsman tools at age four so he could help his father work on hot rods in their home garage. That alone is a pretty strong car-guy credential. But, add that Dave restored and now drag races a 1977 Olds Cutlass originally purchased by his father, and his car-guy cred goes through the roof.
The story of the Cutlass is a legend in its own right. The car served as the family’s second car for a number of years and was maintained to the elder Rogers’ high standards. Then it was sold to Dave’s uncle. “My dad has always taken great care of his cars. He still has his ’73 Omega with the original sheet metal, and that was his daily driver for years,” said Dave. “But, my uncle ran the Cutlass hard and put it up wet, as they say.” So at 15 years old, Dave jumped at the opportunity to buy the car back for $500 and immediately took to restoring it. “The motor mounts were broken, the motor was out of balance, the flywheel counterbalance was off, it was a mess,” he explained. Dave did a stock rebuild, adding headers and dual exhaust, and as a high-school graduation gift, his parents had the Cutlass’ bodywork refurbished.
It did not take Dave long to get the restored Cutlass to the drag strip. “My dad raced and I was hooked on cool cars and the smell of racing fuel long before I could drive,” he added. “I entered my first race at what was Gateway International Raceway (now Gateway Motor Sports Park) when I was 16 and I’ve been racing there ever since.”
As competition increased the Cutlass was transformed to an even “hotter” rod, getting “back halfed” with a new ladder-bar suspension, and the addition of a big-block Chevy engine that Dave built from the ground up using Sunnen equipment. “It’s 509 in3 and 849 hp with an 1100-cfm carburetor and two-speed Powerglide transmission,” said Dave. Other components come straight off the shelf. “The cam shafts are from Crane, it’s got a Jesel valvetrain and the cylinder heads are from Air Flow Research.” The car is licensed with the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) in the Super Street and Super Gas classes, but Dave typically races in the Super Pro class, one of the highest levels of handicapped bracket racing.
Dave says his experience with engine building, combined with customer interaction at Sunnen, has given him a better appreciation for the honing requirements of the industry. “I’ve been spoiled a little bit by getting to rub shoulders with NASCAR machinists and Sunnen’s own automotive experts like Tim Meara,” he said. “As director of engineering, it gives me great insight on where the industry is going, as well as the day-to-day issues in engine shops, whether they’re rebuilders or Sprint Cup teams. I’ve also gained ideas to apply to my own racing interests.” Judging by the improvement in his quarter mile times, it’s a winning formula. Dave’s first race was a 17.20 ET. Today, he’s doing 9.40-second quarter miles at more than 140 mph.
Round and Round We Go
Sunnen’s Mike Jacober likes his racing with a few more left turns. Mike, an MMT tool designer for Sunnen, spends his Saturday nights racing his 2004 Rocket chassis super late model car at Highland Speedway, a quarter-mile clay oval track in Highland, IL. Like Rogers, Mike got into cars and racing at a young age, following his father’s lead. “My dad was always into cars and we had go carts around. I rebuilt my first go cart engine at age 12 or 13 and by 14 I was racing them.”
From go carts Mike graduated to the late models – super light machines built for speed. His car is made of chrome moly tubing with a sheet metal skin and only weighs 2300 lbs. The car is powered by a 412 in3, all aluminum, 740 hp Ford engine with a four-barrel, 975-cfm carburetor. “A high power-to-weight ratio is the key to this type of racing,” added Jacober. “The transmission weighs in at 35 lbs. and our ratio is three lbs. per horsepower. Typical street car ratios are more like 11 or 12 lbs. per horsepower.”
Working at Sunnen helps Jacober keep up with his better-funded racing competition, providing him access to equipment and advice he uses to rebuild engines to save money. “Many competitors put a lot more money into racing than I do, but I usually have one of the top-ten cars every time I come out,” said Jacober. “Access to the Sunnen lab and the engine performance knowledge I’ve gained working here help me stay competitive. Good technical advice can take you a long way in real, on-the-track benefit.” Jacober even won a featured money race at Highland earlier this year.
Dave and Mike will both be racing this summer, putting their years of racing knowledge and engine-performance know-how to work, while having a lot of fun. And with their Sunnen connection, they should also have a lot of success.