People Places & Racing News

Movers and Shakers: Dondel, Tucker, Aram, Alloway, McRae, Ring Brothers, Ladd, Kinsey, Dore, Strope

The Battle of the Builders

By David Hakim

 Ford Raptor Pre-runner
Ford Raptor Pre-runner

Dale Dondel – Racer Engineering
Ford Raptor Pre-runner

When considering what would qualify as hardcore hardware in the 2014 SEMA’s Battle of the Builders, few could argue that Dale Dondel created a unique and innovative design. The Ford SVT Raptor originally showed up in 2010, created from the F-body line-up as a off-roading orientation for the F-150.

While Ford adds a number of special features onto Raptor models due to this consideration, it was Dondel who took that simply as a starting base and then fabricated this entire vehicle in-house at his Racer Engineering shop in San Jacinto, California. Noted for off-road and sand-dragging efforts, Dondel’s company started from scratch to create a stunning, seemingly post-apocalyptic vision for the popular model. This included Racer Engineering’s own chassis design, a driveline to meet the demands of discerning SEMA judges, and the important parts to make the show-car equivalent of the trophy-class trucks so popular in today’s off-road competition.

Kyle Tucker – Detroit Speed Inc.
’69 Chevrolet Camaro

1969 Chevrolet Camaro
’69 Chevrolet Camaro

When the team at Detroit Speed considered possibilities for an interesting project vehicle to engineer and build for the 2014 SEMA Show, they weren’t just intending to make an appearance; they wanted to be both the talk of the show and win the inaugural SEMA Battle of the Builders event. With stiff competition from the best custom car designers and builders descending on Vegas for this new challenge within the annual SEMA show, Kyle Tucker and the rest of his crew from Detroit Speed had a game plan but debated on what to build.

Enter Angelo Vespi, a passionate car lover looking for a custom car shop to build his ultimate dream ride. Angelo has other cool cars, but something really fast with four wheels was missing from his collection. When he came into Detroit Speed with his vision of having Kyle’s team build him a tricked-out ’69 Chevy Camaro, he also gave them a ready-made solution.

Detroit Speed went to work on what became a three-year project, leaving no stone unturned in turning the classic Camaro into a modern-day performer. Angelo wanted part high-end exotic supercar, part race car, and all the modern creature comforts surrounded by a classic and iconic body. Famed automotive illustrator Eric Brockmeyer did a rendering to give the concept its initial vision, and after the build team looked the sketch over, they recognized this could be their contender.

The first order of business was redo the chassis, stiffening the car for better handing. Detroit Speed designed and constructed a hydro-formed sub-frame, adding in the Quadra-link rear suspension, frame connectors and other special components. Mini-tubs were used to accommodate the massive Michelin Pilot Sport tires, which in turn ride over Baer brakes for stopping power.

When it came to the bodywork, the craftsmen at Detroit Speed did a lot of neat tricks. Combining two cowl induction hoods to extend the cowl section also gained additional clearance for the supercharger. They also fabricated a new front lower spoiler and valance from aluminum, incorporated LED turn signals and driving lights. They extended the rocker panels and driving corners, shaved the drip rails and flushed mounted the front and rear glass. The front and rear bumpers were tucked-in and shaved while the door handles were filled in; recessed electric switches were added to replace them.

Under the modified cowl induction hood resides a Mast Motorsports-prepared LSX small-block sporting 427ci and being force-fed via a Magnuson supercharger; the estimated horsepower is just north of 800. Behind this is a Bower Performance blueprinted Tremec TKO 600 six-speed that sends the 700 lb.-ft. of torque downstream to the custom built 9-inch rear housing by Detroit Speed.

The “power” is more than just brawn, as the Camaro has all modern technology such as Bluetooth, navigation, backup camera, fiber-optics interior lighting, climate control, four-way power windows, a full-on Sony sound system and a lot more.  

Angelo got the Camaro of his dreams, and Detroit Speed’s work took top honors at the inaugural SEMA Battle of the Builders completion in front of a standing-room crowd. Nothing gets better than that.

 1978 Mustang II
’78 Mustang II

Gordon Aram – A-Team Racing
’78 Mustang II

You have to appreciate the creativity of Gordon Aram, the mastermind at A-Team Racing in Bend, Oregon. He took the oft-maligned Mustang II, and built an awesome street machine that totally bends the rules and gets enthusiasts talking.

Maybe it comes from Gordon’s 30-plus years of being a gearhead himself. A-Team Racing was founded back in 1995 and that was the catalyst that got his high-octane creativity flowing. Gordon and his guys back at the shop are very proud for what they accomplished with the ’78 Ford, as it ended up as part of the Top-10 finalists at the 2014 Battle of the Builders at last year’s SEMA Show.

That process started with “all hands on deck” when the Mustang II body came into the shop. The crew, led by Gordon, came up with a game plan to take this Mustang II out of the disco era and into the 21st century. Named Evolution, it has been completely made over with power to burn—a Ford Triton V10, Corvette Z06 powertrain components and peripherals all securely nested in a full-tube frame chassis.

So intrigued were the judges with ‘Evolution’ at the inaugural SEMA Ignited event, they passed over many other so-called traditional packages to select this little Mustang II as a Top 10 finalist. “I have to thank my crew at the shop as they did most of the work. I have four fulltime guys at the shop who are dedicated and share the passion,” says Gordon.

Bobby Alloway – Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop

’37 Chevrolet Coupe

1937 Chevrolet Coupe
’37 Chevrolet Coupe

Way back when, Bobby Alloway saw the need to produce hot rods that met his level of perfection and taste. That’s when he decided to go full throttle and open up Alloway’s Hot Rod Shop, based in Louisville, Tennessee. Since then, Alloway and his crew have been turning out award-winning hot rods for discriminating customers who want to be a step above the rest of field.

Many of those hot rods built by Alloway’s have won awards and become recognizable icons within the automotive aftermarket industry. In 2014, that list now included its ’37 Chevy Coupe, which was named a Top 10 finalist in SEMA’s first Battle of the Builders competition during the SEMA Ignited event.

“It was an honor to be a part of the inaugural Battle of the Builders,” said Alloway. “We're like a family and know each other real well and the rivalry is intense but friendly.”

Alloway’s ’37 Chevy Coupe has been completely modified, from its McLaren Chevrolet big-block engine with stack injection that echoes the infamous Can-Am racing series of the late ’60s and early ’70s, to its modern Art Morrison chassis, Corvette-styled interior and customized billet wheels. The result is a classic prewar Chevrolet that has the looks and the muscle to stand away from the pack, which is exactly what Bobby Alloway sets out to do every time he begins a new project. SEMA’s Battle of the Builders was simply the latest challenge, one he is always willing to accept at full-throttle.

 Jeep Wrangler
Jeep Wrangler

Larry McRae – Poison Spyder
Jeep Wrangler

Larry McRae likes to get dirty. And by just looking at the extreme off-road Jeeps that come out of his shop, you can see that all too well. McRae owns Poison Spyder—a company that supplies hardcore Jeep products for diehard enthusiasts, building on a love of four-wheeling that began as a child.

As a youngster, McRae and his father took their family Bronco out to explore the deserts and mountains of the Southwest. From the first time his father let him take the wheel of that Bronco, he was hooked, and that passion has only grown since.

Today, Jeep models are his focus, and many of the Jeeps that McRae and his shop have built have been featured in magazines and recognized in the industry. Recently that included a Jeep JK Wrangler being named a Top 10 finalist in SEMA’s first Battle of the Builders competition during its SEMA Ignited event.

Nicknamed Crispy, this Wrangler was completely rebuilt after a fire left only the frame and part of the tub.  Every part of this build was designed and built by Poison Spyder’s engineers and shop staff. The most unique feature of Crispy is how much it still looks like a Jeep even though it is a full race vehicle. To garner its position in the Top 10 of 2014’s Battle of the Builders shows their level of excellence in modification is indeed “well-done.”

’66 Chevelle

1966 Chevelle
’66 Chevelle

The midsize GM A-bodies have always been popular platforms to build tricked-out street machines, race cars and authentic restorations, especially the highly valued “SS” versions. However, it takes machismo to fabricate what the Ringbrothers unveiled at the 2014 SEMA Show. While most Chevy restomods are based on the always-popular and smaller Gen I and Gen II Camaros, the Ringbrothers pulled the wraps off this stunning ’66 Chevelle aptly named Recoil.

While tens of thousands of Chevelles have been modified over the years, the effort by this Wisconsin-based shop operated by Jim and Mike Ring was truly one-off. Leaving the ’60s behind, technologically advanced components and modern horsepower were used on Recoil, blended with custom paint, wheels and details to make the classic design stand out in a field of very serious players.

Beginning with the driveline, a Whipple-charged LS7 built by Wegner Motorsports pushing out 980 horses ended up in place of the old standby iron motor. An Aeromotive pump pushes a copious amount of high-test street gas from the tank to custom bent and contoured lines; Holley supplied the injection unit, and Flowmaster mufflers elicit a menacing growl when it is over. A T56 Tremec Magnum manual transmission reworked by Bowler for this environment and a 35-spline 9-in. Ford splits it and sends to the rear wheels. Royal Purple is the lubricant supplier of choice for every component, and the Chevelle was displayed in their booth for the 2014 SEMA Show.

A big part of that debut was an exciting new wheel design in the Ringbrothers wheel series from HRE, aptly named the Recoil model. Color-coded and blending well with the car’s other changes, these examples are 19x9.5 in front and 20x13 out back, using 275/35/19 and 345/30/20 tires rubber, respectively.

For the interior, everything was hand-fabricated from sheet stock, with some pieces hydro-dipped to match other carbon-fiber parts on the car. The seats were custom-designed, with five point racing harnesses. The Ringbrothers also fabricated a billet housing for the Racepak gauge cluster; with metal shaping visible throughout, there is no question the car is all business when somebody gets the chance to experience it.

That left the bodywork and finish, which may have been one of the most advanced parts of this car. While maintaining the Chevelle’s iconic lines, the car was finished in BASF’s Glasurit 90-Line Waterbourne Sand Storm paint, highlighted with custom-designed carbon-fiber pieces from a material blend created by Composite Envisions. Fabricated by Ringbrothers’ shop to replace the OEM hood, bumpers, mirrors and more, the CE Mirage custom-blend weave done for Recoil features the addition of silver-plated copper wire in the carbon fiber. This in turn created an eye-opening finish on the carbon pieces that features far greater durability than standard metal or alloy parts could have.

In the Battle of the Builders, Recoil was a head-turner. The Ringbrothers vehicle efforts are on display at SEMA regularly, but this is one Chevelle modified whose final execution was worth waiting almost 50 years for.

 1932 Ford Roadster
’32 Ford Roadster

Troy Ladd – Hollywood Hot Rods
’32 Ford Roadster

Respect Tradition. Those words are used ardently by car designer/builder Troy Ladd. He feels that the traditional hot-rod vibe and feel has been diluted over the past few decades, and therefore he strives that every vehicle he builds reflects the culture and spirit that made hot rodding great.

To meet the goal, Ladd created Hollywood Hot Rods to build traditional-style hot rods and customs that utilize modern coach-building style and design to capture the true spirit of the early hot-rodding era.

One of his recent creations is a '32 Ford roadster aptly named Brooklands Special, as its inspirations come from the pre-war European style of Brooklands race cars. This car is completely hand-built with many unique Bugatti design elements. Featuring right-hand-drive, the car also has a completely fabricated body with a sectioned and lengthened wood deck; a re-shaped grille, handmade chassis, while Bugatti headlights and taillights also add to its heritage appeal.

Powering this hot rod is a traditional Ford Flathead V8. Using Race Elco twin plug heads during the building of the engine added even more “cool” factor to the final package. Those things were among the many reasons that the Brookland Specials made it to the Top Ten during the inaugural Battle of the Builders.

“I’m so proud to be recognized and embraced by SEMA judges, and to be recognized in the upper echelons in the industry for my artistic skills,” said Ladd about the accolades. All we know is that as long as there is a Troy Ladd and Hollywood Hot Rods, tradition and culture will never disappear from this hobby.

Jeff Kinsey – Hot Rods by JSK
’32 Ford Four-Door

1932 Ford Four-Door
’32 Ford Four-Door

Jeff Kinsey started Hot Rods by JSK’s back in 1996 and has had a personal passion for these classics for almost 40 years. When it came time to compete at the 2014 SEMA Battle of the Builders, Kinsey brought a hot rod to Las Vegas that had already gotten its share of attention at many high-profile custom car shows earlier in the season.

Kinsey and the crew at Hot Rods at JSK worked tirelessly on this ’32 Ford, and the result is simply stunning. For starters, it uses a traditional Ford 312-in. Y-Block V8 engine that’s running Hilborn injection. To make sure this creation is ready for some long-distance rod runs, Kinsey also installed electronic ignition on this older engine design.

One of the outstanding changes is how Kinsey modified the body, removing the B-pillar to showcase the tricked-out interior. He achieved this by integrating the B-pillar structure into the leading edge of the rear suicide doors. This was just one example of the imagination and ingenuity that Kinsey and the folks at Hot Rods by JSK have produced. They have also won numerous awards around the country and now they can add being named a Top-10 finalist in SEMA’s first Battle of the Builders in 2014.

“I’m proud of getting up in the morning and doing what I want to for a living. Just having a good family to support and help and to work on cars is a dream come true,” said Kinsey. “This was a dream come true and being chosen was an honor.”

 1948 Black Pearl
’48 “Black Pearl”

Rick Dore – Rick Dore Kustoms
’48 “Black Pearl”

Beauty in motion best describes what renowned custom car builder Rick Dore created when he pulled the cover off his latest creation at the 2014 SEMA show. Aptly named “Black Pearl,” it may bare a slight resemblance to the classic ’48 Jaguar Saloon, but there’s virtually nothing used from that historic English marque other than the chassis.

Rick Dore collaborated with Metallica front man James Hetfield (the eighth project together for these two), along with metal shapers extraordinaire Marcel and Luc De Ley. Their goal was to create a sleek, one-of-a-kind look that harkens back to the era of the classic European hand-built coach works from the ’20s and ’30s, combining a touch of swooping exterior and interior Art Deco features and a touch of classic American custom influences.

There are many unique features to Black Pearl, and it’s not just the bodywork, paint, interior or engine, but rather something more holistic. The fact is, Black Pearl claims no allegiance or lineage to a specific maker or model. What may have started out as a left-hand-drive ’48 Jaguar Saloon would be transformed into sculpture on four wheels. Dore and Hetfield would ponder over endless drawings of what they felt the car should be. In the end, he design emerged from what started as a blank sheet of paper.

One of the biggest challenges facing Rick on the Black Pearl project was skinning the metal. Even though Marcel and Luc De Lay made it look easy, it still tested their skills. Underneath the long hood sits a Ford 302 small-block. Dore wanted to go with an engine that was strong yet reliable. Dore also used a C4 automatic transmission and a Ford 8-in. rear axle.

Like all of Dore’s masterpieces, the Black Pearl is intended to be a road car who’s styling and groundbreaking design resembles a conceptual fastback from the ’30s. And with a start-to-finish build time of one-and-a-half years, the Black Pearl has already won its share of accolades, starting at the Grand National Roadster Show in January 2014 and concluding with making the Top 10 of the inaugural SEMA Battle of the Builders.

Rick Dore is already planning something special for this year’s SEMA Show that will leave the attendees speechless.

Steve Strope – Pure Vision
’67 Ford Fairlane

1967 Ford Fairlane
’67 Ford Fairlane

Steve Strope is a just one of many veterans whose car-building talents have graced the SEMA Show for over a decade, and this year was no exception. Strope and his crew at Pure Vision ( built this awesome ’67 Ford Fairlane, aptly named Black Ops. Strope set out to create a “what-if” theme based on Ford’s illustrious ’60s racing history, when their “Total Performance” mantra set out to dominate every venue of motorsports. With the midsize Fairlane tearing up the NASCAR high-banks and the NHRA dragstrips during this golden era, Strope knew this would be an ambitious project to undertake, but the crew at Pure Vision was up to the challenge.

“Our thought was to take this particular car and go back in time. Knowing it would never see active race service, the Ford engineers wouldn’t be chained and confined by the NASCAR or NHRA rulebooks. This allowed the usage and testing of things such as driver-activated aero, custom suspension setups and illegal engines. The key was to find out what the Fairlane was capable of, learn from it, and apply that knowledge to the actual racecars restrained by the rules. That’s what the design and build theme represents,” said Strope.

With a donor Fairlane located, the guys at Pure Vision went to work using the sketches they penned as a template to create a stunning piece of automotive work that stopped the crowds in their tracks. But other than over-the-top paint, the “right” stance, and other hidden features, Steve’s Fairlane showcased era-correct technology, while taking a more modern approach with others, such as a Quick-Change rear axle; driver-activated aero aids, data acquisition and others. Regardless, it just worked on this project and sharp observers who studied the car spotted them during the SEMA Show.

One of the Fairlane’s cool factors is what laid under the hood, the intimidating 427 SOHC Cammer engine. What’s also unique, rather than plunking one carburetor on the intake, Strope used four two-barrel Holley carburetors featuring rare Le Mans racing bowls.

However, the most unusual visual feature is the 15-in. Lamborghini Miura–style knockoff wheels. At first, they looked like the infamous Halibrand wheels that gained notoriety on the Salt Flats and dragstrips of the ’60s. However, upon closer inspection, Strope went all out and chose the Lambo-style wheel that graced the sexy Miura. According to Strope, “Ford had this rivalry with Ferrari in the late ’60s, so if you’re going to piss them off, what’s better way than by using Miura wheels!”

Strope’s efforts paid off once again, as his Fairlane was named the best Ford at SEMA by a group of Ford designers, and this was the third consecutive time he took that prestigious prize home.

News and updates from the specialty-equipment industry.

Wilwood Partners With JJ Furillo of Ultimate Performance to Enhance Pro-Touring Market Support
Wilwood Disc Brakes
has partnered with Ultimate Performance—a North Carolina-based suspension tuning and performance product supplier—to enhance support to drivers at race events. As part of the partnership, Ultimate Performance owner JJ Furillo will travel to pro-touring events across the country providing technical support and guidance to competitors on tuning suspensions to match their driving style. Additionally, Furillo can recommend the best braking application setup to create the complete performance package. Furillo founded Ultimate Performance in 2014 and has partnered with a number of performance-enhancing companies.

John Ferguson Promoted to Director of Sales for Toyo Tire North America OE Sales
Toyo Tire North America OE Sales (TNOE) has announced the promotion of John Ferguson to director of sales. Ferguson has worked with TNOE since June 2012, first serving as a sales account manager. A graduate of The University of Findlay (Ohio), Ferguson has extensive sales experience with international organizations.

Third-Annual Arizona Concours d’Elegance Sets the Date for 2016
The third-annual Arizona Concours d’Elegance at the historic Arizona Biltmore Resort will take place, Sunday, January 24, 2016, serving once again as the startup and focal point for the annual Classic Car Week in the Scottsdale/Phoenix area. The Arizona Concours also has announced its three featured classes for 2016: Duesenberg, Coachwork by Zagato and Exceptional Cars of Great Britain. Those special classes will join more than one-dozen standing classes that will be judged during the Concours, culminating in the Best of Show. The Arizona Concours d’Elegance benefits Make-A-Wish Arizona, and more than $70,000 was raised to fund future wishes during 2015. Potential 2016 entrants are encouraged to submit their vehicle for consideration. 

Abel Truck Parts Joins VIPAR Heavy Duty
Abel Truck Parts
is the newest company to join the VIPAR Heavy Duty network of distributors as a stockholder. Located in Independence, Ohio, Abel Truck Parts is a distributor of parts to the heavy-duty truck and off-road equipment industry in Northeast Ohio. In addition to parts sales, the company also manufactures custom hydraulic hose assemblies. Under the current ownership of Michael and Daniel Passalacqua, Abel Truck Parts continues to service the Cleveland marketplace.

CTP Transportation Products Announces New Corporate Name
CTP Transportation Products LLC
—a producer of specialty tires, wheels and industrial belts—has announced that it has changed its company name to The Carlstar Group, a limited liability company. The corporate name conversion does not impact the company’s ownership or structure. The Carlstar Group continues to be a stand-alone company owned by American Industrial Partners (AIP)—a private equity firm. While the company plans to continue its growth, there are no organizational modifications as a result of this name update. The Carlstar Group name is effective immediately. The new corporate logo and brand identity are simultaneously being launched to reflect the transition.

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