We Sit Down With The Legendary Vic Edelbrock Jr.
I think right now, the racing at Daytona looks like two grasshoppers mating! – Vic Edelbrock Jr.
Senior wouldn’t just build performance products mind you, rather he would use them himself. Three weeks before Pearl Harbor and the start of World War II, he was clocked at the speed of 121.42 mph in his ’32 at Rosamond Dry Lake. But during the war Vic Sr. would stop building performance products and used his machinist skills for the war effort.
In 1949 Vic Sr. moved into his first purpose-built shop on Jefferson Blvd. At 5,000 sq. ft. it was equipped with a small machine shop, repair bays, engine dynamometer, a small stock room and office space. Throughout the 1950’s Vic Sr. would continue to set speed records and the Edelbrock name flourished.
But in 1962, at the age of 49, Vic Sr. would sadly pass away from cancer. His name and company would be passed on through his 27 year old son Vic Edelbrock Jr. Flash forward to 2011, and the Edelbrock name has become one of the most recognizable names within the performance industry. Their distribution center alone now covers over 65,000 feet.
Recently we got the opportunity to sit down and talk with the 76 year old Vic Edelbrock Jr about a variety of topics:
powerTV: Your father started the Edelbrock name, but what kind of man was he? How did he influence you and your work ethic?
Vic Edelbrock: “(laughing) Ha, well he would only say it once, and you better take note of what he said. He was German and he was very well liked by everybody, if he liked you then you had a real friend. He passed away at the age of 49 in 1962, I was fortunate because of the friends he had were really loyal to me, and really helped me get through that period.
He had an excellent mind for automotive engines. He only went to school to the ninth grade, because his fathers grocery store burnt down in Kansas, and he had two older brothers and they all had to go to work to support the family. But my father read a lot, he read a lot of books about the internal combustion engine.
A lot of his automotive experience came from the farmers who would buy a model-T, and they would want someone to pick it up for them and bring it to their farms. Of course there were no highways, there was just “dirtways”, so parts would just fall off the Model-T because of the roads. He was forced to be mechanically inclined to pick up the pieces and put them back together. So that was the start of him being able to work with his hands.”
Vic: “When everybody came back from overseas, people wanted to see cars race. Because midget racing was going on before the war, it just continued after the war. You could go opening day to Balboa Stadium in San Diego where the Chargers use to play football, and if you won opening night which was always on memorial day weekend, you might come home with $15,000 in your pocket. The stadium would hold 32,000 and they would sell every seat.
My father got into midget racing before the war, then after the war he bought a regular car that had a frame rail in it that they called a “rail job”. Then Frank Kurtis designed a modern midget that was a very good looking car, that we happen to have it, and it is fully restored back to it’s original condition. My dad bought it new in 1946, it was number 7 of the Kurtis Kraft machines.
Midget Racing really grew out of Southern California, then moved to northern California before it moved to west. He eventually moved to racing Jalopy’s because more people wanted to see more cars crash. And if you raced a midget, you didn’t want to crash your midget because of how expensive it was to repair it.”
PTV: Yeah well that and if you crashed back then, your chances of walking away were very slim.
Vic: “Oh of course, they only had a lap belt. And then you had drivers like Rex Mays who didn’t believe lap belts. He was killed at Del Mar which was a horse racing track back then. But there is a photo of him that you can find where he’s upside down and he’s coming out of the car. It’s a really scary sight.”
PTV: How did your father come up with the idea to use the Flathead Ford?
Vic: “Well, it was never built as a performance engine. Obviously, it was built for low cost. In 1919-20 Henry (Ford) was making 2 million cars a year. So, he was busy making parts!
I don’t know how my father exactly came up with idea. I do know that he bought the ’32 roadster, that was the family car, I was born in ’36, and he bought that around the same time. It had a flat head in it, and of course he started playing with that. At the time everyone was using the 4-cyclinder inline Chevrolet engine. They really turned their nose down on the flathead.
I don’t know why he picked it up, obviously he probably didn’t like the idea of the 4-cylinder and wanted more cylinders and his only V8 option at the time would of been the Flathead Ford
Three weeks before Pearl Harbor, my dad had a roadster that almost went 122 mph. They didn’t have cylinder heads back then, Ford made a small combustion chamber engine design for cars sold in Denver and high altitudes to get a little more performance out of them. My dad would take those and screw around with the combustion chamber, and he ended up using methanol because he could get the compression up.
But when he went 122 (mph) people forget that the right hand would be on the steering wheel, but the left hand would be through the steering wheel pumping on a pressure pump. We still have that car.”
PTV: Really? How many cars do you have at Vic’s garage right now?
Vic: “Oh, probably around 35.”
PTV: Is their one car that stands out above the rest?
Vic: “My Dad’s roadster is everything, but the midget also means a lot. It has the original trailer, and my dad used to tow it with a Woody. Which my wife always wanted one of her own, so we bought one and restored it. Now we have the original midget, trailer, and a restored Woody which really mean a lot.”
PTV: Speaking of racing, Edelbrock is extremely well known throughout the performance industry, but it seems like the past 5 years Edelbrock has been focusing a lot of time at the motorsports arena.
Vic: “We have, mainly in the cylinder heads. When we started our cylinder head program back in 1992, I didn’t get in to the racing stuff where everyone was, instead I got into street performance. But we have really put an effort over the past 5 or 6 years to build strictly race application cylinder heads. A year ago at PRI we also introduced a brand new manifold design, which set the record books and we feel that the industry has changed because of it. We have the capabilities to make some very complicated pieces, and ensure that there is no shrinks or pulls in the castings.
Also, we are very fortunate to have Dr. Rick Roberts who studied at Cal Tech, and actually went to work for IBM when he got out of school. But luckily he was a car guy, and he couldn’t get away from the car industry. We’ve had a lot of fun over the years and are continuing to have a lot of fun.”
Vic: “Our manifolds have all been changed, but NASCAR mandates where all the nozzles are placed on the manifold. We are already the official manifold of NASCAR, and while we are still making our manifolds, we are not on any Fords this year. But we are on Toyotas, GM, and Dodges.
We are the only independent manifold manufacturer that has been approved for NASCAR use outside of the OE manufactures. We are really proud of that. A lot of teams are still manufacturing the manifolds in-house, but what they are finding is that we can do it at almost half the cost.”
PTV: We got to listen to Dr. Rick Roberts at this year’s AETC and he said that he still uses a CAD system when designing cylinder heads. But he said it was amazing to think that 30 years ago we were doing this with a T-square. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the manufacturing process during your time building the Edelbrock name?
The biggest thing that has happened to the manufacturing process is the entire CNC process. It has allowed us to make cylinder heads at 1/3 the cost if we didn’t have these machines, and as of right now, we have over 90 CNC machines.
We are also vertically integrated so that everything is under one roof. We have very sophisticated equipment to measure our aluminum and make sure that it doesn’t have gas in it. Aluminum is the most gas filled metal there is, and you have to get that gas out of there. We closely monitor that and keep it in check.”
PTV: What advice would you have for someone that is wanting to work within the performance market, and become someone like Dr. Rick Roberts?
Vic: “It depends on what their knowledge is, if they are a real gearhead, and know cars then they might not have to go to school. But if you’re not, and you need a little education, then I suggest you go to the various schools out there. Edelbrock is involved with the Ohio Technical College, which has the Edelbrock academy. They teach about using Edelbrock products, and how it can mean a job for you.
There is a real need for installers and programers across the country, but you need the education. Some of the schools like NTI, or Wyotech have great job placement aids also. Having the education really helps put you to the next level, take cylinder heads and camshafts, how many people know what overlap really is?
You take the camshaft, manifolds, cylinder heads, and that’s your induction system. That’s what’s responsible for NASCAR going from a 355 engine, say 20 years ago that only put out 650 horsepower to a 355 that puts out 900 horsepower today.”
PTV: Speaking of NASCAR, one last question for you, what’s the biggest problem facing NASCAR today? What do you think needs to change?
Vic: Ha, well the restrictor plate!… I think right now, the racing at Daytona looks like two grasshoppers mating! I was very upset when I saw the first race at Daytona, I made a phone call to Jerry Cook of NASCAR who is a close friend of ours. When he called me back, after a couple of days I said, “what in the hell are you doing!” I mean this is ridiculous.
But now they are feeling it even more from the public. The public doesn’t like it, the racing is very boring. So I think they have to make some changes to where they are able to go back and draft the proper way, three or four in a line. The cars need more power to be able to slingshot like they did back in the old days. It might mean smaller engines.
Daytona is the biggest race of the year, when people watch it now, people fall asleep in the middle of the race. Once they bring that around, I think that will help improve not only Daytona and Talladega, which helps the whole atmosphere.”
At 76 years-old, Vic Jr. shows no signs of slowing down. For that matter, neither does Edelbrock as a company. 2012 is shaping up to be another great year for the historic company, and with a ton of new products for the performance and motorsports markets, it might be a year they soon don’t forget.