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NASCAR Component Maker Enjoys Unique Business

Bret Conway may be the only man in Lincoln County that makes components for the engine in a stock car. “I saw a need for it, no one else was meeting this need, so I took a gamble,” he said. “I love what I do. If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it.” The gadgets Conway makes, called cam followers, are used in NASCAR engines. “The components I make are the timing mechanics that make the engine function,” he said. “Making them is very simple and it is all done with machines.” He ships the components to several NASCAR teams in the area. Conway’s company, Performance Research, located in Pumpkin Center, has been in business for five years. Conway has been working with engine components for 20 years. “Racing pays the bills,” Conway said. “It’s fun, a blast and in order to have this competitive sport, they need these components.” Conway said the components for NASCAR have to be specially made and cannot be bought anywhere. “I think I am the only person in the Carolinas that does it,” he said. “This is basically a business where I do not have to deal with the public; everything is done through orders and shipments.” Conway said the racing teams all know to get their supplies through him. For Conway, starting this business was risky but he is glad that he did it. “I had to bite the bullet and do it,” he said. “I knew I might either go broke or make money and so far it has gone real well.” Conway used to be an engineer and work with space shuttles. He said they are both closely related. “Being a mechanical engineer is basically the same process,” he said. “This is just automotive mechanics.” Each week the company makes 1000 components for NASCAR. The shipments are done on a monthly basis. The components wear out a lot quicker in a race car than it would be in a regular car. “Competitively the component will last 500 miles, he said. “In a regular car it would last 5000 miles. So how does the cam follower get made? “We start with a rod which is shaped and cut in the computerized machine,” Conway said. “The machine spits it out and then it gets a diamond polish which actually is a mirror finish.” Conway said this is not done for cosmetic reasons but done to reduce friction. The machines used to make the components range from $100,000 to $200,000. The rod is made from a special type of steel which Conway orders special from Canada. He gets 22,000 pounds a year. “It is very expensive material,” he said. “It is actually aerospace material.” On average, Conway said he spends a couple thousand dollars a year on getting the supplies. The cost of the cam follower can go for $1000 or more. “It depends on the piece,” Conway said. “Some customers have their own design.” As well as making cam followers, Conway also makes a sister component for the engine. However, that component is top secret. “I can’t tell you what it is,” he said. “I make it special and I am not allowed to say.” Conway also would not comment on what type of steel he gets from Canada. “It is my trade secret,” he said. “I can’t give it away.”