Performance parts production quietly expands in Carson City

For more than 30 years, hot rodders, race car teams and high performance boat owners have been turning to a Carson City manufacturer for specialized ignition systems and valve trains that wring the most horsepower from their engines.

Now, the Mallory ignitions, Erson cams and valve trains produced at 550 Mallory Way are made side by side with Hurst Shifters and Accel ignition systems, under the umbrella of Mr. Gasket Co. Performance Group.

The manufacturing plant and warehouse employs 166 people feeding the highly engineered goodies directly to drag and NASCAR race teams, auto parts retailers like Kragen and directly to rodders via the company's Internet site

"When Mr. Gasket bought this facility in 1998 out of bankruptcy, operations had been scaled back and there were about 120 employees," plant manager Randy Rohrer said. "Since then, the Hurst and Accel production lines have been moved out here, while some of the administrative functions were consolidated at the Mr. Gasket headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio.

"The engineers for Mallory and Erson products stayed here, while the Accel product development is still done in Cleveland and we make the products here."

In the 40,000-square-foot machine shop, a wide strip of steel stretches from a roll into a 15-foot-tall press that stamps the steel under up to 1,000 tons of pressure.

Wham! Out pops a bracket for a Hurst shifter.

At the next machine, another press changes a round metal rod into a curved shift handle, complete with "Hurst" imprinted into both sides.

In the next room, Yolanda Rosalez tends a machine that is grinding cam shaft lobes to a precise pattern. At one end of the machine, a master cam is mounted and the grinder follows it as a pattern.

"Really, it's just a larger version of what they use to duplicate keys at the hardware store," Rohrer explained.

Periodically, Rosalez stops the grinder and uses a question mark-shaped micrometer to measure progress. Grinding one 16-lobed cam shaft takes 20-40 minutes.

Rosalez said she's been grinding cams in the shop for 24 years.

Other employees and machines turn steel rod into fuel fittings, cut aluminum stock into distributor housings or assemble small parts into fuel pressure regulators.

A small team of engineers continually works on product development, especially making sure each year's new crop of cars and pickups can be fitted with performance-enhancing ignition systems, valve trains and gear shifts.

"We have to keep up, but the designs for engines and transmissions don't change as frequently as exteriors. And our products are headed for Mustangs, not Crown Victorias, so we can target our market," Rohrer said.

"We've got the enthusiast market, the guys who drive their cars every day and like to light them up a bit on the weekends," Rohrer said. "Then there's the more serious racers, with stock or sprint cars, who are rebuilding their engines more frequently and are always looking for something to give them an edge on the track.

"The big guys, the NASCAR teams and drag racers, are tearing down engines after every run, replacing components that wear or even break under the load."

Mallory has purchased a few performance cars as test beds, Rohrer said. But more than a few Mallory employees are running products in their own vehicles to test performance and durability, he said.

Mallory has just purchased a dynamometer system, which measures engine output under controlled conditions. Different products will be changed out on a test car or engine on a test stand and performance differences evaluated.

"It's important, not only to document what our products can do, but also the competition's," Rohrer said.

Previously, "dyno" tests were farmed out, so the new equipment will be more convenient. Rohrer said Mallory will also rent out time on the machine to racers, private vehicle owners or others who may benefit from the testing.

Mallory sends a Carson-based support vehicle to major motor sports events to provide repairs, advice, parts and even equipment sales to the race teams.

The 48-foot tractor trailer will soon be joined by another, which will be aimed at the sprint racing circuit, Rohrer said.

The expansion of Mallory's services continues in the wake of a June announcement that parent company Dana Corp. plans to sell off the Mr. Gasket Co. Performance Group. Rohrer said the proposed sale will probably not have a significant effect on the Carson City operations.

"This would be the fourth owner this plant has had in about four years," Rohrer said. "This type of change has become a fact of life in manufacturing."


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