Richard Langson first saw the heat from a race car engine on a drag strip at a Santa Ana, Calif., airport where he sold Moon Pies and pumped aviation gas as a teenager.
He took apart and reassembled lawn mower motors when he wasn't at work.
When he got his driver's license a few years later, he was ready to race. Looking back, that was when he started to collect information he would use for an idea that could help save the earth.
Langson won his first race as a teenager in the early 1960s driving up to 100 mph in his 1958 Chevrolet. He kept racing on the weekends while running a construction business in California, Texas and eventually Carson City over the next 40 years.
He was burning 50 gallons of gas per mile going over 300 mph by the time he won the world drag racing championship in 1993.
"It's like a case of dynamite going off when you hit the throttle," he said.
But Langson, 64, said he started to wonder why all the exhaust from the car had to be wasted. He started working on the problem in his workshop in Carson City in 2000, soon retiring from racing.
He came out with an idea five years later he said critics compared to a perpetual motion machine.
But the Green Machine made by his Carson City-based business, Electra-
Therm, is sound science, he said. The wardrobe-sized machine creates electricity without taking fuel or producing emissions. It uses waste heat to expand a refrigerant into a pressurized vapor powering a generator.
It can work on anything from a boiler to a smoke stack to a geothermal plant.
"You could back up your car to this and it would run," he said.
Collected gas from a garbage dump could even power the Green Machine.
"All that waste is gold to us," he said.
ElectraTherm dots the "i" in "Machine" with a dollar sign.
Langson has sold 25 machines since last year and plans to sell another 75 by the end of the year. He has 22 employees and plans to add 100 more at his offices in Carson City and Mound House by the end of the year.
Popular Science magazine last year named the machine one of the best inventions in green technology.
Lauren Aaronson, an editor at the magazine, said she liked the machine because it is a good idea with innovative technology.
She said there is nothing else like it that can work on a small scale.
"People seemed pretty excited that this was coming out," she said.
Langson's brother, Don Langson, said Richard has been persistent since they ran a lemonade stand together as children.
He worked hard when they ran a construction business together and he worked hard when they ran a racing team together, said Don, a salesman for ElectraTherm.
The work ethic came from mowing the yard and washing the car to get an allowance from their father, he said.
"We didn't get a buck for waking up on Sunday morning," he said.
Richard said he has never thought of himself as an environmentalist. He is just someone who liked working with engines even though he isn't an engineer.
He said he's just followed the kind of work he's always been good at.
"Everyone else got a job and grew up," he said. "I never did I guess."