LRP Articles

MotorSports Extra - Chambers: Age is just a number

posted Jul 10, 2011, 8:36 PM by LRP Admin   [ updated Jul 10, 2011, 8:40 PM ]

Originally Posted in The Denver Post By Mike Chambers - 7/8/2011

DACONO — The running joke about veteran driver Roger Avants in the pits at Colorado National Speedway is that, indeed, the five-time track champion has slowed down.

"About four-tenths," he said with a grin.

That's four-tenths of a second, how much longer it takes Avants to complete a lap in his pro truck compared with his late model.

At age 59 and about four years after saying he was going to slowly enter the retirement stage of his late-models career, Avants is one of the busiest drivers at the NASCAR-sanctioned short track.

He is in his third full season of pulling double duty, competing full-time in CNS's top two divisions. He is first in the pro truck standings and fourth in late models after finishing first and seventh, respectively, in last weekend's midseason championships.

"I'm not slowing down, and it's all good," Avants said.

The longtime Littleton resident owns his late model and runs the pro truck for Alex Ortiz of Denver.

"I'm really lucky," said Ortiz, 38. "I have the best driver at CNS."

Ortiz introduced his team in 2007 with driver Ronnie Hults behind the wheel, and Hults won the division title.

Hults moved on to late models after finishing fourth in 2008, and Ortiz and Avants hooked up for 2009. Avants has season-ending finishes of second and fourth in the pro truck.

"They asked me to drive this truck and I said, 'Yeah, it looks like it would be fun.' We tried it and had a good time with it. We made it fun," Avants said. "Alex and his guys put in a lot of time and effort, and I take care of my late model. We show up the nights I have to drive (the pro truck) and I get to drive. No work and all play."

In hindsight, Avants' pledge to spend less time at the track four years ago was based on his struggling late model. But he introduced a new car in 2010 and won a division-high five features and finished second to Hults in the standings, just six points shy of capturing his first track title since 2002.

"It came down to the last night, and it was really exciting," Avants said.

Avants has three children, with the youngest age 25, and has realized that now is the time to spoil himself.

"In due time I'll slow down a lot," he said. "But my kids are adults now."

He is having a blast driving a vehicle that is unlike his late model.

"The truck is under 500 horsepower, like 480, so it's kind of momentum racing, with no power to get you out of trouble," Avants said. "We really rely on the brake, and it's got a lot of forward weight, so it's kind of top-heavy and you have to drive it in lightly and let it roll (through the corners). ... Sometimes you brake and throttle at the same time to keep the momentum up."

Avants' late model produces 550 to 560 horsepower.

"It has a better gear in it, so it has a better response, even with the motor, and not only does it have more horsepower but it has more torque."

The truck is producing lap times of 16.9 seconds. Avants' late model is around 16.5.

The two machines feature similar paint schemes.

"I painted the truck to give honor to the man," Ortiz said of Avants.

LateModelDigest.Net - Mike Leary Interview conducted by Jim Carson

posted May 22, 2011, 6:53 PM by LRP Admin   [ updated May 22, 2011, 7:23 PM ]

Article originally published in March 2, 2011 issue of LateModelDigest.Net

 In 1978 a racing career began at the now-closed Englewood Speedway in Denver. Mike Leary drove sportsman cars and Late Models on dirt and pavement over most of the next 20 years, usually in Colorado but sometimes elsewhere, including some starts in the old NASCAR Southwest Tour and RE/MAX Challenge.  Soon he became more adept at what he accomplished in the shop and in the pits than from the driver’s seat. A few years later, Mike and his wife Nancy formed Leary’s Racing Products and Shock Shop, which has provided parts and service to many racers, Late Models and otherwise, in the western half of the U.S. Now his influence has spread nationwide. Several Colorado National Speedway-based star drivers work for Leary, including Roger Avants, Richard Burton and Chris Eggleston.

LMD: Your direction really started when you took a dirt race car and changed it to race on pavement. 
Leary: It was pretty unusual, and in this day and age it’d be really tough.  But it taught me a lot. I never had the money to have the equipment everybody else did when I was racing. I was on a pretty tight budget; I wouldn’t say shoestring, because I had some pretty
good sponsors along the way, but it was pretty tight. It made me learn about race cars. Then I got involved in the shock
deal. We sell a million dollars worth of parts in a year, but the shock deal has gotten out of control. I was here ‘til midnight
working on shocks last night, while everybody else was at home with their feet up on the couch on a Sunday night.

LMD: Shocks are definitely your calling cards.
Leary: Yeah, we won over 100 championships in the last two years with guys running our shocks. It started with a lot around here. We did Roger Avants’ shocks in ‘02 when he won the Northwest Region (of what is now the NASCAR Whelen All-American Series).  I always tell him that he was my test dummy. “Things might work and they might not.” He won nine races that year (at Colorado National Speedway). Bruce Yackey’s won six championships (as has Avants) and a NASCAR region once.

LMD: Was Gary Lewis, the longtime star from Washington, your first big touring name with your help?
Leary: Yeah, Gary was a big one, and we’ve just added on from that point. He kinda put me on the map outside of Colorado. I got more attention from that. It’s kept up to now; we’ve won the Rocky Mountain Challenge Series championships the last two years, with John Dillon and Steve Jones. And the King Taco car for Position One at Irwindale set the track record for the
Thanksgiving Super Late Model race and won the pole for the Toyota All-Star Showdown (both with Rod Johnson Jr. driving).

LMD: Didn’t Gary want to keep people from knowing about you for a while?

Leary: Well, racers are racers, and when they’re winning they don’t really want to let others what’s going on. I’ve had shocks returned that had my stickers taken off of ‘em. We have a pretty good-sized store, with three quarters of a million dollars in inventory. We have mostly Colorado business and in neighboring states, dirt and pavement. With the shock deal, a lot of guys don’t want the same thing that somebody else is getting. I saw that with engines; I was in the engine business for a little while when I ran a machine shop, and we weren’t building the same stuff as everybody else.  They’re always worried that somebody else’ll have what they’ll have.  Well, at Colorado National, I probably have done shocks for three-quarters of the Late Models, but none of ‘em are running the same springs and bars and stuff. They need to tune the car for the driver and not try to change the driver. That’s one thing that Gary was very strong at. He let me tweak on the car and he’d tell me what it was doing. He helped my learning curve.  Gary and I have worked well together for a very long time and had a real good partnership there. I’ve been lucky to be hooked up with a lot of very good, talented people. It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work. It’s better than getting a real job, even thinking about that last night about 11:30.

LMD: Your reaches really made an impression on me last year because a driver from Riverhead, N.Y., used your shocks.
Yeah, Mike Bologna. That was a referral from Lefthander; they told me the guy had been struggling real bad, so they said to call Mike and he can help you.  It’s not just a shock deal. I help with setups too. I tell this story a lot: I had a guy come to us that was gonna run Big Country Speedway in Cheyenne, Wyo. He wasn’t super-fast at Colorado National, and he said he wanted to run up there. I did a set of shocks for him and changed his whole setup … basically everything you can do to a car, from springs to the panhard bar. He won his very first race at Big Country, then he leaves a message on my recorder: “Man, those were awesome shocks!” I wanted to tell him that it had a little bit to do with the setup and the springs. That’s
what we try to provide. My phone rings 60 or 70 times on a Saturday. Most of the time they have the answers; they just want somebody to reassure them. I’ve been at non-racing dinners and things and had relatives go, “Does this happen all the time?” and my wife says “Oh yeah.” But it’s almost as much fun for me now. I never knew how I was gonna get out of the competitive set of a race car, but this has done it.

LMD: Several other drivers have gone into the shock and suspension business, like Dennis Reno Jr. in Alabama (Xtreme Suspension Technology), Cale Gale who’s also from Alabama (Gale Force Suspension, now in North Carolina), Willie Allen inTennessee (WAR Shocks) and Frank Deiny Jr. in Virginia (FDJ Motorsports).  Do you have anything to tell these racers?
They’re pretty successful on their own. My thing is it’s the package. On my side of the country you’ve got Mike Naake, Junior Joiner, and Chuck Carruthers, and we’re probably the big three or four. When guys buy shocks, it needs to be the whole program. You can’t just bolt my shocks on your car and go, “Wow!”

LMD: Some racetracks and organizations have put cost limits on their shocks, or even mandated a specific brand. What do you think about that?
What they don’t realize is if they put a cost limit on them, they can end up still coming to me and costing more. The cheaper a shock is, the more money it takes to make it good. Racers are racers, and they’re gonna find a way around it. If there’s a $200 shock rule, they can find the best $200 shock there is, and they’re gonna spend X amount to make it better.
I’d like to see them put in a rule that’d be simple for most promoters: just mandate something like a nonadjustable, or a non-gas, or a singleadjustable or double-adjustable shock, and let a guy pick what he wants from there. I’m all for making racing cheaper; as soon as it gets so expensive that guys won’t do it, they’ll obviously stop coming to us. I’d much rather take a decent piece and tweak it, rather than take something that’s not very good and try to work with it. I’m sure all the shock guys are gonna tell you the same thing.  The dirt guys that are doing specific shocks are more drastic. You need good
shocks more on dirt when it’s rough and muddy and heavy and tacky. One team that won a championship had 40 shocks at $200 apiece, and that’s $8,000. I could’ve sold him a set of doubleadjustables, and he’d have one at each corner and been set, for $1,700. Promoters need to talk to people in the business like us to explain how this works.

Shock Specialists

posted Apr 21, 2011, 2:53 PM by LRP Admin   [ updated Apr 21, 2011, 2:59 PM ]

Article Originally Published Joe's Racing Products Web Site
Shocks are an important tuning tool that create feel in your car. With the variety of shock brands, components and types partnering up with a shock specialist can help you to navigate through the vast array of component offerings.

To increase our shock knowledge, we have interviewed two successful specialists in the shock field. Mike Naake of Naake Suspension Specialists and Mike Leary of Leary’s Shock Shop offer their suggestions and experience. Both “Mike’s” provide shock hardware, setups and technology to prominent racers across the country and are authorized service centers for many of the major shock brands.

With so many shock choices on the market how can you help racers choose the correct type?

It is important to buy the most tunable shock within your track or organization’s rules. If your rules allow for compression and rebound adjustment the additional initial investment will translate into speed. If your rules dictate twin tube designs then the more economical hardware can be maximized through tuning. When rules allow we want our teams to utilize the options that are made available in pressurized mono tube shocks.

Rules and budget are part of the equation. We tailor our shock packages to meet the needs of each racer. After a complete interview of each team we determine if pressurized mono tube shocks will work best or if the economics of twin tube shocks meet their needs. Once the shock type is selected we continue the interview to learn more about the goals of each team and build packages based on their input. Understanding driver tendencies and track characteristics allow us to tune shocks for more speed.

What is the racer benefit for partnering up with a shock specialist?


Drivers and Crew Chiefs can communicate what they want the car to do and we can create an option based on the feedback. We can customize and offer a linear/digressive piston, digressive linear piston, double digressive piston, and another piston designed specifically for rough race tracks. Our knowledge is based on feedback from many teams and the information base gained over the entire group would be impossible to gain within a single team.

With shock manufactures offering ever expanding part options for their shocks i.e.: pistons, shim stacks, shafts with different bleed options, etc, it is almost impossible for the racer to stay on top of his shock program. As shock specialists we are continuously being educated on latest product offerings from the shock companies we support. Racers also benefit from our experience – we are testing all the time and the knowledge gained by working with several teams helps us to understand the changes needed for each individual team. Our shock dyno runs full time creating unique shock packages even for teams competing at the same track.

What is a Mono tube shock?


There are two types of late model/sprint car mono-tube shocks, emulsion and De Carbon style. An emulsion shock is typically a mono tube shock with gas and oil in the same chamber. The oil and gas mix creating foam. This is not a desirable situation in any hydrologic system, especially a racing shock absorber. Christian Bourcier de Carbon invented the mono-tube pressurized gas shock absorber. A De Carbon style shock absorber has a dividing piston that separates the nitrogen and oil. De Carbon mono tube shocks with gas pressure and a dividing piston perform better than twin tube shocks. Mono tube shocks cost more to manufacture yet the added expense results in better and more consistent performance.

Naake uses this photo to illustrate the base valve action on the mono tube compression stroke. As the shaft displaces the shock oil the base valve smoothly opens to allow for the shaft volume. Shim stacks can be seen flexing to meter the precise amount of shock oil.

The Naake mono tube rebound stroke photo illustrates shock oil flow and you can see the internal forces and valving action. The mono tube gas separating piston is clearly shown at the top of the shock.

What is a Twin tube shock?

Many tracks and weekly racing series’ rules require a twin tube shock. They do this to keep the racers’ costs down. A twin tube shock has an inner tube that the piston runs in. At the bottom of the inner tube is a base valve. The function of the base-valve is to make 30%-40% of the compression force and replenish the oil in the inner tube on the rebound stroke. If a base valve is not performing with enough force in a twin tube shock that could result in cavitation or what we call in a twin tube design “dumping”. Dumping is when too much oil moves out of the inner tube too quickly and on the rebound stroke it is not replenished fast enough resulting in a momentary dead spot on the rebound stroke. The dumping can be verified on the rebound opening stroke of a constant velocity test on your shock dyno.

Naake uses this photo to show the low pressure gas filled bags utilized in twin tube shocks. The low pressure bags prevent foaming and deform to account for shaft displacement. The Base Valve adds 30 to 40% of the compression force.

Naake points out twin tube shocks have an inner tube that the piston runs in. The twin tube rebound view shows the base valve metering oil from the outer oil reservoir.

Why run a base valve?

Base valves are of most benefit on heavy cars and when low gas pressure is used. For most late models we run without base valves in mono tube shocks to save cost. As you run high compression it can make sense to add a base valve to help prevent cavitation on the back side of the piston. When running a base valve the shock valving needs to be tuned to line up with the compression forces that are metered through the base valve.

A base valve is an optional component on a mono tube shock and works great with low pressure. Some series that allow mono tube shocks do not allow base valve to be installed. A base valve shock will have a much smoother feel to the driver than a non-base valve shock. Of course, a base valve in a shock adds to the cost. We are big fans of base valves when rules allow. The added control of the oil displaced by the shaft gives us more choices with our rebound adjustments as cavitation is eliminated through transition from compression to rebound.

Is shock oil important?

Leary & Naake:

Shock oil is a part of the shock that most racers overlook. Many manufactures use inexpensive hydraulic oil in their shocks. Inexpensive oil can vary through out the temperature range. You may start the race with a shock that has a 5 valving on compression and rebound. Inexpensive oil may react dramatically with heat and effectively make the 5 shock you built in the shop perform like a 3 shock on the track. Using thin synthetic oil reduces the viscosity change allowing for more consistent shock performance from ambient temperature to race temp.

Using a drip cup for shock rebuilding keeps the oil contained and your workplace clean. An organized shock building station is a must if you are servicing shocks on your own.

Leary tested several 5 shocks from different companies. This graph shows that a 5 shock valving varies significantly from brand to brand. Understanding the brand valving differences will help you to make the proper adjustments when using competing brands.

What Shock tips can you give to our readers?

We hear a common myth that bag shocks blow out due to rough track conditions or sudden high velocity compression. In my experience, I just do not see this at all. The only bag failures I have seen are due to errors in assembly or a bag had a small puncture prior to assembly.

You can perform a simple hand test of your twin tube style shock. Fully extend the shock. Position the shock so that the shaft end is up. Compress the shock about a half an inch. If you feel any slack or a dead spot, it is an indication of air in the system. This can be caused by the shock being low on oil, either from the shock having an oil leak or from not enough oil placed in the shock during assembly. It could also indicate a leaking gas bag. We perform this test on all twin tube shock prior to running a dyno test. If they don’t pass the hand test, they are guaranteed to fail the dyno test.

You should have your shocks dyno’d when they are new to get a baseline, and then should be re-dyno’d after a crash and halfway thru the season. A shaft bent 3 or 4 thousandths or a tiny dent in a mono tube shock body, will change the shock dramatically. In this day in age, it is almost impossible to build your own shocks without testing them on a quality dyno. Using the proper tools such as, shock wrench, shock vice and drip cup will make the building process easier and protect your investment. Keeping your shock work area clean and organized is pivotal to building successful shocks.

If you are going to work on your own shocks then using the proper tools such as a shock vice will help you to build winning shocks.

What shock adjustment tips can you suggest?

Most of the handling of a pavement car is controlled in the first 2 inches of shock movement. I like to use the rear shocks to control the entry of the corner, left side shocks and RF for the middle of the corner and the fronts for exit.

I avoid using the compression side of the shock for handling adjustment. I would rather use springs to control compression adjustments. The one exception is possibly the compression on the left rear – by increasing the compression at certain speeds, you can gain bite off the corner. It can make the car think is has more LR spring on exit without changing the corner entry like a spring can.

On a conventional spring setup, the shock settings will work differently than with a soft spring set-up. The more front spring rate, the less compression you need because the spring is doing the work. With a soft front spring set up, you need to use compression to control the speed of the front end movement because you have a 200 lb spring trying to hold up an 800 lb corner.

If you tie down the left rear shock on a conventional set-up, I’ve found you will tighten up the entry of the corner. I believe it keeps the left rear weight from transferring to the RR as fast, which gives you that loose entry feeling and keeps the weight on the LR tire.

With a soft spring set-up, if you tied down the LR, it usually will loosen the corner entry. Because of the rapid weight transfer to the RF of the car, we can overload the RF tire, which can cause a soft push on entry. By delaying that transfer the RF tire has a chance to “grip” the track, so the driver feels the car is looser on entry.

With either conventional or the soft spring set up, the rebound on the RF can help that “tight in the middle” feeling. By stiffening the rebound on the RF it holds weight on that tire and helps it maintain grip – it also keeps the RF from transferring weight to the LR as fast, which will cause the car to pick up a push. The downside of holding down the RF is you can lose some grip off the corner, because you are delaying that weight transfer to the LR.

When we have soft front springs, we need the rebound on the LF shock to help the sway bar to keep all that weight transfer to the RF. That is why we see the extreme tie-down LF shocks. It is important to balance your front springs/sway bar and tie-down in the LR shock. We build LF shocks at 1 inch of travel anywhere from 600 lbs of force to 1000 lbs, depending on the set up.

Changing the sweeps on externally adjustable shocks makes a big change. Leary uses this dyno graph to illustrate the dramatic effect of using sweep adjustments.

To help free up the car from the center off a quick adjustment is to add gas pressure to the RR shock. By adding up to 200lbs (if you have the right hardware) the car can take on a better attitude and become more stable on exit. This fix is quick and can be removed quickly if the driver is still looking for a better exit.

With today’s set ups we like to maintain rebound in the front shocks. If the car is tight, and if the team has the right hardware, we try to go with high frequency pistons to relieve the tight feeling. In short, there is an o-ring behind the shaft band that delays the metering of oil through the bleed holes for a brief moment and then shuts the bleeds off just as quickly. Our teams can work with us to discuss these options to find more speed – our goal here is to let your readers know that there is high tech hardware out there that goes beyond generic answers. We have proven results in gaining front grip off the corner with the high frequency hardware available. Remote canisters provide another layer of adjustability when allowed.

While high tech is cool sometimes a basic answer works well. If your car is tight then more compression in the RR will help the car turn in the center. You can try a bit more rebound in the LR to free it up. You can take a little compression out of the LF or tie down the RF to help the car turn. Extreme rebound in the front shocks is good in many cases but too much low speed control can reduce front grip. With extreme front rebound you need some bleed to allow the tire to follow the track surface.
When rules allow a remote shock canister gives you more compression adjustability options. Base valves can be built into remote reservoirs and the housing needs to be protected from damage. Using a canister mount allows for quick adjustments when practice time runs short.



Shock science and hardware is constantly changing and the application of the set up tips is very dependant on the track, driver and location in the turn. Many times a standard shock tip will change 180 degrees based on moving the car a few feet in the corner and the tips above need to be applied with full understanding of shock mechanics – both Mike’s will change their adjustments based on real world data. When it comes to shocks it is all about timing and transitions. Shocks might hold or delay movements but in the end the springs carry the load. Bumps, braking, throttle and rolling through the middle all provide information that will be analyzed independently by your shock guru. Be aware that you may have soft front springs but you also must consider the overall front spring rate based on the giant sway bar that could be in your car.

Go Forward – Move Ahead

Jeff Butcher
Courtesy of JOES Racing Products

Performance Racing Industry - Retailer Profile

posted Apr 16, 2011, 10:50 PM by LRP Admin   [ updated Apr 21, 2011, 3:00 PM ]

Article Originally Published in April 2011 issue of the Performance Racing Industry magazine.

When Mike Leary, owner of LearyRacing Products in Denver, Colorado, started racing, he was like a lot of guys on a budget, trying to get a nickel’s worth of performance out of four cents. He couldn’t afford a top-of-the-line chassis or up-to-date  equipment. He even brought the equivalent of a knife to a gunfight, racing a dirt chassis against more modern asphalt Super Late Models.  “When I was racing, I never had quite the equipment that everybody else had.  My fi rst car, I just chalked it out on the floor and welded it up,” said Leary, who added that it is not an approach that is likely to work in today’s sophisticated racing environment. “We were just in the right place at the right time,” he admitted, to pull off the success he experienced. 

In that Super Late Model series, Leary held his ground and carved up the competition to come close to winning a champions hip, finishing third and second in the season standings. It was a typical performance for Leary, who sometimes had to manufacture his own solutions to get the handling he needed to win.

Even that first car that Leary chalked out on the shop fl oor was competitive.  “We set some quick times and won races
with it,” recalled Leary, who accumulated 25 years experience as a driver. But that car was more valuable than its winning
record. “It made me learn,” he said about that fi rst car and those that followed.

Wanting to win when the odds were against him was a motive for schooling himself. It also appealed to his Mr. Wizard-like curiosity. “I want to know why something works, not just that it works,” said Leary, who studied math and aeronautical
engineering in college.  For the last 15 years since retiring as a driver, Leary has used those chassis-tuning lessons to create a winning edge in business, drawing customers from around the world who are looking for his expertise as much as they are to buy parts.

His store, Leary Racing Products, sits in a commercial business park just south of downtown Denver and sells all types of
performance products for a wide range of cars. But beyond the showroom and the shelves of inventory is what Leary calls
the “mad scientist” room, where he tunes shocks to fi nd the performance edge his customers are looking for.

“My theory when I started was that I needed something to get guys in the store,” Leary explained. His knowledge of shock absorbers and chassis set-up “gives us a competitive edge. It gives people another reason to come here instead of going over to other stores that sell parts.”

Those hours of poring over dyno charts also keep him sharp so he can advise his customers on a wide range of racing
problems, he believes. “It keeps the competitive edge in me now that I’m not racing anymore,” he said.

The store’s retail hours are structured to give Leary more time in the mad scientist room. “We’re only open to the public from
noon to 6 p.m., so we can work on shocks without being interrupted,” he explained, although he noted that a lot of his regular
customers have learned how to get in the back door when they need something in the morning or the evening.

Leary Racing Products caters to a wide range of customers, from oval trackers and off-road to drag race and hill climbers.
Leary builds shocks for all of them, estimating that he tunes at least 2500 shocks in a year.

Many of his customers are local and race throughout Colorado at places like lofty Pikes Peak and down to earth ovals such as Colorado National Speedway and I-25 Speedway. His sales and customer loyalty, however, cross international
boundaries. “We sell stuff all over the country from Florida to New York,” he said, “and we’ve built stuff for guys in Mexico, South America and Europe.”

He even had a customer from England stop by the store in Denver while he was touring the country by train. The customer
shipped his purchases back home before continuing on his vacation.

Leary believes that it is his attention to detail and a high level of customer service that draws customers from such a wide base. “Shocks take a lot of time to get right and my theory is that close isn’t good enough,” Leary insisted. He is an authorized re-builder who is certified by every major shock manufacturer.

He has confidence in the quality from all of his suppliers. “Their tech guys work with me and I work with them,” he said,
emphasizing how cooperatively they share ideas.

“Each shock is a production item, but not all of them are exactly the same,” explained Leary. But each set will fit the
customized needs of the buyer when they go out the door. He talks almost non-stop on the phone, consulting with customers while he fi ne-tunes their shocks to get the results they are looking for. Besides Leary’s expertise on the phone, each buyer gets three sheets of data from the shock dyno as a guide for chassis set-up.

“I’m real particular,” he admitted about details. “But once it leaves my store with my sticker on it, it’s my shock.” He noted that his shocks are not cookie cutter set-ups. “Everybody wants something different, even when they use the same shock,” Leary explained. At least half of the Late Models in the weekly show at Colorado National Speedway, for example, are Leary’s customers, including two of the track’s recent champions.

“They are two champion drivers, but each car is different and their set-ups couldn’t be more different.” The marketing advantage that Leary created with his expertise has been a magnet for attracting attention, but it’s the success of his customers that keep people coming back. “My customers have won over 100 championships in the last two years,” he said. “That success, plus word of mouth, is the best advertising.”

That winning tradition extends to Leary’s staff, as well. “Almost everyone who works for me is a multiple champion,” said Leary.

That includes Late Model driver Chris Eggleston, an honors student at Colorado State University, who races in the ASA
series and has a pair of Legends titles, and Roger Avants, a six-time NASCAR Late Model track champion, who also
won the NASCAR Northwest Region Championship in 2002.

“Some guys are intimidated when they walk in the door, knowing that they are talking to a six-time champion,” Leary
acknowledged. “But when they start talking to him, they realize that he’s just another guy.”

Leary and his staff put customers at ease by insisting that “there aren’t any dumb questions,” and reminding them that “we asked those same questions” at some time in their careers. “I learn something every time I go to the race track,” Leary continued. “I learn as much from my customers as they learn from me.”

Just as a race driver improves by logging many laps, Leary and his staff accelerate their learning curves because of the large number of customers they advise. “I can learn in a weekend what a team might learn in a year just because I’ve probably tried (the solution they are looking for) on three cars today alone,” said Leary. “I’m not smarter, just quicker, because I have so much out there.

“I like helping people go faster and being an advisor,” Leary confessed.

That courtesy even extends to racers he comes across at a track who have never set foot in Leary Racing Products.

“Even if they are not a customer, we’ll help them out because people appreciate that and they will remember that we helped them.”

Leary insists that solving a customer’s problem is more important than selling them a part, giving them the same treatment
that he appreciated when he was on the other side of the counter. “We talk ourselves out of a lot of sales because we want to solve their problem and what they asked for is not what they needed,” he explained.

That philosophy also includes treating each of his customers equally and going out of his way to preclude any idea that any of them are getting special parts or service. “I learned quickly when I started the business that it’s best to not race against your customers,” Leary said. “I try to give everybody as much information as I can and try to keep things on an even keel.”

That includes guarantees that customers are getting the same parts and advice as Eggleston or Avants. “If a customer
thinks that Roger has something he doesn’t, I ask them to give me their shocks and we’ll swap them right there,” Leary said.

Leary also gives his customers free rein to use tools in his shop as a service and to preserve money they can spend on parts. “We stock several types of chassis and if a customer asks, I tell him to just go back and measure off it,” he said. “I
appreciated that when I was racing and I remember we never knew as much as we needed to.”

Customers also can borrow expensive tools that they might only use occasionally, such as a spring rater, bump steer
gauge or a jig to mount a Late Model body. “I have customers who come in thinking they have to buy that stuff and I just tell them to take it home and use it and bring it back,” Leary explained.

Beyond the courtesy, he said, “I’d rather have them spend $1000 on other things that will help them on the race track.”
His relationship with local racers has been an advantage in the market and helped Leary succeed when he opened the doors of a very modest store 11 years ago. “There were six or seven places selling parts,” he recalled. “I raced a lot before I started the business, so the guys knew me. I didn’t make a lot of enemies when I raced and the guys trusted me.

When they ordered a piece, they got what they expected.”

Leary Racing Products began in late 1999 in a 1500-square-foot space in the same building it now occupies. Over the years, both the inventory and the space have grown signifi cantly. “We started with $40,000 and now we have about three quarters of a million dollars in inventory,” Leary said. “I look at old pictures and just laugh. What was once our whole inventory is what we buy today in a day.”

When the store opened, it was so small that Leary had to order inventory every day because he didn’t have any place to
store it. “We have 5000 square feet now and we’re bursting at the seams,” Leary said. Coincidentally, his next door neighbor
is quarter midget car chassis builder Tad Fiser, a customer for parts who also gives Leary access to machine tooling in a convenient co-op arrangement.

“He starts out racers at five years old and I get them at 14,” Leary noted, “and 50-year-olds in Legends who have never raced before are a big part of our business.  So, our customers can go from the beginning of their career to the end and never leave the building,” he joked.

“When I started, the idea was that I’d be racing more and sitting around with nothing to do in the winter,” he admitted, a naïve concept that quickly ended. And the pace was quick, if not profi table, from the beginning. “I did three times more business than I thought I would in the first month,” Leary recalled.
Despite that brisk start, Leary didn’t take any money out of the store for its first two years. His wife Nancy, who still keeps the books at Leary Racing Products, supported the couple while  Leary invested revenue in inventory tobuild the business.
Today, the inventory spans the entire range of motorsports. “Late Models are a big part of our business,” Leary explained, “but we go all the way from Legends and sports cars to super stocks, (IMCA-type) dirt modifi eds and rock crawlers.” The inventory, he said,“is pretty wide rather than pretty deep,” reflecting that variety.

“Our theory is that you gotta have it to sell it,” Leary said. Customers are more apt to buy something they can put their
hands on and walk out the door with than something they have to order and wait for, he believes. Based on comments from customers, Leary is right on target.

“People used to call to ask if we had what they wanted,” he recalled. “Now, they call and ask us to set it aside.” But Leary is quick to note that a large inventory is not a guarantee of success.

Unless it is built gradually and well managed, a large inventory can swamp a business and drain profi t. “I’ve tried to control growth to no more than 10 percent a year and avoid debt,” said Leary, referring to the pay as you go philosophy he adopted from the beginning. “Overhead is a killer for any business.”

“We buy enough to grow,” Leary added, “but I believe you make money when you buy inventory, not when you sell it.” To cut
his overhead costs, Leary buys in bulk and redistributes some of the product to smaller businesses. “I’ve gotten big enough that car builders work with us and I distribute to smaller dealers.” But cost cutting with bulk purchases is only one aspect of managing profit.

“Keeping track of inventory is the key to being successful,” Leary said. That includes buying the right items at the right time, something that Leary believes takes a lot personal attention. “I don’t have a computer that automatically buys 10 of an item when I get down to two.”

Instead, Leary studies sales trends, researches quality among competing brands and also watches the calendar. “You have to anticipate what people will need,” he said. “You have a different inventory in January than you do in July.” Seats, fire systems, pedals and safety gear are more likely to sell in the winter when customers are building new cars, for example,  while there is a bigger demand for consumable items at the height of the racing season. He also spends evenings scanning
catalogs and websites, doing some comparison shopping to determine who has the best products and at the best prices. “I’d rather talk the customer into spending a little more than come back because the part didn’t last a week,” Leary explained.

Leary believes it takes that level of diligence to contain costs and create profit. “I tell people I do more homework now than when I was in college,” he quipped.

To stay in touch with customers, Leary spends a lot of time at race tracks. In fact, he made the trek to California’s Toyota
Speedway at Irwindale for January’s Toyota All-Star Showdown, where he and Nancy offered support to five cars that were running his shocks. “We don’t take any weekends off,” he said. It’s important, he believes, that they know he is interested in what they are doing and what they need. But after three years, he stopped taking a parts trailer to support the weekly show  at Colorado National Speedway. Although trackside sales is a staple for many retailers, Leary believes the move cut  overhead without cutting sales and also gave him more time to spend with more customers.

“It tied me to one race track and added about 30 hours to my week,” he said, estimating the time it took to stock the trailer, be at the track, and move inventory back into his store on Sunday. “Now I get to go to a lot of different tracks,” he said, which gives him time to talk with a wider range of customers. By supporting more of his clientele than he would see only at one race track, he added, “It didn’t hurt our sales.” That exposure and time in the mad scientist room has helped Leary Racing
Products weather some tough times in recent years. “Having our own niche helped us,” Leary said, referring to his expertise with shocks. “There are some years when the lower end guys spend more and years when the guys who have money in the stock market are buying chassis. I sold a bunch of new cars this year and that’s a good sign. “Right now, the business is growing by itself and it’s getting closer to where it was before the recession,” said Leary, as he worked double-time to get shocks and other products out the door before leaving for the Toyota All-Star Showdown. Despite the hectic pace and long days that he needed to get ready for the trip, Leary was eagerly looking forward to it. “Ultimately, this business gets down to
talking to somebody,” contends Leary, who spends hours of each day talking on the phone to keep up relationships with
customers. “I enjoy the people in this business and the one on one,” he said, referring to vendors and customers alike.

“I used to work in a service department of a car dealership and nobody ever looked happy going in there,” he added.  “I want people to look forward to coming into our store.”

After all these years, Leary has disavowed that naïve idea that opening a store would give him free time in the winter and more time to go racing. “I’d like for it to get to the point where I don’t have to be here every day,” confessed Leary, who typically works seven days a week for much of the year. “But I enjoy it,” he quickly added. About running the business, Leary said, “It’s a lot of work, but it’s better than getting a ‘real’ job.”

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