From Struggling Racer To Small Business Success


Stories Of People Who Make A Living In Motorsports

Guest Columnist

Sid Waterman operates Waterman Racing Components, which makes parts, particularly fuel pumps for racing applications including drag racing, open-wheel racing, dirt-track racing and NASCAR.

April Fool’s day 1967 my life changed forever. After six years working for Mickey Thompson, I was provided the opportunity to have my own business.

At the 1967 Smoker’s March meet at Bakersfield, California’s Formosa Raceway, there were more than 90 cars trying to qualify for a 32-car show. Though my Top Fuel car had set the 1320 national record a few weeks earlier, I was struggling to get into the show. Along came Herb Robinson, a real gentleman. Herby, as he was known, asked what the problem was. I explained that my tires were dead, and needed to qualify to buy another set. Herby directed me to the Goodyear tent, told me to say he sent me and to bill him for the tires. Goodyear’s Leo Mehl said I was the 10th person sent by Herby that day for tires. I had no choice but to take him up on his offer, because I couldn’t qualify without new hoops.

We qualified in the number three spot, but got beat in the second round. After picking up my round money (which was paid in cash in those days), I found Herb and returned the $200 for the tires, and thanked him profusely. Two weeks later Herby’s wife called and said he wanted to see me. He said I was the only person who had paid him back after that Bakersfield weekend.

He said he had a complete automotive machine shop sitting idle and offered me the opportunity to run it for him. I was skeptical, as you might think, yet agreed to take a look at the shop. When I walked into the shop, I was stunned. The latest in up-to-date equipment was there — Tobin Arp, Sunnen, Storm Vulcan, Kwik Way to name a few — all brand new.

The next day I went to work for Mickey and asked him what he thought. Mickey said it was the opportunity of a lifetime and to go ahead and grab that brass ring. On April 1, 1967, Waterman Racing Engines was formed. Three weeks later I met my soon-to-be wife, Judy, at Riverside Raceway and on June 20th we married. None of what followed would have happened without her support.

Now, 40 years later, I look back in amazement. In the early ’70s when we had more than 35 Top Fuel and Funny Cars for which we maintained engines, and later purchased the M/T aluminum rod company from Holly. We manufactured aluminum rods for Jack Roush, Don Garlits and Shirley Muldowney, to name a few.

In 1975, Car Craft Magazine bestowed the engine builder of the year award on us, over the likes of Ed Pink and Keith Black, an honor and a humbling experience.

In 1979, I sold the engine portion of the business and moved my family back to my native northern California. I concentrated on fuel systems, building our first fuel pump in 1982. They were successful and we were again honored by Car Craft with its first special manufacturer’s award in 1984, followed by a second such award in 1986 for the development of the Nitro Save Burst panel, which dramatically reduced supercharger explosions.

I was encouraged to build fuel pumps for sprint cars and did so in 1986, and built them for USAC Silver Crown, sprints and midgets, which led me to the Indy Racing League. Phil Casey, along with Mike Devon of USAC, requested I design and build a fuel pump for the new IRL. Waterman pumps have been on every Indy car since.

In 2004, USAC honored us with the prestigious Jack O’Neil award presented by Continental Casualty for significant contribution to safety in auto racing. We were delighted.

To a manufacturer and my employees, such awards are important, and rewarding. Recognition by one’s peers is imperative for morale. Those at Waterman care enough to build a better mousetrap than our competitors and we feel competition is important to the racers as well as sanctioning bodies. It ensures the quality of products needed to compete in today’s racing environment.

Be it NHRA, USAC, IRL, WoO or NASCAR, all 11 employees at Waterman Racing Components truly believe the best products wind up on the best race cars.

(Original Print Date: November 7, 2007)