Charlie Garrett has been in the engine-building business for more than 50 years and, even as he approaches age 80, Garrett stays busy doing what he loves.
“I’m taking care of approximately 22 motors,” Garrett said. “When Jason Meyers’ team broke up, those motors got sold and I take care of them. Some of them motors are still around. Five of them are in Australia. Jason came back and asked me to do another motor for him. He wants to race a little bit. Davey Heskin out in the Midwest, they’ve got two of my motors.
“I built Tim Shaffer a new motor last year. He’s done very well with it. He only runs it at the big shows,” Garrett continued. “He has another engine builder because he knew I couldn’t do it all. Tim and I go back a long way. Tim was the first guy I did an Outlaws motor for when he drove for the Selma Shell Team around 2000.”
Shaffer used the Garrett engine to win the Sprint Car World Championship at Mansfield (Ohio) Motor Speedway earlier this year.
“He won the $100,000 race and that was pretty special,” Garrett said. “He’s qualified very well at a lot of these races. He won an Outlaw show with it, he won an All Star show with it.”
Although he could have, Garrett never expanded into a big operation.
“I turn down a lot of people,” he acknowledged. “I never wanted to get big. I had no desire to get big. Everybody I do a motor for, I tell them they’re my motors. They’re their motors, but they’re my motors. I care about them. I don’t want to treat my customers as another number. I want to treat them as a customer. I tell everybody that a big shop has an advantage because they can produce and if you have a problem, they can get it out the door for you. I can’t always do that because I’m a one-man band.”
He does all the work himself.
“I do the boring, I do the honing, I do the decking, I do the valves and I do the assembly and I do the tear down,” Garrett explained. “I’ve got one older guy that helps me with the dyno. I’ve got one guy who helps me tear them apart but I’m always there with him looking at things, looking for trouble and trying to make things better.”
Garrett has some specific things he does to his engines to help them last longer and perform at a top level.
“These motors are expensive,” he noted. “You’ve got to take care of them. Robbie Farr got a motor from Jason Meyers in 2007 and that motor is still racing today. It’s brought in around $330,000. If you maintain them and listen, they’ll give you good service. You can’t ignore things. I tell all my guys I build for, I want that oil filter looked at every race, you don’t ignore the oil filter because you can spot trouble, drain the oil every two races, three at the most, try to keep the dirt out of them. I know we run on dirt, but you can keep the dirt out of them. You’ve got to watch for trouble, and if you spot trouble, you’ve got to stop and you won’t blow it up. It’s an expensive sport, but if you do your job right, you can get some return on it.”
Garrett was a drag racer for 38 years, but his shop was very close to Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa., and that led him to build sprint car engines.
“That used to be all I did,” Garrett said. “Hanover’s a very prime location for sprint car racing. The sprint car guys kept coming in to get work done and eventually all we did was sprint car work. When York 30 closed up, that hurt drag racers around here. Sprint car racing has been around here forever.”
Garrett says the engines have gotten ahead of the cars.
“They’re making so much power today,” he said. “There’s no substitute for a good race car and a good driver, but if you have all three, you’ve got a pretty good deal. When it comes to qualifying on the bigger tracks, you better have a decent motor because you’re fighting for thousandths of seconds. Everybody knows if you don’t qualify good, you don’t have much of a shot. The level of competition is so equal today.
“Not like it was in the Bob Weikert, Al Hamilton days when they outspent everybody and they had an edge. That’s not true today.”