Beginnings in the Clutch Business
My earliest memory of a street customer using one of our clutches was around 1972. He was a local guy with a Gremlin X, and he lived near our house.
One night, shortly after installing a three-paddle metallic disc, he drove by our house, stopped and told my dad, “watch this.” He revved it up, dumped the clutch, and picked the front wheels up about two inches. It was the first time I had ever seen that on the street, and I’m pretty sure the neighbors did not appreciate it near as much as I did!
We started working in the family business early in life. At age 13, I worked at the shop full time in the summer. My brother Pat did not want to miss out, so when he turned ten, he also started working half days. I could never thank my parents enough for instilling a strong work ethic in us early on. We actually had money and learned how to save it! My kids complained up and down when I ‘made’ them work during high school, but as soon as they got out into the real working world, they thanked me.
Memories Around the Track
Very quickly, our annual family vacation became the US Nationals at Indy. One of our favorite things to do at night after dinner was to ride around the parking lots of the motels and watch the racers working on their cars. It was not unusual for fuel cars or Pro Stockers to be serviced at night, changing engines, or doing other work right there in the lots. Once in a while, they even started them up. However, there was probably a lot more than just working on cars going on out there, looking back now!
One year at Indy, almost every funny car racer was getting clutch discs from RAM. One of my biggest heroes was (and still is) Tom ‘The Mongoose’ McEwen. He would invite me into the trailer, walk me all around, fill my arms up with Mongoose swag and then say, “go tell your dad I need some clutch discs!” I still have a small notepad that I used to get autographs from almost every fuel racer at that race.
Lessons Learned from My First Car
My first ‘clutch car’ was a ‘67 Camaro RS. The first clutch we put in was a 3200 pound Borg & Beck pressure plate and a six-paddle metallic disc. It would chatter so badly at times you would think the dashboard was going to fall right out, and the pedal was so stiff your left foot would start shaking at a long stoplight! Only one person other than me could ever figure out how to take off smoothly. It never slipped, though! 44 years later, I still have this car.
One of the first things my dad told me after getting the Camaro was, “your daily streetcar can’t be your race car.” After three engines and two transmissions over 4 years, I finally believed him!
Everybody I grew up with who drove hot rods also had a ‘winter beater’ car they drove daily. Mine was a ’69 Impala with a 327 two-barrel. During cold winter mornings on the way to school, it would tend to stall out after about half a block of driving. I’d have to get out, remove the air cleaner, prop the choke open with a pencil, and then it would start right back up. We called it ‘the hovercraft.’ It felt like the whole body moved in the opposite direction when you went around a corner. I sold it to one of my best buddies, and he drove it for many years.
How RAM Clutches Came to Columbia
In 1983 RAM moved from Canton, OH to Columbia, SC. I had just graduated college and moved here in the fall. People often ask how we ended up in Columbia. The real answer is that my Mom and Dad missed a turn on the way to Myrtle Beach and ended up in downtown Columbia, and they decided they liked it here!
A Lifetime of Learning (and loving) the Business
I started learning the technical assistance side of RAM during college. I would answer the phone, get all the customer info, place the call on hold, and discuss it with the current tech guys. Then I would get back on the line and pass along the advice. It seemed very cumbersome at the time, but little did I know how much knowledge I was gaining and how many of those same folks I would still be talking to today.
When you do something for so long, you gain more knowledge than you ever realize. For example, one day before leaving for a show in Ohio, a friend was sitting in my office waiting to leave and listening to me answer some tech calls. When I got off the phone, he was just shaking his head.
“What?,” I said
He said, “I can’t believe you can just spiel all that info out off the top of your head. You never even looked at a catalog or anything!”
I guess that was the day I realized I knew a lot more about clutches than most anybody that was ever going to call me for assistance, let alone most of my competitors.
I know I spoke of it a few months ago, but something that has always driven me crazy are companies that have ‘customers’ running their product decal on a car, and they don’t use that product. Some of our competitors like to do this, often in cars that they don’t even remotely make a product for. We don’t require a customer to run our decal and consider it an honor if they decide to do so. So if you see a car with a RAM decal on it, you can be damn sure that car really has a RAM clutch in it.
2021 marked my 38th year full-time at RAM and 46th year working within the company. I would not trade my life in this industry back for anything. It is a huge blessing to work with your family every day, and the friends, acquaintances, customers, reps, and yes, even competitors I’ve gotten to know. One of the greatest accomplishments in life is to love what you do and grow with it each passing day.
Wishing you and your family the best through the Christmas holidays!