Jon Kaase earned a degree in mechanical engineering, created race engines that won a dozen Pro Stock championships, succeeded in winning the Engine Masters Challenge eight times, and has presided over the company that bears his name for almost 39 years.
A dentist’s son, Kaase, 67, started competing in drag racing while still at high school in Cleveland, Ohio. He moved to Atlanta, Georgia at the beginning of 1977 to work for Dyno Don Nicholson and by year end celebrated the move by claiming the NHRA Pro Stock title.
In November 1979 in Norcross, Georgia, he formed his own company, Jon Kaase Racing Engines. Later in 1998 he designed a purpose-built shop and moved his business to Winder, Georgia, from where the company operates today.
Around 2007, the firm expanded its operations into the hot rod market when they introduced the Kaase Boss Nine—a high performance engine series developed from Ford’s big-block 385-series and equipped with hemi cylinder heads.
In 2010 the P-38, a new high performance small-block series based on the Ford Windsor engine, was introduced. Both engine series continue to enjoy strong sales throughout the United States as well as down-under in the Australasia markets.
“How about these dyno numbers,” asked Steve Dulcich during the 2015 AMSOIL Engine Masters Challenge? “Wouldn’t they leave any builder slack-jawed?” Hot Rod magazine’s senior writer Dulcich was commenting on Kaase’s unusual Ford Y-block entry. “Though it shows exceptional engine-building talent, it’s the innovative qualities I’ll remember.”
Though Jon Kaase’s technical acumen thrives at the heart of his company, he relies heavily on his Operations Manager, Cliff Moore, who plays a crucial and interlinked part of the Kaase story.
An entrepreneurial type and engine builder with twenty-eight years’ tenure at the firm, Moore started college as an engineering student, incorporating CAD design and CNC programming. He also attended the University of Georgia, majoring in business classes.
More than an employee of one of the industry’s top players, Moore not only has a firm grasp on race engine development but also has been actively involved in drag racing competition. He has served over twenty years as a professional crew chief, including winning 4 World Championships with 3 different Pro Stock teams, tuning the first Pro Stock cars to run in the 6.50’s, 6.40’s, 6.30’s and the 6.20’s and has been nominated and awarded Professional Crew Chief of the Year several times. Today, he remains engaged as a Pro Stock crew chief and also serves as a crew member of an off-shore racing team.
To keep the big wheel spinning, Moore serves as board member at various institutions, including a Florida university as well as with an industrial equipment manufacturing company.
Gifted with a wry sense of humor, Cliff Moore, in times of recreation is an avid Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner.
Chris Thomas won the 2015 Engine Masters Challenge Spec Small-block class with a 400cu in Cleveland. The previous year his 600cu in Boss Hemi scooped the Horsepower and Torque award and in 2013 he contributed much to the performance of Kaase’s overall-winning 4-valve Mod motor. “I’m not sure I would have won if Chris hadn’t been banging away on the keyboard,” admitted Kaase. “I gave him no instructions—he did all of that on his own.”
Born in Asheville, NC, Chris Thomas grew up an hour’s distance southwest in Franklin, and when 18 he enrolled with the Community College in Hendersonville, NC. He studied automotive technology. While there he was encouraged to participate in the ARCA racing series where he served as a front tire changer. It was during this time that the prospect of a career in motor sports entered his head and settled there.
After graduation he returned to Franklin taking work at a local Chevrolet dealership. But he soon tired of its mundane daily schedule and by 2010 had accumulated sufficient funds to enroll in an18-month session at the School of Automotive Machinists in Houston, Texas. Of the three courses on offer—cylinder block, cylinder head and CNC-machining—he enlisted in the first two.
“I quickly learned how much I didn’t know,” says Chris, “and the education gave me the ability to go far beyond where I could have gone on my own.” In May of 2012, Chris Thomas joined the force of Jon Kaase Racing Engines.
Chris Howe is a cylinder-head porter born in Long Island, New York. Known as a back-room man, if his work, his personality, and his extensive record of success were more widely known he’d be regarded as one of the most prominent head porters of the past thirty-six years. Fortunately, his aptitude for generating efficient airflow within the racing engine didn’t escape the attention of Jon Kaase.
As a twenty-one year old, Howe, who had already migrated to the South, was making an impact with Jim Ruggles’ racing outfit in Lithonia, Georgia. Ruggles’ V6 Buicks became regular winners in the Busch Grand National series, and as they captured records at virtually every track they raced, the young Howe began to distinguish himself in the battle for airflow supremacy.
More consequentially, he gained valuable experience as dominant V6 power triggered the onset of engine restrictions. The 750cfm carburetor was replaced by a smaller 390cfm unit. Then he played a major role in Kenny Bernstein’s Winston Cup restrictor-plate program. Perhaps his most vivid memories from the 1980s revive thoughts of Rich Vogler and the cylinder head developments he pioneered for the extraordinary seven-time USAC National Midget and Sprint Car champion.
Since 1992, Howe has devoted his efforts to Kaase Racing Engines. “Kaase,” he says, “identifies the critical components he desires in the induction systems, and I replicate them. It’s almost impossible to appreciate the true scale of Jon’s accomplishments, and that’s probably why I still enjoy the work so much.”
Howe is a man of remarkable fortitude, even now as he approaches his sixtieth year his work load is undiminished. There’s an old saying about cylinder-head porters: “By the time you get good at it you are too old to do it”. How did Chris Howe defeat the odds? He started early!
Doug Schriefer is a tuner and speaker/presenter with a 30-year involvement in motor sport.
Born and raised in New York, the son of an automotive and marine mechanic and commercial fisherman, Schriefer’s early strengths and ambitions were advanced mainly by his mother, an accountant.
“From my time in third grade,” he wrote, “Mom essentially raised me—a singular effort. And when racing consumed my thoughts, she continued to support me with kind-natured commitments that included trips to races, sporting events and the inevitable visits to the emergency room.”
The youngest of four, he studied engineering at the New York Institute of Technology. He went on to show his versatility in racing karts and jet skis as a teenager and has been involved in virtually every aspect of motor sports since the age of 16.
At 18 he found work in nearby Lindenhurst at S-K Speed and remained there for three years. It was here that he came to know the high-performance and racing fraternity.
Then, in 1993 after moving to Georgia, he began a extensive relationship with Barry Grant Inc. For 14 years he acted as Head of Technical Services, troubleshooting problems and developing new products. There he cultivated a broader technical understanding, which eventually led to a relationship with Braswell Carburetion starting in 2007.
Engaged as a field service technician he became an accomplished tuner, providing technical support to Pro-Stock and Pro-Modified racing teams. Tuning numerous World Championship racing squads (including APBA offshore, NASCAR, NHRA and IHRA), he has worked at high-profile race tracks around the world from Daytona to the Big Go at Indy, from Dubai to Key West.
A prolific contributor of ideas and technical concepts, Schriefer is a member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and a multi-time presenter at AETC (Advanced Engineering Technology Conference)
At 47, Doug joined Kaase Racing Engines in 2015. He remains involved in drag racing, currently serving as a Mountain Motor Pro-Stock Crew Chief and offshore power boat racing team member. An avid motorcyclist, he also runs a Men’s Masters Lacrosse team in his spare time.
Born in Livonia, Michigan, Roger Szabo volunteered for military service in Vietnam in 1968.
When the eighteen-year-old returned from the conflict, he gained an apprenticeship at General Motors where he worked for the next 39 years as a repairman of industrial sewing machines. But his personality was characterized by racing, a passion he never neglected.
In his youth, and living just two miles from Dearborn Steel Tubing, the famed builder of prototype race cars, the young Szabo found his life-long calling.
Following his extensive service at GM, Roger moved from Michigan to Gainesville, Georgia, where his daughter lives, taking work at Kaase Racing Engines in the Tech and sales department.
“My family’s racing exploits involved traveling long distances, maybe ten times a year, mostly down south so a move to a more central location seemed a practical step.”
To say that Szabo is a successful drag racer would be an understatement. He began campaigning a Chevelle and a Road Runner in the early nineteen-seventies. But his first serious attempt came in the form of a Super Gas Chevy Vega in the mid-seventies.
Currently, he and his 46-year-old son, Keith, campaign a 1993 Mustang, which they purchased from the late Steve Grebeck. Powered by a twin turbocharged big-block Ford that he built in Kaase’s shop with Jon’s assistance, he’s been racing the car in its current configuration for about ten years.
“I like the turbocharged concept. It makes around 3,000hp and is low maintenance, compared to nitrous or blowers.
“Because of the attractive pay-outs, we compete in small-tire no-time Shoot-outs, often in Texas and Chicago. On the ‘no-prep’ tracks currently popular in Texas, you estimate what power the track will accept and adjust your car accordingly.”
Successful race engine shops often operate within the shadow of one exceptional individual but Kaase Racing Engines’ supremacy is earned by the quality of the team. With his extensive background in competition, Roger Szabo is an integral part of Kaase’s racing philosophy.
Ron Baker is a leading figure in the construction of 800cu in Mountain Motors.
He has built over 20 of these formidable Hemi Pro Stock race engines from scratch, which culminated in twelve championships in a dozen years. Could any engine-building shop imagine a more exuberant time?
Originating from Westlake Ohio, about 15 miles west of Cleveland, “I started liking cars when I was fourteen when my best friend had a 1947 Plymouth with a Pontiac OHV motor and a Cadillac 3-speed manual transmission. I’ve been crazy about them ever since.”
Ron Baker first met the sixteen-year-old Jon Kaase, also from Westlake in 1968 at Bill Rolf’s shop, Westlake Balancing. “Kaase was doing transmissions and I did valve jobs; we were part-time.”
Of course, it was racing and preparing racing cars for competition that structured their lives and Dragway 42 in West Salem was where their pursuits bloomed.
Baker raced for twenty years—Fairlanes, Fairmonts and Mustangs until he crashed one in the mid-eighties and couldn’t afford to fix it. Fair to say he didn’t remember the experience with affection: “That’s when my race driving career ended.”
Then one day, his life in Ohio was disrupted when Kaase realized that if Ron wished to expand his racing horizons—help unravel the mysteries of the 800cu in racing engine— he should consider moving to north Georgia. It was the mid-nineties.
“Jon did all the head work and I put them together,” says Baker. “I line-honed the blocks, assembled them, degreed the cams, and ground them for rod clearance. Though made of aluminum, they had ductile iron cylinder sleeves and grinding rod clearances used to take a couple of days.” By contrast, contemporary billet blocks eliminate those two days of labor, as correct clearances are now included in the machining process.
Adept at building both race-proven and high-performance street engines, Baker’s most recent builds include a 427 Cammer, Ford’s overhead cam classic from the 1960s, and two FEs.
Unfailingly good company, Baker is a colorful individual, his assessment of technical matters often reflect his laconic and ironic traits in equal measure. To separate his abiding fondness for racing engines, his weekend passions are stirred by roaming the countryside in his motorhome or motorcycle.
Logun Smolik enjoys diversity at Kaase’s shop and the pleasingly disparate engine-building prospects that routinely present themselves.
Currently, he’s preparing high-performance Nissan GT-R and Porsche engines as well as off-shore powerboat and Pro Stock Mountain Motors.
For Smolik, employment at Kaase’s is a hallmark—a stamp of authenticity—and he’s gratified to have been recruited by the Winder marque and to be part of the team.
Ambitious twenty-eight-year-old engine builders have no intention of remaining insignificant for long. They have already mapped-out their career and make every effort to become proficient at it.
Graduating from High School in 2010, Logun grew up in mid-Nebraska, on a farm near Sargent. The following year, he enrolled at the School of Automotive Machinists, (SAMs) committing himself to an 18-month apprenticeship at the famed Houston training institution.
In mid-2012 he found employment at a small engine shop in Colorado Springs, McCabe Motorsports. For three years, his primary focus lay with the preparation of drag race and short-track oval engines, operating on both asphalt and dirt.
Then in 2015, he moved to Sherman, a small town north of Dallas, Texas. While there he worked on higher-end Bracket engines. But after 18 months, he was seeking change, a leap forward, which culminated in his joining Kaase Racing Engines in February 2017.
The enticement of mechanical interests:
Farming and ranching could have been Logun’s destiny, but that was not to be. Yet, farms have a just reputation for being the traditional hothouse of ingenuity. For farmers, because of their outlying locations, technology has made sense to them since childhood—they have to rely on their own resourcefulness. So, through his mechanical interests, the engaging passages of Hot Rod magazines, mud and dirt bike racing during High School, he found his path to the racing industry.
Correlation of vital ingredients
Hiring can be a harrowing business, just ask any competent engine-building shop. But if a shop is fortunate enough to find reliable talent combined with good cheer and character, it’s an event that strikes a chord of optimism within the entire team.
If you managed an engine shop and were responsible for hiring new employees, how would you recruit those vital ingredients? For Kaase Racing Engines, it’s often the School of Automotive Machinists (SAMs) in Houston, Texas that provides the most promising students, and Rick Maczko (pronounced Must-go) is the latest employee to have joined Kaase’s ranks.
A 32-year old born in Morgantown, WV, Maczko attended the West Virginia University, situated there on the banks of the Monongahela River, but he didn’t finish the pursuit.
Instead, his career began at 23 years’ old, in 2010, at SAMs where he enrolled in their cylinder block and cylinder head courses.
In fact, some years later he took employment for two years at SAMs as an instructor. He also worked at Sonny’s Racing Engines, Lynchburg, VA twice, both before and after his time in Houston.
Maczko inherited his dad’s zeal for racing and for building race engines, “So I was always around it. In fact, in my youth I was part of the Junior drag racing scene.”
Now in Winder, Georgia, he explains, “The allure of Kaase’s shop is its diversity. There’s also a receptive atmosphere here to new ideas, and Kaase manages to bring unity to the shop compared to others that operate more like military schools. Still, the shop’s diversity is appealing: Nissans, Porsches, big-block Fords, boat engines, and a vast series of different processes to learn. I enjoy being exposed to a variety of work.”
The twenty-one-year old is an engine builder trained at the School of Automotive Machinists in Houston, Texas and an adept Sprint car racing driver. He’s been active in motor sport since seven years of age. In the southeast racing scene, his résumé as a driver includes winning the Quarter midget championship of 2011. In 2012 he claimed the Rookie-of-the-year title in Mini midgets and again in 2017 Rookie-of-the-year in 360 Sprint cars.
Based in Gainesville, North Hall, Georgia he began competing while in the second grade. He had accompanied a school chum to watch him race in Quarter Midgets at Cumming Fairground, and a week later the Taylor family had acquired the 120cc Honda-powered machine, and their life’s ambitions had suddenly changed.
In 2012 Taylor switched to the Mini Sprint class that is powered by the renowned 600cc Yamaha engine, and in 2016 he advanced to 360 Sprint cars.
Gaining an education in race engine preparation
During High School Brandon Taylor had engaged in the Hot Rodders of Tomorrow program, building competition engines in time-based events. He received a scholarship to the School of Automotive Machinists (SAM) in Houston, Texas. Starting in 2018 he graduated in 2021, having successfully completed their engine block, cylinder head and EFI calibration classes.
Brandon Taylor joined Kaase Racing Engines in early February 2021.
Kelley McCullam (56)
In his early twenties, he was hired by Melling Racing, the Championship-winning NASCAR Winston Cup Series race team. Owned by Harry Melling and making their debut at Daytona 1982, they fielded cars for Bill Elliott, who won the 1985 Southern 500 at Darlington, claiming the first Winston Million bonus. At Talladega Superspeedway in 1987, they recorded the fastest qualifying lap in NASCAR history with a speed of 212.809mph. Melling won 34 NASCAR Winston Cup races and the 1988 Winston Cup championship, entirely with “Awesome Bill’.
Melling, and by association McCullam, also prepared racing engines for King Racing. Under the proprietorship of NHRA drag racing champion Kenny Bernstein, King Racing also fielded entries in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series as well as CART and the Indianapolis 500; McCullam’s work was affiliated with Brett Bodine’s car.
Though his father was a banker, McCallum’s allegiance was to race car preparation and to competition engines in particular, beginning his career at Brantley Automotive. At Brantley, he engaged in general repairs and engine work for sand drag racing teams and oval track—both dirt and asphalt cars. Bruce Brantley, ‘the complete racer’ was inducted into the region’s Hall of Fame. McCallum served Brantleys for around seven years.
He went on to work for Nalley and Moody Racing Engines in Norcross, Georgia, where he constructed engines for oval track, drag racing and muscle cars. It was at Nalley’s where he first met Jon Kaase (and Cliff Moore), who rented space in the same building.
So attracted to the allure of the racing engine, McCallum expanded his talents by committing to a two-year training course on machining, initiated at Gwinnett Technical College (CNC technology) and completed at the North Georgia Technical College based in Cleveland.
For years, McCullam, worked at Ernie Elliott’s company in Dawsonville, building Dodge R5 (P7?) racing engines for Chip Ganassi—a contract that abruptly ended with the eruption of the 2008 recession. “Those were successful racing engines—front runners,” he says. “They seemed to excel no matter the driver.”
A reliable, perceptive man, McCallum has an eye for enticing possibilities, and following his tenure at Ernie Elliott’s he joined Boat Marine, a local company then located in Gainesville, Georgia. Watercraft had represented a change in philosophy, and he employed his talents exploring the ailments and remedies of outboard and inboard engines—both four-strokes and two-strokes—as well as attending to electrical concerns.
Prior to joining the ranks of Kaase Racing Engines in 2021, McCullam had devoted his time to repairing and maintaining refrigerant trailers when Jon Kaase intervened:”I was immensely pleased when Jon called me about a job prospect.”
McCullam is a kindly man, in union with nature and with affection for animals, who competes in competition bass fishing mostly on the lakes of Georgia and South Carolina.