*This is the first of a two-part series. In the second part, Tony Clements will talk about his son Jeremy and their work in fielding a car for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. That piece will be published on Thursday.
There are several engine builders that come to mind when folks who follow racing talk about the power plants that move Dirt Late Models around the track. Certainly, one of the most well known names in the business of producing the roaring beasts that create 900+ horsepower under the hoods of the machines that race on clay ovals throughout the country is that of Clements Racing Engines. The men who run the Spartanburg, SC company known as ‘The House of Power’ are brothers Tony and Glen Clements.
Since the age of 18, Tony Clements has toiled at building racing engines. The now 62-year-old has seen dirt racing go through numerous changes over his 44 years in the business. But one thing remains the same for the organization started by his father Crawford- racers want as much power as they can get. And while the basics may remain the same in the engine building business, the evolution of products used for producing the force to move a Dirt Late Model has seen some degree of change over the decades.
“A whole lot of the parts and pieces are the same as they used to be except they’ve now just been redesigned and developed to function better,” Tony Clements explained in an interview with InsideDirtRacing.com. “The materials that you can buy nowadays to make the parts out of, like the valve springs and the crankshafts and the other things like that, those materials are better nowadays than they used to be. That’s definitely what’s helped the engines to have better quality and to last longer and be more durable. That’s what you’ve got to look for is some way to figure out how to make power and be durable at the same time, since all this stuff is very expensive. You’ve got to make it cost effective by making it last longer.”
Those improved parts and pieces and the evolution of the process for building engines has resulted in the desired goal of making more power while at the same time incorporating greater durability. But did the 18-year-old Tony Clements ever imagine that he would someday be building engines that would churn out more than 900 horsepower?
“I don’t think we thought back then that we’d reach 900 horsepower with the size of these engines,” Clements answered with a smile. “Yeah, we’ve put a lot of passion into it and we’ve worked on it for a long time trying to not really be restricted by the machinery we use to what somebody would sell us. We’ve tried to develop the engines and work day and night at it all our lives.”
One may wonder how modern engine builders continue to find new ways to improve the internal combustion engine that has been around for over one hundred years. Yet, they continue to do so and seemingly find new ways to squeeze even more horsepower out of their products from one year to the next. According to Clements, the real secret is simply found in the grueling hours spent in the shop day after day along with a good deal of ingenuity.
“I guess you just have to keep working at it and you need to have a lot of desire to achieve that because it’s really hard,” he declared. “The racing world is a little bit cruel because it only wants results and it don’t care about anything else. If you’re not passionate enough to work day and night and give your heart and soul to try to develop things to where you can produce something that’s better than the next fellow, you’ll be getting behind fast.”
Of all the aspects of his business, it’s easy for Clements to describe the thing that gives him the greatest satisfaction. The gratification that comes from seeing his driver customers receive the accolades for a job well done at the end of the night in victory lane rates highest for the veteran engine builder.
Clements Racing Engines has proven that it can do exactly that. Evidence of the company’s ability is shown among the trophies on display in their shop, which includes an award for ‘Engine Builder of the Year’ from the World of Outlaws Late Model Series. That honor was bestowed in 2015 when Shane Clanton used Clements power to win the season long championship in that series.
“Oh my, that’s awesome,” Clements said of watching his customers win races. “We’re thrilled to have great racers that have our engines. And that’s a lot of it also. You have to have a racer who wants to win as bad as you do. They put out all that effort and expense and time to be up front because it’s so competitive. The market now is so that everywhere you go you unload a car at a race track and there’s ten or fifteen or twenty-five cars that you’ve got to contend with. You’ve got to beat the best to be the best.”