Who inspired you?
SS: Bill Jenkins. I called him in 1970 or ’71 to see if he would build an engine for me. He was too busy. But I always admired him, he was my hero.
So you raced on the street, right?
SS: (Laughs). Didn’t we all? Not only did we race on the street, over the years that we raced, I mean we would make thousands of runs but I went every week to the local track from the time I was fifteen until I went on tour. I went to National Speedway (Center Moriches, NY) every Sunday, rain, snow, shine, it didn’t matter to me. I’d pull away from my house in the rain and wouldn’t turn around until I was a mile from the track. But in those days, you got to make ten or twelve runs and I never made more than two runs in row without changing something. I would tow my car out and I would make all the time shots and then run class eliminations. Then in the afternoon, I’d enter the tow car in the bracket race. You get experience racing anything. And whatever it was—timing, jetting, spacing, air cooling, temperatures, tire pressure, shocks—it wasn’t just see what the car runs and dial it in, it was how do you make it faster. Now, the average guy racing might make two shots all day.
So you’re saying that practice, the act of driving, makes perfect?
SS: There isn’t any substitute for experience, you can’t replace actual laps. You know, you listen to Greg Anderson. That guy races four or five times a week. You have to have laps, you have to have experience. And then you gotta be smart enough to accurately interpret what you find. Faster or slower, it all leads you. Even when you slow the car down that helps you because it tells you what didn’t work and points you in the direction of what could work.
And it’s the same with building engines?
SS: Yes. You’re constantly trying things. Even if it goes the wrong way it’s still a plus because you’ll know to do something else. There’s no substitute for just doing and doing and doing. All the reading, and the theory and the bench wrenching mean nothing until you go out and do it. Any good engine builder is a doer, not a talker. You try things, you throw stuff at it, and then the sharper guys can interpret the results and it becomes a short-cut. You don’t have to try five thousand things. You did a few things and it gives you an idea that you’re going in the right direction or the wrong direction and about what the combination likes.
And that’s where experience comes in again?
SS: When we drove, we didn’t have computers. Now you don’t even ask the driver what happened. You look at what’s in the computer and see those cold numbers. In the old days, you came out of the car and said, well the shocks felt a little loose and the car was movin’, or the motor felt a little rich, it was straining here, I shifted there. It was all done seat-of-the-pants.