From Full Time Racer To Helping Engine Builders Solve Their Valve Train Problems, Gary Henderson Has Done It All During 30+ Years In The Industry
Name: Gary Henderson
Job Title: Engine Builder Performance Technician At COMP Cams
Gary Henderson is a COMP Cams engine performance technician. When master engine builders call for help, it’s Henderson’s job to answer the tough questions and help find solutions. For over thirty years he has been putting his vast automotive knowledge and experience to good use at COMP.
What is your background in the industry?
Originally, I raced for a living. I guess you could say that from 1971 to 1984 I raced full time professionally, top fuel and funny cars. I raced against guys like Don Prudhomme and John Force. I realized after about seven or eight years that I should get a full time job, try to get a career started and not go broke. That’s what inspired me to get into this.
What do you like best about the job?
I guess I just like engines, cars and the people who are around that type of stuff. To be able to relate to what they’re doing, it’s like work isn’t work. It’s a fun job, really. Now that I’ve gotten into building street rods too, I’ve built about five or six street rods, that makes a big difference to be able to relate to those guys too.
What is your all-time favorite or dream car?
I would say probably a ’57 Chevy. I had one as a young kid just out of school, and I really enjoyed working on it.
Do you have past racing experience? If so what kind, and do you still race?
I raced top fuel and funny cars professionally. No. I’ve got guys wanting me to come back and try it again, but I’m pretty content. You know, I’ve had a couple of opportunities, but I know how much work it takes to get into that, how much preparation it is to get the car ready for that short amount of racing – that’s a lot of work.
What is your proudest moment in racing?
When we won the Cajun Nationals in 1983. That was a brand new car. First time out and we ended up winning the race with it.
Who is your favorite racer and why?
I would say Don Garlits, in drag racing, mainly because he came up through the ranks early on and did a lot of pioneering. A lot of the new stuff relates from what he did at that time, and probably a lot of safety aspects came from what he was doing.
What is the best career advice you ever received? Who gave it to you?
I would say, get with a good company and work with it, ups and downs. At times, you’re going to think it’s not worth it. But as time goes on you’re going to realize that you’ve got to stay with one company for a long time. That’s like me. I’ve been here a little over thirty something years, oh, thirty-three years now. I’d never have thought I’d ever have a job for thirty years – at one company anyway. But once you get that job, and it’s a company that you want to stay with, it’s easy for the years to go by. I’d say get with a good company, find a niche market and stay with it.
Probably, just try to pick a side of racing that you enjoy, and try to make it as safe as possible. I’m big into the safety side of it now because I’ve seen all the stuff that’s happening. The technology is going so fast now that you can get yourself in trouble quick. I’d say that if a young kid is trying to get into it now, he needs to do it safely and cover all bases on that end first. The performance will come with it, but you only get one life.
What are your hobbies outside of racing and the industry?
Golf, I took it up about 25 years ago. It’s given me that competitive side that I really like.
What’s your favorite type of music to drive to?
50s and 60s music.
In the next five years, what do you think will be the most important advancement in performance automotive technology?
Probably the electronics of the car, like airplanes, actually almost driving the car. In other words, it’s being logged on and everything. It’s like drive-by-wire. Now with everything going on, you don’t use cables to do anything. Everything is done electronically. It will actually put on breaks and everything else for you now. I think the electronics side of the cars, the computers, that’s the way to go now.
What’s the one thing you couldn’t live without?
Oh, I would say at this point right now, it would probably be my hot rods and street rods. [laughs] I know your family is important too, but that’s a given. [laughs] Without the cars, it would be a boring world because I’m a gear head.