Although his official title is Tool & Die Machinist, Gordon Flake is much more a jack-of-all-trades for the COMP Camsģ manufacturing department. One of the first things people notice about Gordon is his modesty, but without his help the cam shop wouldnít operate as smoothly as it does today. As one of the most senior employees in the COMP Performance Groupô, he has watched the company grow and expand for over thirty years. And because of this, Gordon has a unique perspective into where COMPģ has been and where it will be in the future.
1. When and how did you first become interested in cars/engines?
When I was around 10 or 11 years old my dad and his friend had a side business of rebuilding automatic transmissions. Naturally, as a kid and I wanted to be around my dad and do stuff with him so I ended up washing parts for them and helping out wherever I could. Eventually they lifted a car one day, gave me a jack stand and told me to pull the transmission. It got to be that I was their transmission installer. Of course they did all the real hooking up of stuff, but it was unbelievable to me at that age.
A little later in life Iíd get excited seeing hot rods driving around, like í57 Chevys with the front ends in the air and even older hot rods from the í40s. I wanted one of those way before I was old enough to drive, and it went from there. I started working on go karts and mini bikes for the people in the neighborhood and it just went from there to cars.
2. What was your first car?
Iím not sure what my first car was, but my first memorable car was a í64 Barracuda. It was a little 373 three-speed car. I changed it over and put a four speed in it and did a few other things to hot rod it. One time as a greenhorn not knowing any better I put two four-barrel carburetors on it with a stock cam. I blew both mufflers off on the first pass when I let off the gas.
Iíve also had a í64 Sport Fury, í64 Coronet, í66 GTO, í66 LeMans convertible and a í66 Chevy II. I worked on all of those and raced them from time to time. Back then I was a hot rod freak. I used to be at the strip every weekend with my wife, sometimes Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Iím still passionate about cars, but the financial side has pushed me away from it. My favorite thing used to be drag racing, but I donít go to the strip because itís like a drug. You go and you get the fever. I do go and help people on occasion, but I try to stay away.
3. How did you get involved working in the industry?
Like I said, I started working on cars with my dad when I was just a kid. Then in school I took auto shop, which eventually led to jobs at Oldsmobile and Chevrolet. Being at the track so much I just knew a couple guys who worked at Racing Head Service®
. They asked me to help them with some of the machine work for their tuning process. I got to helping them more and more, and they liked what I did so much that the owners of COMP®
made me an offer I couldnít refuse in 1984.
My Chevy II was actually built in the old facility behind the airport. I pulled the car in and we jacked it up and pulled the engine, transmission and everything out of it. Then we got to work building it up piece by piece using the shopís equipment. After hours the owners would even come over and give me a hand. The company was, and still is, like one big family and a great place to work at.
4. What are some of the biggest challenges that you face in your current role?
The biggest challenge is just staying on top of the new technology. Itís a never ending change here. Just trying to keep up with whatever new processes come out take a lot of time. When a new cam comes out we have to tool up to make it. Whether itís grinding it on the Okumas
or checking the final product on the Adcos, we have to adapt what we have to make it work right every time. So Iíd say the biggest challenge is staying on top of new technology and machinery while keeping those basic implementations in place that I know already work.
5. What is the best part of the job?
Heading out the door each afternoon after putting in a good, hard dayís work. I come in and open the shop at 5:30 AM in the morning to get everything turned on and running before the first crew comes in. So Iím always ready to go at quitting time. Thatís what I tell my boss anyway. But I do whatever it takes to get the job done and he knows that. The best part of my job is really just being able to pass on to the younger generation everything I know from my years of experience and accomplishments in the industry.
6. What are some of your hobbies outside of work?
Hunting, fishing and amateur farming, all of which my wife and I enjoy with our children, grandchildren and friends. I own a little land and I try to raise stuff for friends and the wildlife. When we first moved in all the deer we saw were little malnourished things. Now weíve got some big bucks running around that we love to see in the fields. We also like to take the family to the lake where we fish and go water skiing and tubing. Of course I like to keep up with the racing circuit on TV too.
7. How have you seen the performance industry change since you began working in it?
Thatís the unbelievable part. It was like a baby when I first got involved. Now itís all grown up; itís like an adult. Itís amazing to see how the technology has changed so much over the years. Itís the same for COMP Cams®
and Racing Head Service®
. Iíve watched them grow from babies to adults. And the technology they use to make their products has grown by leaps and bounds over the 30 some years Iíve been with them.
8. How do you predict the industry will continue to evolve?
The possibilities are never ending. Looking just at our group and the way weíre all one big family, there are more and more technologies being shared between us. We have individuals in every little company that have more knowledge than the others. Everyone has their specialties. As long as we all work together, weíll stay on top. We have one heck of an R&D team
, we have great engineers and we have great leadership. As long as we all keep working together, weíll ensure that weíre here for a long time no matter how the industry evolves.
9. What advice would you give to someone who wants to start a career in the performance industry?
First Iíd want to know what their motive was. I had a motive when I first came to work; if Iím in the industry I can learn a lot of things and make it easier for myself. Putting the right resources around me meant it wouldnít take as much money to build my race cars. That was my start. Today I think it takes somebody who wants to get out there and hustle and try to learn the new technology but will still stick with some of the basics. You have to understand the old way of doing things before you can build in the new technology. Without creativity and a desire to improve the old with new ideas you will never be more than an average success. Nothing is easy, but with a lot of determination and hard work, this industry can make all the difference in your future.
10. If you could drive anything in the world what would it be?
This might be a shocker because itís far from a race car. I want to drive the very first car that was built in the United States. And I mean before assembly lines. Can you image? It must be steam powered or some little gasoline thing with nothing but a stick steering wheel. To me, that would be just unbelievable. Now days with the right amount of money you can buy anything you want. But finding that car would be something else. The problem is I donít even know what it is. Iíve looked on the internet, but I havenít found it yet. Maybe someday I will.