With only three employees, Salter Racing Engines in Winston-Salem, NC, is a small operation that has grown to be one of the premier engine building shops in the country. Chief engine builder and designer Brian Salter is the mastermind behind the business. The owner of two college degrees, his drive and work ethic have propelled his company to the forefront of his industry. Yet just as so many others, his love of cars and engines began at an early age.
“My dad used to carry me to car shows and he had hot rods when he was younger,” Salter explains. “My first car was a 1970 Nova that was my Christmas present when I was 15.”
After graduating from high school Salter joined the army, where he served eight years active duty and received an engineering diploma. Upon leaving the service Salter worked in an automotive shop, but wanted to further his education by going to college. He ended up with two degrees and a laundry list of certifications. His first degree was in Automotive Systems Technology and Electronics, with his second coming in Advanced Machining and Industrial Electronics and Wiring. He is also as a Master ASE Certified Engine Machinist, has a Master’s from NRI in Automotive Servicing, is certified by the state of North Carolina as a Tool and Die Journeyman and has a diploma from GTCC in Conventional Machining. This has made him an extremely well rounded individual, and a valuable resource for racers around the country.
“I learned all the physical profiles of internal combustion engines, I just took it and ran with it,” he says. “I always loved drag, street and oval track racing. I started looking at the engines and how to improve on them.”
Salter ultimately opened Salter Racing Engines in the year 2000. Since then the company has built engines for everything from street rods to Modifieds, and has customers from “Wisconsin to Alabama” as Salter puts it. Today the business is backed by Bob Young, a Salter customer and owner of 109 U Pull It, a very large salvage yard local to Salter’s operation. Young has bought nearly one hundred percent of the engine business, and Salter gives him the credit for ensuring that he and his passionate colleagues can continue to deliver the high quality engines that they strive to produce. He describes it as very hard, but very rewarding work, and is especially thankful for his customers, for there would be no company without them.
In fact, it was a simple phone call from one of these customers that made Salter one of the go-to names in the racing business.
“Rupert Sink was having trouble with his engine builder and he called me out of the blue,” Salter remembers. “He had two Mini-Stocks with 2.3L Ford engines that raced at Bowman-Gray Stadium (in Winston-Salem). I told him what I wanted to do and they won 15 races in two seasons. My name got out and from there the business just went crazy.”
Salter says that that his company got its reputation from racing, but that the whole industry had to back up and re-evaluate its business model when the economy downturned in the late 2000s. That’s when Salter got more into the street engine end of things. However, the racing business is now picking back up for his company, and in fact is busier than it’s ever been.
Since he stays so busy, Salter relies heavily on both COMP Cams components and his Performance Account Manager, Jay Adams.
“Jay is a fantastic sales guy for me,” Salter says.”He sends me what I need quickly and treats me like one of the guys. It’s really nice to call someone and have them be extremely knowledgeable as soon as they pick up the phone.”
“To me COMP has the absolute best camshafts in the world,” Salter says. “The variety of lobes available allows me to completely customize any engine to do exactly what I want it to.”
Many of Salter’s customers compete at historic Bowman-Gray Stadium, a bullring in every sense of the word, not the least of which being that the combatants’ favorite weapon is the chrome horn. Yet while the bump, run and fight is common practice among drivers at the Stadium, the flat ¼ mile poses just as many problems for engine builders looking to put their cars in position to win.
Salter explains his technique this way, “You don’t carry much corner speed there and the RPMs drop really low. It takes a lot for an engine to get back up to between 8000 and 8200. You can throw gear at it but that doesn’t help make any speed. We pride ourselves on being able to make more torque than anybody else in the business. The biggest challenge is to build as much torque as possible and still be able to pull on the top end.”
Salter has discovered a secret in this regard no doubt, as some of his customers include Bowman-Gray rising star Jonathan “John Boy” Brown, and Junior Miller, a 15-time NASCAR Modified champion with whom Salter won the 2006 NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour title. That season Miller also set the fastest lap for the year at Bowman-Gray Stadium, became the all-time winner at the track with his 70th victory (he now has 72) and won the most pole positions.
Other customers include Modified competitors Burt Myers and John Smith, 15-time land speed record holder Charles Venable, the “Wicked Witch of the South” mud truck driven by James Berrier, and a variety of circle track competitors and owners of street machines. Each customer’s engine has its own specific characteristics and Salter’s special touch.
Ever detailed, Salter explains that he and his colleagues personally crank every engine they build, and since many customers are not engine builders themselves, they sometimes face challenges in being sure that all builds are properly maintained. Yet, it’s the price Salter pays for striving to be the best, and competing and winning against big name NASCAR engine builders is a great source of pride.
“You get a sense of accomplishment when you start with nothing and end with a well performing engine,” he says. “There’s a sense of accomplishment when you compete and find success against the best engine builders in the country.”
With that in mind, Salter has a hard time choosing one particular memory that stands above the rest. The land speed records are nice, and Junior Miller’s historic 2006 is particularly memorable, but Salter is hesitant to rest on any laurels.
“My greatest memories are those we make every week winning and being competitive,” he says. “Championships are great, but you have to keep pushing forward.”