After successes on track, racing firm adds retail arm

John Harrah has raised horses for 17 years, and he still breeds five mares each year down from the 300 head formerly stabled at his Reno ranch but Harrah says at heart he's always been a tinkerer.

"My passion has always been mechanical design and machine work. All the way through raising horses, I always loved going to my shop and making things."

Three years ago a friend introduced Harrah to off-road racing, and he quickly turned his love for mechanical engineering into a racing business.

Harrah, 42, formed Speed Technologies two years ago and has funded the company ever since, and the fledgling racing organization is poised to enter the retail market with a brand of high-performance off-road racing accessories.

Speed Technologies' first retail product is a valve for motorcycles designed to boost fuel-air performance. Harrah says the valve can be configured for use with snowmobiles or for outboard marine motors, and that the $300 part should be available through the company's Web site and specialty stores by the end of the month.

Speed Technologies also is working on a safety seat designed to absorb high g-force loads to protect off-road and rally car drivers, as well as drag boat racers, from back and neck injuries. Harrah says because of its design the seat still needs approval from sanctioning bodies to be sold commercially for off-road use.

Harrah says he never expected to be at the helm of a racing organization when he bought a used car several years ago.

"With every race the hook sinks in deeper and deeper. I thought I would just go out and practice and see what it is all about, and the next thing I knew I was entered in the Parker 425," he says.

Harrah's transmission busted 320 miles into the 425-mile race beginning in Parker, Ariz., but he's been driving ever since and now has more than 25 similar races under his belt. He took to the road to build a brand for Speed Technologies.

"One of the reasons I funded the race team is to get our name out and be in the public eye," he says. "We are racing as we are developing products so that we have a name. I don't think Parnelli Jones would have been able to sell many tires if he hadn't been able to accomplish what he did (as a driver)."

Harrah presides over 18 dedicated employees, plus another eight volunteer crewmen at races. Harrah says his staff of engineers, mechanics and fabricators are charged with the goal of becoming industry leaders in the products they are designing. Speed Technologies also plans to introduce a clothing and apparel line, as well as specialized gear such as driving suits.

Harrah says he still provides most of the funding for the organization, but Toyo Tires has signed on as one of the company's first sponsors and defers the cost of tires at $300 each.

The organization is a family affair, too son Johnny, 16, works for the company, and daughter Kody, 14, rides shotgun as John Harrah's co-driver on long rally races. "It is kind of a family deal," says the patriarch leader.


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