Need for speed

Randy Eakins and one of the top-fuel dragster clutches he makes.

Randy Eakins and one of the top-fuel dragster clutches he makes.

Randy Eakins and his dad, Bob Eakins, have operated their high-performance machine shop, East West Engineering, for more than 30 years, nearly 11 years located just east of Carson City. This duo may be quietly doing business in Nevada, but on the drag racing circuit, their products register loud and clear.

The Eakinses moved to Nevada in 2003 to purchase a larger machine shop to allow for product expansion with their new high-performance clutch line. They are one of four such manufacturers in the country.

“There was no space to expand in Southern California and we needed more space to start new products,” Randy said. “I wanted to raise my kids in a smaller town. The tax climate is better here, and we have been able to grow and move forward here.”

Greater Nevada Credit Union with USDA’s Business and Industry Loan Guarantee provided the $274,660 loan needed for the company’s expansion. The Eakinses worked with Jeremy Gilpin, GNCU’s vice president of business services, who had used the B&I guarantee on rural loans before.

“USDA is a great business partner, “ Gilpin said. “This agency has local presence and provides great support with staff that knows the market. Their focus on relationships works well for our members with family-owned businesses,” Gilpin said.

The Eakinses used the loan to purchase a CNC lathe to machine fly wheels, saving them time and allowing for mass production. Randy points to the new lathe with pride. “That is the machine that is allowing us to do all this work. What it can do in a few hours used to take us a day to do.” The lathe allows for fine quality milling, down to .0001 of an inch. We couldn’t have done this without the Greater Nevada Credit Union and USDA,” Randy says.

The family business includes father and son, who design and build parts, with short-term assistance when orders pile up. In their tidy shop, they design and build between 80-90 different products, including parts for the airline industry (they have made parts for the Space Shuttle). But their specialty is aviation parts and clutches for National Hot Rod Association dragsters that do a quarter mile in 4.5 seconds — about 330 miles per hour.

The Eakinses make all three types of performance clutches: top fuel, pro-stock and top alcohol dragster clutches. They design and manufacture six different size clutches from 6 inches wide to 11 inches wide; custom work is not unusual.

“We do everything from Bonneville cars, to sand drag racing, to mud bloggers. We can handle just about any kind of performance clutch needed,” said Randy.

The two men do 90 percent of the design and manufacturing for their products in house, subbing out only a few items. In-house they mill, lathe and machine the clutch fly wheels, finishing them off with a centrifuge that spin tests clutches at 10,000 RPM.

“It gets pretty loud in here when the centrifuge gets going,” Bob says. “For safety purposes, the sanctioning body requires that all the clutches be centrifuged before they get sold.”

The Eakinses run the machine shop year round. From March to October they consult at the tracks at Pomona, Sonoma, Indianapolis and Las Vegas. That involves repair work, marketing and selling their products and working on cars in the pits.

They are proud of the fact that it was their East West Engineering clutch that was in the pro stock car Ericka Enders was driving when she won the 2014 Pro-Stock Mello Yello Pro Series Championship at Pomona, Calif. Enders, who races for Elite Motorsports, was crowned the first female Pro Stock champion, averaging 215.5 miles per hour.

The Eakinses race too. Randy races at Las Vegas Speedway, Sonoma and the Top Gun Raceway in Fallon. Both men have been personally and professionally involved in dragster racing most of their lives — Bob since 1963 and Randy for all of his life.

“We work hand in hand with the racer,” Randy says, “so when they tell us what they need, we understand both the performance and the design needs.”

Kelly Clark is a public affairs specialist with USDA Rural Development in Carson City.


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