Talkin’ With Lou: Horace Mast, Owner and Lead Engineer, Mast Motorsports

Dec 2, 2009

Down in Nacogdoches, Texas, there’s a 26-year-old engine pro who’s quickly making a name for himself specializing in GM Gen IV small-block engines. His name is Horace Mast, and he’s the owner and driving force behind Mast Motorsports.

The company currently builds engines for hot rods and muscle cars, street and strip cars, drag racing and off-road applications, off-road short-course racing, as well as airboats, powerboats, and other marine applications.

On the day we caught up with him, Mast has just finished a lengthy technical interview explaining how, by utilizing the GM Gen IV architecture exclusively, the company has been able to focus and scrutinize every aspect and every component of the engine.

We spoke in more general terms, asking him about the impact the economic crunch is having on the industry, what it’s like being a 20-something business owner, his thoughts on dyno testing and how he’s preparing for the arrival of the new 2010 Camaro.

L.J.: Horace, thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Let’s start with a brief bio of your company.

Horace: Mast Motorsports is an engineering-based engine controls, crate engine and design company. Seeing the need for an EFI system that offered OEM-quality drivability and capabilities, our engineers collaborated to bring this control package to the aftermarket. The target idea was to offer EFI systems and crate engines that lacked the headaches normally involved with EFI retrofits and conversions, while integrating OEM quality controls for accessories and drivability in one package.

The idea also included offering high-performance crate engine packages that included our EFI systems, making Mast Motorsports a one-stop shop for powering a hot rod, racecar or off-road vehicle. The aftermarket seems to like the idea of getting a high performance power-train solution that has been engineered from top to bottom by one company.

L.J.: Tell us what you’re working on now.

Horace: Since we started developing products for the GM Gen IV engine platform from its inception, we currently are developing many products for the 2010 Camaro, and some we have already brought to market.

The first product that we developed for our crate engine packages is our camshafts. At the present time we already have three camshafts available for the LS3 Camaro SS and three camshafts for the L99 VVT Camaro SS. These are stock items that are on the shelf and ready for shipment.

We also offer billet fuel rails, 12-degree cylinder heads, have just developed shaft-mounted roller rocker arms and will also be offering an abundance of new valve-train components along with our new cylinder heads, including racing valves, nitrided valve springs, heat-treated spring locators, machined locks and titanium retainers.

Mast Motorsports has also developed a new product line called Track Packages that groups all of these components together for the LS3 and L99 Camaro SS.

There are many more products currently in the development stage for the new Camaro that we will have to forego releasing information on just yet.

L.J.: It’s hard to believe that you’re only 26 and running your own business with so much technical product knowledge. What are the biggest challenges of being a young company owner in this industry?

Horace: There are not enough hours in the day to get everything done. I wish I could clone myself, but short of that, I am trying to work with the best people to make things happen for the company.

So far, we have been able to engineer new products and bring them to market at a blistering pace, but for such a small company, the development will have to plane off so we can focus on moving the products we have already developed.

In my opinion, the biggest challenge has been marketing and brand awareness. It seems that no matter what the quality or value a product has, nothing will sell itself. We are competing in a market where name brands are everything.

Not only do we have to prove what we build is superior to our competitors, but we have to market the company and the products successfully or the competition with the bigger ad will get the customer, based on the advertising and not the product.

L.J.: Of course, ad budgets are tight for just about everyone these days. How has the down economy affected Mast Motorsports?

Horace: In my opinion, everyone is affected to some degree. We are fortunate to be in one of the hottest growth segments in the industry. Our primary product is top-quality, hand-built crate engines that cost between $10,000 and $25,000 and we’re selling them!

L.J.: How do you see the racing/performanceindustry changing once the economy gets back on track?

Horace: I foresee a leaner, meaner industry. I believe companies will begin to hyper-focus on what they do best and eliminate or outsource what they don’t.

L.J.: What advice do you have for novice tuners to help them avoid pitfalls and get the most out of their engine combos?

Horace: My first advice would be to purchase a pre-calibrated package to avoid any tuning altogether. If this is not possible, then my advice is to seek an established professional tuner that is familiar with the LS engine platform or our M-90 ECM.

If any customer is planning on doing his own tuning using our controls, he should get our M-90 WBO2 with the embedded NTK Wide Band controller. Having a real-time input to tune target air/fuel ratios with actual air/fuel ratios dramatically increases the accuracy of the calibration.

A point-by-point calibration is the most accurate, so an engine dyno or an eddy current chassis dyno are the preferred tools for tuning. Also, by utilizing our wideband closed-loop function, the ECM practically performs the calibration for you by keeping the target and actual air/fuel ratios in concert.

Also utilize our wideband knock sensors to ensure that the spark calibration is not too aggressive for the combination of compression ratios, camshaft and octane fuel.

L.J.: Elsewhere in this issue is an article on utilizing dynamometer testing results. How important is dyno testing when it comes to developing cutting-edge products?

Horace: The engine dyno is a critical and required tool for any level of engine design, development and testing. During the construction of our facility, we built four soundproof engine dyno test cells equipped with closed-loop cooling towers and independent isolated foundations.

The closed cooling system is capable of absorbing 2,000 crank hp continuously at an outside ambient temperature of 100 degrees. This means long-term we could run four engine durability tests each at 500 hp and we would only have to worry about the fuel bill.

We also built soundproof chassis test cells and valve-train test cells. However the engine dyno is still our most important tool. Our engine dyno gets put through the ringer, to say the least. We use if for all of our OEM-level point-by-point calibration work for every engine we offer. The dyno is also used to break in and dyno-test every engine that leaves our facility to go to a customer.

In my opinion, I don’t believe that any engine build shop or aftermarket component company can properly function without a capable engine dyno for research, development and product verification.

L.J.: With the many responsibilities of owning your own company, it has to be exhausting at times. What is it that keeps you excited about coming to work each day?

Horace: The opportunity to grow our business and produce innovative performance products that deliver what we promise. I also love the challenge of trying to come up with something new.

L.J.: One of my goals with these articles is to give performance shops something tangible they can implement right away to boost sales. What’s something a retailer can do today to improve his business?

Horace: Work with your manufacturers and get them to offer drop shipping. Inventory and carrying costs are critical to a retailer. These days, a customer wants just about everything right now, and if you don’t have it in stock or you can’t ship it that day it can mean a lost sale.

In many cases, the retailer doesn’t have the product the consumer is looking for in stock. Drop shipping can eliminate many lost sales and comes closer to providing instant gratification to the customer.

L.J.: And finally, where do you see yourself and your company 10 years from now?

Horace: I believe all of our parts manufacturing will be moved in-house, and I see us expanding to several more buildings. We will continue to expand our engineering innovation and our product line in the power-train world.

HORACE MAST, Mast Motorsports

What’s on your iPOD?
I love music, but I don’t have an iPod. The only opportunities I get to enjoy music anymore are on my short trips to and from the office. When I am listening to music I am most likely listening to rock. My days are so long and crazy that the chaos of rock music gets me ready in the mornings and calms me down in the evenings.

Last book read:
I can honestly say I don’t remember the last book I read from cover to cover. It seems as though all my reading involves research and reference books. I have read much of Gordon Blair’s work on Design and Simulation of Four Stroke Engines, but besides that I definitely don’t have time to read for leisure.

Favorite place to drive:
I enjoy cruising around town in our 1968 shop truck. The weather is usually nice here in Texas over the summer, and we’re located in a beautiful town with a lot of history.

Person you’d most like to have lunch with
I’m not much on fame or celebrity, so nowadays it would be nice just to have the time to sit down and have a long lunch with my wife or my father without being rushed.