Talkin’ With Lou: Jack McInnis

May 31, 2011

I must confess, this was not an easy interview to finish. It’s no secret my love for deadlines is the “whooshing” sound they make as they go by, but this interview was different.

The first three months of 2011 had me everywhere from L.A. to Montreal to Miami, and Jack’s schedule was just as challenging as he juggled several major shows and events. We played phone tag from one airport to the next as my editor bumped this interview from issue to issue like an over-caffeinated Delta ticket agent at Christmas.

Although we did eventually catch up, the unfortunate downside is I haven’t had much of a chance to get to know Jack personally. But maybe that’s not such a bad thing.

I’ll never have enough time to get to know everyone I interview on a personal level, but interviews like this allow me to see the broader picture and, in this case, the direct impact Jack has had on Dart’s success.

I learned a lot about Dart in my research, and I can honestly tell you Jack embodies the strong work ethic that built Dart Machinery from a two-car garage in Oak Park, Mich., to a leader in race-winning performance parts.

Oh, and we’re both Joe Bonamassa fans!

LJ: Jack, thanks for taking some time to chat. We’re both Detroiters and car guys here-¦ so tell me, how do you stay sane during these long, cold winters? (I’m typing this in the middle of huge snowstorm!)

Jack:  Winter is trade show season, so we stay pretty busy with SEMA, PRI and a few other events. In between, a heated garage helps.

LJ: Tell me a little bit about how Dart got started. Seems it’s one of those traditional entrepreneurial stories about an idea born in the garage.-¦

Jack: Richard Maskin started the company in his garage in suburban Detroit. He had learned the intricacies of casting and machining cylinder heads when he was involved with American Motors racing efforts in the 1970s.

At that time, if you wanted something better than the stock components to work with, you had to make it yourself. Maskin then used that experience to produce Dart cylinder heads, which were designed specifically for racing. The company quickly outgrew the garage and has become the industry leader we know today.

LJ: What’s a typical day like for you at Dart?

Jack: Definitely not typical. Our employees are passionate about what they’re doing, our customers are passionate, “business trips” often mean going to the races. It’s a unique environment.

LJ: Dart Machinery remains active in racing. Tell me more about the Folk Family team and what we can expect this year.

Jack: Racing is vital to what we do at Dart. Customers like the Folk family, who are very active, serious racers, help us to continuously improve our products through real-world testing and ongoing development.

We work with racers and engine builders in virtually every type of motorsports-drag racing, circle track, road racing, off-road, marine, tractor pulling, you name it.

LJ: And it’s based on your extensive line of manifolds, cylinder heads, accessories and service parts. Any significant new products or product enhancements coming in 2011? 

Jack: We just introduced two new 427-ci short-block assemblies, both a small-block Chevy and Ford. We always have a few projects in the works. Right now we’re working on some things for both the racing and street performance markets.

LJ: I’ve gotta say, you guys have one of the best websites I’ve seen in a long time. I love the Dart University with all the tech tips, how-to videos, even an encyclopedia, and there’s certainly no question online training is important these days. So, what does it take to keep Dart University exciting, new and fresh and not just another “install video site?”

Jack: Thank you for the compliment. We’ve put a lot of effort into our website. Our intent with Dart University is to provide information that people can trust.

You can find an answer to anything online, but you can’t always be sure it’s a good answer. We wanted to make sure our customers have access to good answers. It is also important to keep it entertaining, so they don’t fall asleep before they get those answers.

LJ: Customer education is a distinct part of your business model. Even keeping the customers amused. Say, tell me more about “sanctioned snow shovel racing!”

Jack: At Dart, we try to keep on top of racing technology, but snow shovel racing was a new one to us.

However, when we were approached about coatings by a snow shovel racer, we utilized the same anti-friction coating that Top Fuel cars employ to reach 40 mph and enabled the snow shovel to exceed 300 mph-or was that the other way around!!??

LJ: Are coatings a big part of Dart’s business?

Jack: Our coatings department stays very busy. Coatings are a relatively inexpensive way to improve performance and add protection to your engine components. And, in many cases, coatings can be applied to used as well as new components, so rebuilders can easily benefit from this technology.

LJ: You know the drill, Jack. Every issue I ask the industry leader I’m interviewing for advice for our readers-what would you do. Let’s say you’ve got “Jack’s Speed Shop and Snow Shovel Tuning” on Woodward and 9-Mile. What specific actions would you take as a retailer to differentiate yourself and grow your business? 

Jack: I think retailers need to keep their shelves stocked and organized so that it is appealing to the customers. It is also important to think about customers’ needs.

When someone buys an intake manifold, for example, they will also need gaskets, sealer, oil and filter, etc. Another thing is to participate in local car shows, cruises and races. Being there to spread your name and meeting potential customers is invaluable.

LJ: Definitely important to remain active in the community, that’s one distinct advantage the local guy has over mail order.

Jack: Exactly.

LJ: Thanks again and good luck this season! See you at the Dream Cruise?

Jack: For sure, we’ll be there!

MORE WITH JACK

Last book read? “All The Shah’s Men” by Stephen Kinzer
What’s on your iPod? Joe Bonamassa, Janelle Monae, Eric Clapton…
Person you’d most like to have lunch with? Benjamin Franklin
Favorite place to drive? Back roads. Less traffic and more to see.