A very clean shop that is neat and organized greeted Terry and I when we arrived at the Racing Optics office and race shop in the Talega area of San Clemente. It is in a modern business park with a nearby golf course running up a “wilderness area out behind the big roll up door at the back of the shop. Entering the office area from the front, there is a reception area and two offices for Seth’s dad, Steve, and uncle Bart to conduct the business side of the shop. Going out in the large shop behind the offices, it was 80 % race shop and 20 % tear off business. One wall featured the various shapes and packaging of the different tear offs and other like products they have invented and market.
The other side is all racing with several “bays” and more. The main wall on that side is painted in the green and red “Warbird” colors. There is a lightning sprint car in one spot for a friend who just started racing. Then the current Warbird sets in its own set-up area. A brand new chassis in the beginning stages of build is in another slot. Three “dead” birds hang on the wall, and they have seen better days. The first was the original red # 17 version, then the first Twister and a second one next to that, all hanging front end high up on the tall wall. A projection screen hangs on the wall near the office entrance that can be seen all over the shop and appears to be nearly 5 feet square. It was invented by dad, the engineer, 20 years ago, but never caught on. It is very clear and far better than any of the projection TV’s I might have seen over the years in bowling alleys, or such places. Some work tables were in between the two sprint cars. An exercise bike was up front by the office with some print equipment, where all the designs for the race car are created by Seth.
Seth’s grandfather was Dempsey Wilson, one time Indy Car driver who was well known in the sport. He was gone before Seth was born, yet his influence can be felt in the office area where several photos of him are on the walls. Seth didn’t start racing until he was about 21, but had the desire to race long before he started. He was out selling the Racing Optics tear off’s before he started racing and when he did finally dig in, it was in a Dwarf car. The original Dwarf car was an Arizona built model, but in time he and Engineer dad built their own version with a local Dwarf car builder who partnered with them to make a new style. This new and improved model became so successful they won a lot of races, plus a 2001 CDCRA championship, and then a Western States 4day event, with the top cars from all over the country, in 2002. Seth must have been pretty good!
When the urge to race a sprint car happened, they sold the car and began the sprint car fun three years ago. Yet, when they held the Dwarf car Nationals at Perris two years ago, Seth borrowed the old car, which hadn’t been raced yet, from the new owner, and won the $3000 to win event. One of the things obvious about the business and race shop is it is first class, not only in the planning, but in the organization. As dad put it, “we keep it so we can have fun”!
We took the tour of products and found tear offs for everything from safety shields, motocross goggles, and many other types of eye protection wear. One item was a bomb squad face shield. They also have something new that is an insert for the inside of the face shield that sticks on and provides protection from bright light, a lot like your expensive sunglasses that change from light to dark, that Seth swears by. They have large rolls of the product that is now being used on things like racing windshields and even large hummer war wagons for the military. The material is installed inside and out and makes the glass “small arms fire bulletproof” and protects from other objects like rocks that can break the glass.
Part of the tour was about how the product gets shipped out and the fact that it is all made in Mexico means there is no manufacturing done in the race shop, just shipping. They are constantly looking for more applications and finding them, so the film is being used more and more outside of racing as well.
One of the most interesting things I learned was how the tear offs came about. When Seth first started racing and put some tear offs on his helmet, he complained the distortion was very distracting. The brainy idea came from that clear plastic tape most shippers use. Seth showed me a roll of it and you could see all the way thru the many layers of the tape to the base of the roll and read the advertising very clear, as if it was just a glass cover. They knew there was a better way to make tear offs because the hundreds of wraps around on the roll would be far more than the dozen or so put on a face shield of the racing helmet. So Racing Optics was born with the best and clearest view off all and they assured me it really is not thinner than the old style, just crystal clear!
They had great stories about the beginnings of Seth's racing, and dad says he was never a driver so the racing gene must have skipped a generation, because Seth has proved he can drive very well. He talked a lot about the Dwarf car experience and how well they did with it, he and dad worked side by side to engineer the best car out there and it worked. When he retired from Dwarf cars, the other racers wanted to buy his car and burn it up, they were so behind in technology to his car.
The shop shows the meticulous care they give the race car and both father and son believe Seth will continue to move to the top of the heap and be very successful. They were still lamenting the Manzy flat tire, because, as Seth put it, “I knew I had a car that could win, especially after I passed Kruseman”. They say they are pretty low buck compared to some other teams, doing their own motor work, and car building, but continue to analyze and change their car often. The two of them are joined by “Dammit” the loyal crewman, who is also known as Bruce Stassen.
The first Twister replaced the original John Boy bought from Ron Chaffin after they went on tour the first year. That was the year the new style Yeley Twister cars were taking no prisoners and most of the SCRA top dogs on that tour did very little against the new breed that waited in the weeds and cleaned their plow. When Jimmy Crawford got involved as a West Coast distributor of Twister, the new car changed talons and their Warbird was born. You have to admit, the car is a cleaver idea and emulates the world war II fighter planes that history showed us were awesome.
The following pictures by Mrs Wags will show the look and feel of what the Racing Optics world is really like. This is the opposite of some of the shops I have seen over the years, this one with everything in order and room to work, it was pretty spic and span without being crowded. An enjoyable evening spent with a race team on the rise and listening to their stories and seeing the comfortable way they were with it was fun for us. I agree with Seth, he has done everything but win a feature, with fast times, hard charger nights and some running up front with the big boys, it all means he is due to break thru and when that happens………….