Story and Photos by: Pete Ward
You can spend all day wandering through the maze of equipment at Crower’s new 100,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility located in San Diego, CA. What you’ll quickly notice are the decades old, manually operated machines elbow to elbow with latest, advanced CNC machines. If look even closer, you’ll also notice the age of the equipment operators;
for every young person there’s a graying “veteran” who’s very likely been with Crower for upwards of 35 years. The “hands on” nature of this operation allows Crower to custom design its parts and components for almost every conceivable application. Kerry Novak, a key player at Crower, strongly praises the high level of employee dedication. “Our employees take pride in the parts that roll out the door”. He continues, “There’s a tremendous sense of teamwork, a continuity of effort.”
The hallmark product of this operation continues to be the “Crowerglide” centrifugal “slipper” clutch, developed by company founder Bruce Crower in the mid ‘60s. Crower’s basic design, ever evolving, remains the standard of the industry for alcohol Funny Cars, alcohol dragsters, A/Fuel dragsters, and Pro Mods. Tractor pullers also rely upon Crower for their clutch needs. The tunability of this unit continues to be one of its most valuable features. It can easily be adjusted for ever changing track conditions. Equally important to product quality, once again, is the human element. Roger Levine, ‘Glide department head and one of the 35 year vets, spends his days with the phone glued to the side of his head. He works with customers to design the setup for their specific needs. Once the product is in the field, he provides support in the fine art of clutch tuning.
Novak, with Crower since ’72, cut his teeth in the crankshaft department, and is justifiably proud of the company’s products.
“Each crank we manufacture is a custom order. We were the first to adapt Honda rod journals to an aftermarket crankshaft.” The Honda’s smaller diameter lightens crank weight and produces less bearing speed. Novak proudly states “This design alone, produced a six horsepower gain in a NASCAR Cup engine which is unheard of”. Crower produces both forged and billet cranks. Each one can vary wildly, from an 85 pound unit for a sportsman racer to a 56 pound Pro Stock model. No matter the type of racing you compete in, they make a crank for your engine. And as far as one-off applications are concerned, Novak states “If we can get a block of metal into one of our CNC machines, we’ll build you a crank”.
Following the natural order of progression we head to connecting rods. You have a choice of either steel or titanium; 90% of all rods produced at Crower are billet and all American including the forgings. As with the crankshafts, Novak says, “Every rod we manufacture is designed and built to customer specs. Instead of building your engine around what’s available from ‘overseas’ suppliers we design what you need all in house.” Every rod is matched to horsepower produced and the specific application; from 650 horsepower-12,000 rpm motorcycles to diesel tractor pullers. Again, it’s about the experience and craftsmanship of those employees turning the wheels and pushing the buttons.
Bruce Crower started grinding his groundbreaking “Imperial” roller cams 55 years ago with the brainstorming support of Don Garlits. The “Imperial” featured roller needle bearings on the camshaft and was absolutely revolutionary in concept and design. Things have not changed at Crower as technology is constantly evolving so is Crower’s performance line of products. One of the major changes Novak notes is the increase in camshaft diameter…which is now up to a beefy 60mm. The larger size brings greater strength, necessitated by higher rpm, greater spring pressure and higher horsepower production. Kerry says, “It is crucial for us to stay one step ahead of the ever-changing demands of engine builders. No matter if you’re building a high-tech multi-cam, multi-valve 2009 Ford, or a 1957 283 cu. in. Chevy, we will keep you out front.”
As cam science speeds forward, so goes roller lifter development. In order to keep pace, Crower has recently debuted its new “EnduraMax” roller lifter, utilizing proprietary materials. The new design was necessitated by increasingly high spring pressure and increased horsepower production.
Quite frankly a tour through the facility and Bruce’s personal collection of historical equipment from machinery to race cars really tells the storied history of this American motorsports icon. Today you can walk through the Crower offices and find Dave Crower, Bruce’s brother and a company chief executive on the phone fielding phone calls from every walk of Crower customer.
Go a bit further down the hall to Jerry McLaughlin. If you’ve walked through the pit area of a major drag race over the past 35 years you’ve probably crossed paths with Jerry. In his spare time, what little there is, he also builds fuel injection systems. Sharing an office with Jerry is D.J. Hernandez. He specializes in off-road and Baja as well as being the guy on the other end when you email Crower. And of course there’s the driving force, Bruce Crower. His genius and leadership built the company and continue guiding it into the future. Kerry Novak sums up, pretty succinctly, what Crower is all about: “We’re in the business of making power and winning races.”