His bright blue eyes are permanently bloodshot from 25 years of hovering over dragster and Funny Car engines that burn nitromethane and spew corrosive fumes.
His ears have survived decades of exposure to angry pairs of 240-decibel engines leaving the starting line at every major drag strip in the country.
His brain runs faster and harder than any engine he’s ever built. His drag-racing engines were so powerful and so durable that racers started calling him the Old Master long before he had gray hair.
Today, at 70, the wiry, wily Ed Pink still works 12-hour days, six and sometimes seven days a week, 50 weeks a year, commuting from Westlake Village in Southern California in a new Ford F-150 pickup to his unmarked complex of buildings in industrial Van Nuys. Even with this schedule, he manages to work out at a gym three times a week, every week. His second wife of 25 years, Sylvia, is heavily involved in the business. A son, Bill, 42, spent 11 years with his dad and then moved on to Robert Yates building racing Fords for four years and now works for Ernie Elliott building Dodge NASCAR engines.
The buildings that house Ed Pink Racing Engines are unmarked because they contain millions of dollars’ worth of the finest engine-building equipment this side of Formula 1 — built, collected, modified, and updated over Pink’s amazing 55-year career.
Pink is the prototypical Southern California hot rodder. He went to Dorsey High in southwest L.A., and by the time he was 14, in 1946, he was racing hot rods on the dry lakes in the area and attending midget races at Gilmore Stadium.
He could have had a job in his dad’s paint business. He could have worked for his uncle Paul at the landmark Pink’s Hot Dogs stand at La Brea and Melrose. But he didn’t. He took an apprentice job sweeping up for legendary drag racer and dry-lakes veteran Lou Baney at his shop, Hot Rod Heaven, in southwest L.A.
Baney taught Pink how to build Ford flathead V-8 engines for racing, and the pair raced Baney’s ’32 Ford coupe and Pink’s own ’36 Ford coupe at El Mirage every chance they got, sleeping in dollar-a-night ranch bunkhouses on Saturday nights with the rest of the racers.
Ed Pink also hung out at Vic Edelbrock’s speed-equipment company not far away on Highland Avenue.
At Edelbrock, Pink learned from flathead master builder Bobby Meeks, carburetion whiz Murray Jensen, engine man Don Towle, and racing’s most famous Mexican-American, the legendary Fran Hernandez.
“The Edelbrock family and their guys taught me how to do things right, how to run a business the right way. I started building engines for El Mirage and Bonneville and took it from there. It’s amazing what you can do when you don’t know you can’t do it.”
On weekends, Pink hired out to drive for other racers, or raced his own flathead-powered coupes and roadsters.
Within a few years, the flathead was out, and by 1953, the Chrysler Hemi V-8 was in.
Pink built his first fuel dragster in the early ’50s and simultaneously opened his first shop, on Pico Boulevard. Pink and his driver, Tommy Dyer, were moderately successful at the drags. When he switched to a Don Long dragster chassis and got Mike Snively to drive it, the combination was magic. They won a lot of races, and customers flocked to both Long and Pink.
Reenter Lou Baney, who asked Pink to be his engine builder for a dragster piloted by Tom “The Mongoose” McEwen, who would become a Top Fuel legend.
A couple of years later, in 1965, Baney, by now a Ford dealer, made a deal with the Ford Motor Company to run its 427-cubic-inch, single-overhead-cam racing engine — it had been kicked out of NASCAR — in the Top Fuel event, with McEwen’s arch rival, Don “The Snake” Prudhomme, driving.
Ed Pink had his first factory deal. The Ford SOHC engine won big, and Pink built both 427 Ford and 426 Chrysler Hemi customer engines for legions of Top Fuel and Funny Car racers.
When Ford lost interest in 1969 in its Top Fuel SOHC engine, and its racing program in general, Pink concentrated on the supercharged nitro 426 Hemi engine and became one of the busiest engine builders in the business, along with south-L.A. rival Keith Black.
The supercharged 500-cubic-inch, 2500-hp nitro-burning engines, made from modified 426 Hemis, were so big in size and power they were dubbed Elephant motors, and if you wanted to win, you had either a Black Elephant or a Pink Elephant.
Pink had even more success with Funny Car engines, supplying them to virtually every top team in the sport for a decade.
He was named to Car Craft magazine’s “All-Star Drag Team” four times between 1972 and 1978 and has been inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Ocala, Florida.
Later, he branched out into Formula 5000 small-blocks, Can-Am big-blocks, and endurance engines, acquiring every single machine tool, checking fixture, and electronic measuring aid available, and building for himself the ones that weren’t.
Pink is known in the business as a disciple for quality down to the last detail, a man who insists that every piece of every engine be checked, double-checked, and then checked again, both coming in and going out.
He also tried building a few marine engines, supplying a number of customers in the wicked-fast Blown Fuel Hydro drag boat class, but, he says, the marine customers always managed to trace their problems to his engines — not the hull, the driver, the crew, the conditions, or the fact that the prop was out of the water most of the time.
“I build engines for a living. I have to give people a reason to come to me, and the reason is not that my stuff is cheap. I want to have customers come to me because I have the best stuff. If you build quality engines that run fast and last, the customers will always be there.”
His final involvement with Top Fuel-burning drag-race engines was in 1980 with the Super Shops Funny Car, which won the NHRA Nationals in Indianapolis, the Daytona 500 of drag racing.
The trend of Top Fuel racers buying parts, building their own engines, and doing 45-minute field rebuilds in the pits at the races overwhelmed all the engine suppliers, and Pink got out.
A competitor from those days says of Pink, “He was very clever, a great businessman who had the sense to hire great people, pay them well, keep them sequestered, and draw on them for his information. He is the ultimate businessman. He’s had people working for him who are some of the smartest people in motor racing.”
“One thing I didn’t like about drag racing,” Pink says, “was that you couldn’t test on a dyno and you couldn’t rent a strip for testing. You had to make your mistakes at the drag strip in front of 40,000 people.”
But did he retire? Call it quits after 35 years? Not a chance!
Local Southern California racers Parnelli Jones and Vel Miletich, longtime Ed Pink customers with their Danny Ongais-driven Funny Car, were also racing Indy cars powered by turbocharged 2.65-liter Ford Cosworth DFV four-cam, four-valve methanol-burning racing engines.
One door closes, another door opens.
Miletich and Jones came to Pink with a connecting-rod breakage problem that Pink solved, and Pink was soon doing connecting rods and some machine work for the Vel’s Parnelli Jones team’s engines, saving the team the time and money needed to ship engines back to Cosworth in England.
When Cosworth opened its U.S. subsidiary in Torrance, Pink became the prime contractor for engine machining and dyno development, and later complete engine building.
Ed Pink Cosworths powered Arie Luyendyk, Al Unser Jr., Tom Sneva, Geoff Brabham, Lee Kunzman, Spike Gellhausen, and Roger Mears, among others, from 1979 until 1987, when Cosworth and Ilmor went to leased engines.
Time to quit? Nope.
Former Top Fuel racer Jim Busby, who gained fame with the Beach Boys team, was by now racing in IMSA with a Porsche 962, powered by a 3.2-liter single-turbo flat-six that ran on gasoline, and he wanted Ed Pink to massage his engines.
So the Old Master went to Weissach for two weeks of intense schooling on the turbo flat-six, an engine he had never laid eyes on before.
“Porsche was very helpful to us,” Pink says, “but Bosch didn’t want us to go inside the Motronic engine-control black box. We needed to get in there and change the spark and fuel curves and the rev limiter.
“My head engineer, Mike Johnson, spent nine months figuring out the codes and when we cracked it, we were finally able to do everything we wanted. We changed from KKK to Garrett turbochargers, went to Portland to race the car with Bob Wollek, and we smoked Al Holbert’s car on the front straight. We ran good, we won some races, and ran second at the 24 Hours of Daytona with no nose and no driver’s door.”
“Pink’s theory on all race motors,” says a longtime competitor, “is ‘new stuff.’ Don’t ever try to run anything that isn’t brand-new. If the customer has deep pockets, that theory works well. He worked for years and years with very, very high-dollar customers, and affordability was never a problem.”
Impressed by what an American hot rodder had done with the Porsche 962 in IMSA, Pontiac racing guru John Callies contacted Pink about doing a batch of 5.0-liter aluminum GM V-8s for its IMSA Spice race car driven by Jeff Kline.
Pink got the engines up to competitive power and durability, but IMSA rulemakers kept changing the game on displacements, attempting to keep turbos and naturally aspirated engines equal, and driving the cost of the Pontiac program out of sight.
Pink says of that experience: “I had a lot of meetings with IMSA, and I could see that they did not have the answer to saving American sports-car racing. The wrong people were controlling my destiny. I could be legislated out of business after one meeting.”
Time to hang it up, put away the tools for good? Not yet.
Pink ran into Steve Lewis, owner of Performance Racing Industry, a publishing and show promotion company for the racing aftermarket.
Lewis was into midget cars, and soon Pink was building Chevy-based 2.7-liter midget engines, four-cylinder methanol-burning pushrod engines using late-model V-8 cylinder heads, for Lewis and other customers.
“I really enjoyed the people in that kind of racing, the family atmosphere, and working for Steve Lewis, who is a Ford man,” Pink recalls. “He wanted me to build a Ford-based midget engine. So I used new race blocks, the Ford SVO Yates cylinder head, and Kinsler fuel injection.”
Pink worked for nine months straight on the Ford midget-engine project for Lewis, who tested at Phoenix International Raceway’s one-mile oval track and nearly won the Copper World Classic that year with the late Kenny Irwin driving. Lewis has since won four straight Copper World Classic races and five straight national midget championships (his drivers have included Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Jason Leffler, and a number of other young tigers).
Based on Pink’s success as an independent builder, Ford recently engaged Pink in an R&D program for the company’s midget engine, as well as a small-block V-8 engine program for the USAC Silver Crown series, which is currently dominated by Chevrolets.
Pink could have gone on indefinitely building engines for USAC midget, sprint, and Silver Crown teams, with nothing else to complicate his life. But one day the phone rang, and Ed Pink’s life changed yet again.
Frank Honsowetz, director of racing for Nissan in the U.S., told Pink that Infiniti was fixing to go racing in the Indy Racing League.
The rules specified four liters of displacement, double overhead cams, and four valves per cylinder, with methanol fuel and an 11,000-rpm rev limit.
Initially, all Honsowetz wanted from Pink was a supply of his world-class dry-sump oil pumps and water pumps for the Infiniti Indy V-8.
But once the Infiniti guys saw the tools, equipment, and capabilities at Pink’s shop, they wanted more.
“At that time,” says Pink, “Frank Honsowetz had no engineering department, no facility, no previous Indy racing experience, no open-wheel experience, no methanol experience, no experience of the magnitude of Indianapolis racing.
“When we got into the project, the cylinder heads had already been designed in Japan and cast in England, the block was being cast here, and the crankshaft, rods, camshafts, and timing chains were all being done. It was a monstrous project.
“We did the cylinder liners, the pistons, the rings, the bearings, some of the valvetrain components, the final cylinder-head design, and the second version of the crankshaft. We did all the mapping of the engine and worked with EFI Technology in Torrance on the engine-management system.”
Pink continues, “Almost all the engines were built here and dynoed, and we did 100 percent of the development of the engines.”
Pink says the original Infiniti Indy V-8 engine was a “white whale” — overweight, oversized, underpowered, and unreliable.
“We didn’t know what to do first.”
He says the first dyno run showed 578 horsepower, and after a full year of work, the Pink crew had found an additional 150 horsepower. Then they had to start all over again when IRL changed the displacement to 3.5 liters.
“Right from the start,” says Pink of the Infiniti hybrid, done in part in Japan and in California, “it was a hot-rod engine. It wasn’t a racing engine.”
Hot-rod engine or not, the Infiniti Indy V-8 continued to mature. In 2000, it nearly won the IRL opener at Walt Disney World, contended for a win in four other races, had only one DNF, won its first race ever at Pikes Peak in midsummer with Eddie Cheever, and enabled Cheever to lead and eventually finish third in the IRL points chase in the face of overwhelming competition from Oldsmobile-powered teams.
And then the bottom fell out.
Late in November last year, Ed Pink got a 5:30 Friday-afternoon phone call from a Nissan marketing type informing him that all work on the new 35A version of the engine that Pink was developing for this season should stop immediately.
Word had come down from the parent company, Renault, that the IRL engine program would be moving to France.
Pink had to fire 13 of his 30-person staff, inventory all the parts, and send them back to Infiniti.
“They did it like you would call up and cancel your morning paper.”
Pink insists that he’s not bitter about the loss of the Infiniti program after five years of hard work.
“No sour grapes. We played the hand we were dealt. I could have declined when I first saw what we were up against. But it was a challenge, and I’ve been answering challenges all my life. If Renault hadn’t bought into Nissan, we’d still have a program. But they did, and we don’t.”
Having lost a large portion of his annual revenue and part of his staff, Pink is starting all over again at 70, with his midget, sprint, and Silver Crown engines.
“What they can’t take away from us is the expertise and the experience we’ve developed with the Infiniti program.
“If another manufacturer comes into the IRL after Nissan and Oldsmobile leave, I’m available.”
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