Shane Tucker was a champion racer in Junior Dragster and had aspirations to follow his father's footsteps in Pro Stock, only bigger. Leads presented themselves in the USA, where Shane could pursue his childhood dream of becoming an NHRA drag racer. He had talent as a driver, marketable looks and the curiosity factor of being Australian.
It seemed Shane was on the precipice of a great drag racing career in the USA. He was brought into the Victor Cagnazzi Pro Stock stable as a development driver alongside Jeg Coughlin and Dave Connolly. The final step from scrubbing tyres to entering competition hinged on finding sponsorship. Despite talks with a number of potential partners, numbers never made it into the right bank accounts. When he was 21 years old, Tucker was given a hard truth.
“Rob Ettinger was involved with us on the PR and marketing side of things,” Shane said. “We met in Charlotte when I was trying to get a ride.
“One day he called me up and said 'listen kid, I am going to tell you some hard truths you probably don't want to hear.'
“He told me no one was going to give me a hand out and if I wanted it (to go Pro Stock Racing), I needed to get after it and do it myself. As a 21 year old kid, imagine your ambitions have been crushed. You think you are going to get out there, everyone is giving you a lot of faith and telling you how you are the best thing since sliced bread from a marketing standpoint – but it's tough to get any money unless you can give something directly in return.
“I pay Rob a huge credit in that particular instance. It was a turning point in my life.”
Shane returned to Australia with a focus not on racing (thought he was still able to do plenty of that) but on business. He founded Auzmet Architectural, a firm specialising in architectural facades. The right business, at the right time as the industry has since boomed, with most new development projects expected to have a level of art and beauty that such cladding provides.
Growth has been exponential in recent years, including an expansion into the USA two years ago. Combined with Shane's parents Rob and Janine selling up their Australian Pro Stock operation and moving to the USA, Shane has been able to go Pro Stock racing his own way. Now his challenge is not finding funding or a team – but time.
A finite resource
“Unfortunately sacrifices have to be made when you are running a business, especially one growing at the rate we are,” Shane said. “Racing will always have to be one of those sacrifices purely because family comes first, and my priority is to make sure they are looked after so they don't have to struggle as hard as some other families do.
“We are fortunate we are in a good position where we can work a little harder to make that happen. It is difficult to focus on racing when you have that in the back of your head.”
Rob is aware of just how tough the travel and time demands are on Shane.
“Shane has probably done 10 or 20 trips across this year, he has a big project happening in Australia and it is difficult for him to be away from work,” Rob said. “He misses seeing his kids grow up. But it is early days in business, he is lucky his fiance Rebecca really appreciates what he is doing for the future and Shane is hoping he can retire at a young age and have some time to relax and enjoy it.
“People don't know how much pressure he is under. He has about 75 people working for him and it is a big thing to manage.
“He is so involved with business and he'll be the first to admit he is not driving as well as he wants to. Sunday lunchtime in America is Australia waking up for Monday morning, so that is not a great scenario for eliminations time. We are working to make Shane more comfortable in his role as driver and the management of the business is getting better and better.
“Shane has always driven really well since he was racing in Junior Dragsters, I thought he had a good chance of going a long way. If they could have found the funding he would have had a drive for Cagnazzis (a US Pro Stock team). Greg Anderson and Jason Line signed his licence off and they were impressed with how he drove.”
Shane admits the strains of an international business have affected his driving. You can hardly blame him though. Auzmet now operates two offices in Australia and two in Texas and frequently deals with a Chinese company for their fabrication.
Before the final NHRA race of the season at Pomona, Shane's time was at a premium. He was in Las Vegas to go racing and planned a short three day vacation in Mexico before heading back to Australia. Unfortunately fate had other plans and on the second day of his trip, Shane received a phone call from China with a large issue only he could take care of. And so he flew back to LA, then some 15 hours to China for a 12 hour visit, returning to Dallas and then taking in the World Finals in LA before finally heading back to Australia.
“That is a lot of travelling in a short period of time and it plays havoc on my health and everything else, that is something I need to consider in the future,” he said.
“Mostly the travel is for the right reasons, but sometimes it gets out of your control and you ask yourself why you decided to become the boss. It gets busier every week.”
The travel isn't just hard on Shane, but also fiance Rebecca and two young children who live on the Gold Coast in Queensland.
“My youngest doesn't quite understand yet, but my eldest gets upset when I am away for long periods of time. It is difficult on my fiance having to raise two kids by herself and I try and get back there as much as I can, but I don't want to take my finger off the pulse of what is going on over here.
“We need to plan it a little better next year with our projects and our teams and make sure they have it under control. I will take a step back out of the business, I have a pretty big hand in the budgets and forecasts which doesn't allow my Australian company to take the full reins. It is hard to let go of something like that when you have been doing it for nine years. But it is a necessary evil to move forward and to allow the business to grow.”
Doing it your own way
While business makes it tricky to go racing, Shane is learning how to leverage his own race operation to produce gains for the company. Truth be told, that is how most high level sponsorships in drag racing now operate.
“We spend a significant amount of money on materials and what not so the only way we can leverage our program is if we are bringing on partners interested in the marketing side of things, like a rebate program,” he said. “I got huge value out of the hospitality we did at Dallas (during the NHRA event at Texas Motorplex); we picked up a significant amount of work from that.
“If it (race team marketing) is done right it is good value, and bringing our clients to races to build relationships and for networking is a big part of what we do here.”
Shane never anticipated the international arm of Auzmet reaching its current size.
“When we started the US company, I thought maybe we would do a few jobs a year and earn US dollars to support the race program. Now the company is going to be bigger than Australia in just its second year - it's something I didn't foresee.
“Sometimes I scratch my head and ask why I am even in Australia doing business, but they both complement each other. There are always peaks and valleys in our industry and if it is slow in the US, hopefully it is busy in Australia and we can export products out there.”
As far as racing goes, Shane isn't exactly sure where his plans for the NHRA in 2018 sit right now. Those demands on time continue to pull him in a dozen different directions.
“I am building a house next year so I want to be home a little more for that, Dad is going to do more testing for us so I won't be here as much for that side of things. The race team really needs to be managed - it is a business in itself. If I can find someone who will fit that, I can spend more time at home and focus on family and investments, then maybe when I get to the race I will drive better and be less distracted with business.”
Shane has been incredibly motivated to 'make it' in drag racing, even if business is more of a sidetrack than he would like. But it is just as much Rob's dream, if not moreso.
“Shane sometimes says if I didn't want to do it he wouldn't do it either,” Rob said. “I warned Shane never to let me get too close to this because I will figure it out!
“I don't think we have enough time to run for championships but if we can go a couple of rounds - it would be great to win a race - that is the name of the game at the moment.
“We're lucky enough to have done fairly well in business. It is difficult with all of our children and grandchildren at home, Janine is missing the grandkids so for her to be here and give me the opportunity to do this is a dream come true.”
A family dream
Rob Tucker always wondered how his skills in Australian Pro Stock would translate to the USA. And he didn't want to die wondering.
“I never had the opportunity to do it while I was driving,” he said. “When the Monster deal finished in Australia, I said to Shane if we are going to fund it ourselves let's have a go in America.”
The timing could not have been better for the Tuckers. The dollar was at parity, American drag racing was in a lull meaning good equipment was up for sale at bargain rates and real estate prices Stateside remained low. A week after putting their trailer on to the market, AC/DC drummer Phil Rudd wanted it and soon it was off to New Zealand. Michael Baghdadi purchased the Pontiac GXP roller and all of a sudden the Tuckers were virtually able to trade their Australian operation for an American one, and then some. They found a piece of land near Charlotte, North Carolina to set up a workshop and the game had begun.
The team started using rented motors, Rob figured it was the best way to catch up initially. But he admitted being unable to play with the engines was not the way he wanted to go racing in the long term.
“It was difficult not being hands on. But now we are using our own engines and on our own learning curve. I think we are pretty decent as we have developed and evolved, and every race we are getting better. I feel like we belong now. Before we felt like little fish in a big sea.”
Since that point the team has built inventory at every opportunity. The right spares are just as important as making horsepower – if you don't have the right transmission ratios for instance you will still be left in the dust.
“To run this class you need a spare motor (at least one), the water cooler, an assortment of rear ends, every ratio, we change ratios and transmission ratios every round, boxes of spare parts, valve springs, spare pistons, pushrods, spare clutches, clutch plates. That's what you need to be able to turn up every round and go to the next round. Just in spares there is enough to put another car together. We are not a big team at all but we do have enough inventory to back up and go to the next round.
“We're working on motors all the time, we have got one motor we are developing and we are copying it to make a second one. There is a lot of work in intakes, I think that is where the majority of the power is. I have enough parts for four motors right now, if we are good enough we could lease one out. If that went the right way we would look at an engine shop to support a leasing program. That would help fund our own deal and get me out of the hands on stuff of putting engines together and pulling them apart.”
Shane was full of admiration for the work his father has done on their race operation. Getting up to speed with EFI and 500 cubic inches with a fraction of the resources of the big US teams has not been easy, but progress continues.
“With our own engine program I have to be patient, some guys have their own engine dyno and get to the track 24 times a year. We are trying to make up what these guys have done in 18 months in 18 days. Every time we come out we are testing as well as qualifying which is hard, but my Dad is a sharp guy and catches up with stuff quickly.
“You know, when these guys started the EFI deal they were probably about a tenth slower than they are now and that is where we are at. So we are doing a great job considering the amount of time we have had.”
As far as racing in Australia goes, Shane isn't sure when we might see him back. Though blown sedan team owners should probably take heed.
“Maybe for the Winternationals. I don't see too much value in any other race and I haven't seen any other race that shows me they are doing anything differently to try and go forward with it. Everyone knows the Winternationals, they do a good job with marketing it and they get a good crowd. Maybe if a Doorslammer drive or something came up I would have a look.”
This article originally featured in Drag News Magazine Issue 28. Subscribe to Drag News Magazine now!