VOL. 122 | NO. 78 | Monday, April 30, 2007
Memphis Small Business Spotlight
Redline Unlimited Helps Racing Enthusiasts Realize Ultimate Horsepower Dreams
By Rosalind Guy
SHOP OF SPEED: J. Robert Towery and his team at Redline Unlimited make repairs to Japanese import cars, sell car parts and rebuild cars to add more horsepower.
Principal: Bob Towery
Address: 5321 Pleasant View Road
J. Robert Towery is just as comfortable driving on the track at Memphis Motorsports Park as he is driving along Interstate 240.
Once a professional race car driver, Towery retired after winning the 1998 International Motorsports Association's North American Sports Car Team Championship as a part of SpeedSource Race Engineering, a team he founded along with Sylvain Tremblay.
The team, which consisted of three drivers and was headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., raced all over the country.
"All the famous tracks you've heard of: Daytona (International Speedway), Sebring (International Raceway), Watkins Glen (International) and a whole litany of famous tracks," Towery said.
Towery, who has worn many occupational hats in his lifetime, including a publishing career that spans three decades. And he added another hat when he bought a business last year that will provide the racing rush Towery once experienced. He is the owner of Redline Unlimited, formerly RX7Heaven, at 5321 Pleasant View Road.
RX7Heaven was founded in 1982 to serve the growing market for the rotary-powered Mazda RX7. The focus later expanded to include other Mazda models.
AutoSport Dreams LLC, established by Towery, bought RX7Heaven in February 2006 with the intent of expanding the company's RX7 Internet trade on its Web site, www.rx7heaven.com, into other lines and to expand the production of customized, high-performance Mazda sports cars.
Redline makes repairs to Japanese import cars, sells new and used parts for cars and rebuilds cars to add more horsepower.
Towery's career highlights include founding Towery Publishing and Memphis Magazine, which he published for 10 years.
Though he came from a newspaper family and most likely has words running through his blood, Towery is quick to confess his newest venture provides him an opportunity to indulge in a great passion, a love of automobiles.
"And loving automobiles is truly a character flaw," he said. "But I've got to confess to it."
Wrecks to riches
At his shop, Towery and his staff of six work as "tuners" on Mazda sports cars.
A tuner is someone who makes changes to the engine of a car to make it more high-performance than its factory specifications. At Redline Unlimited, the staff also performs standard repairs on Japanese import brands such as Honda and Nissan.
Towery and his crew currently are working on a Mazda Miata he bought for about $2,000.
"It was a wreck," he said of the car when he first bought it. "But it'll be worth well over $40,000 when we're through with it."
One of the things they've had to do at Redline Unlimited to get the car ready for the track is to increase the original horsepower from about 115 to 275. In addition, they've also made changes to the car so the driver will be able to stop and steer it.
The crew at Redline has pushed to the limit, taking the car as far as it can go while keeping the original engine block.
"You can't stop with just making a high-horsepower engine," Towery said.
So to make sure the car can support all the changes for speed, the chassis - the frame, wheels and other parts of the car which support the body - has been reworked.
"We have cut the fenders off - front and rear - and molded on these hips and shoulders so that we can fit tires underneath the body that are big enough to hold that amount of power on the road," Towery said.
Once completed, he will show off the completed product on the track at Memphis Motorsports Park. Towery, who's an instructor with the Porsche Club of America for the Mid-South Region, said the restored car will be the "best of breed."
A club for all tastes
That project is part of a phenomenon spreading across the country for the past decade. Towery said more and more people are having their sports cars customized to give more power.
And it's not just for track racing, as these new cars also are for city streets.
Sports car enthusiasts who have their rides supercharged with extra horsepower easily can join a local automobile club, Towery said. These clubs regularly host events so sports car owners can take their cars out on the track.
"You show up with your car and for a very small amount of money, spend two days on the track with an instructor who'll be with you 100 percent of the time," he said.
Beside the Porsche Club of America, other clubs such as the Sports Car Club of America-Mid-South Region host regular events at Memphis Motorsports Park.
After attending a couple of the events with an instructor, the drivers graduate to the stage of being able to drive alone.
Towery stressed that these are not racing events, but rather an opportunity for car owners to drive as fast as their hearts desire in a safe and controlled environment.
"It's safe. I've never seen anyone," he said while stopping to knock on wood, "I've never seen anyone hurt in one of these kinds of events."
Like nothing else
As exhilarating as the drive is, Towery said most people don't realize just how physically involved racing is.
A 2003 USA Today article ranked driving a race car as the second hardest feat to accomplish in sports. The article, "10 Hardest Things to Do in Sports," quoted sports writers and accomplished athletes.
In the article, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. compared getting in the race car to experiencing an amusement park ride for the first time.
"I compare it to the feeling you get when you're riding a roller coaster for the first time," Earnhardt said. "Let's say you're only 13. You're next in line and half of you is excited, the other is looking for a way out of it entirely. That's the way it feels every time I am about to climb in the car. That feeling never subsides."
Towery likens the experience to being on a rowing machine.
"If you row hard, not so hard that you're going to be out of breath, but hard enough that you're right at that level," he said, "that's the kind of work load that you're pulling when you're in a race car."
He's quick to add, though, it's a feeling like no other.
"It's insanely loud, just insanely loud and from the moment the flag drops, your adrenaline is 100 percent," he said. "And I love it better than the breath of life itself."
And that's exactly the feeling he wants to share with his Redline Unlimited customers.
With a little more than a year under his belt, Towery already is planning for expansion of Redline. He recently leased the empty space next to the business to accommodate the growth. And within the next month or so, he plans to have the parking lot re-paved and a permanent sign installed outside the business.
He also has begun importing specialty parts for performance cars from China.
Towery is importing carbon-fiber parts to be used on the cars he restores. The carbon-fiber material is the lightest and strongest way to build something that otherwise would be built from aluminum, steel or fiberglass, he said.
"So we have some real opportunity here to grow this whole tuner business and the avenue that we're going down to do that is building this test bid car as a demonstration of our abilities and conceptual capacity for this kind of endeavor," Towery said.