By Eric Peterson | Jan 10, 2021
Torque converter drive units and torque converters
Brock Graves has worked with father Steve and brother Blayne since the early 2000s, first at Steve's CNC shop, Mile High Performance, with a focus on the oil and gas industry. Steve's background in high-performance marine engines paired nicely with Brock's education in precision machining at Pickens Technical College in Aurora.
In 2013, the business model changed when the trio acquired the intellectual property behind the Quick Drive from a machining customer,. "That became our main focus," says Brock. "Now we operate more or less strictly as Quick Drive."
"They used to run a multi-disc clutch that separates the crankshaft from the transmission on higher horsepower cars -- we're talking 3,000 to 4,000 horsepower. The ability to harness that and put it to the track requires a pretty custom device" -- a torque converter.
The Quick Drive "allows you to run a torque converter place of the clutch," says Brock. "It's the hydraulic control piece between the fluid coupling."
"We have more control with fluid manipulation and the ability to get the power to the track, more so than with a clutch," says Brock. "With our device, you're able to manipulate on the fly. We're much more advantageous for not breaking traction."
At first, awareness was the biggest issue. "People didn't know about it," says Brock. A marketing effort with an emphasis on social media changed that, and revenue increased by 500 percent in the last seven years.
The company has now sold more than 1,000 drive units cumulatively, and about 100 a year currently -- with a standard retail price of $7,150. Quick Drive also offers a torque converter and other related products.
Manufacturing takes place at a 7,000-square-foot shop at Steve's six-acre property in Parker. The operation utilizes six CNC machines to make almost all of the nearly 30 components that go into a Quick Drive in-house. "The only thing we don't make is one of the shafts and the friction clutch pack that goes inside of the drive unit for the trans brakes," says Brock. "Everything else is manufactured right here in Parker."
Because of the proprietary design, the in-house approach has paid dividends. "When we acquired the company, some of this was outsourced, and the challenge was quality control and making sure everything would continue to fit as it should," says Brock. "We elected to bring all that stuff in-house and build completely on our own."
The strategy dovetails into Quick Drive's iterative R&D approach. "We've had some innovations come out," says Brock. "It usually takes us six to eight months to implement some new technology as it becomes available. We go through a pretty in-depth R&D process and testing it in the field with a handful of drivers that run a lot of our products."
While custom bench-testing equipment is the norm in the shop, the company is able to field test year-round with drivers in the U.S. and the Arabian Drag Racing League in the Middle East.
"At some point, you do have to get it to the racetrack -- that's the only way to really test some of this stuff," says Brock, noting that exports account for about 20 percent of sales. "Bandimere's not open between October and April, so we don't have the ability to test, but they'll put probably close to two seasons' worth of passes on a vehicle over in the desert in our offseason. That's putting us way ahead of the curve when it comes time to actually compete here in the United States."
Challenges: "One of the biggest challenges outside of the pandemic that we've always run into is getting good, quality help," says Brock, who serves on Pickens Tech's advisory committee. "It's something that I've actually done some work with the trade schools here locally to try to help mentor and bring some good, quality workers into the industry."
The owner-operator model "has been forced upon us," he adds. "We've had employees in the past. With the pandemic, we've scaled that back, but even when we've employees in the past, just finding good, competent, skilled people who can work has been our biggest challenge."
Opportunities: "With the auto racing industry as a general market, these guys are constantly changing, evolving, modifying, improving," says Brock. "Most of our growth opportunity is strictly through our R&D program. As we develop stuff and put it in the marketplace, it takes off and people buy it. People go crazy over the latest and greatest cutting-edge technology." To that end, a "2.0 version" of the Quick Drive is slated to hit the market in mid-2021.
Needs: "Talent's the big thing," says Brock. "You can only go as fast as three guys can go."
Infrastructure at the Quick Drive shop -- particularly three-phase power -- is another ongoing need, he adds. "Being in a residential area, we don't have good access to three-phase power," says Brock.