When he's not working on his own cars, John builds or repairs cars for racers at the local
To do that, he and his volunteer crew adopted a grueling schedule of back-to-back races every Friday and Saturday night. It means long days at work, long nights in the shop, and hours at the oval doing what they love.
John's Friday night car is on the scales, and nothing seems to be going right. The crew keeps rolling it off the platforms, making adjustments, and pushing it back on. And everything they do comes out wrong.
It is nearing 10 p.m. and the men are tired. They work in sweat-soaked T-shirts, taking a few minutes when they can to stand in front of fans struggling to keep the air inside the shop moving.
They began their night sliding a new engine into the car.
"The track was really rough last week, and we broke a fan blade," John says, holding up what remained of the propeller. "It got everything out of balance, so it shook the bolts loose on the water pump and I lost all the water. I never realized it until the engine began to tighten up.
"Worse thing is, I was leading when it happened.
"Dad called in a few favors, had some parts shipped in overnight express, and really busted his butt to get a new motor built in time for the weekend. I'm not sure many engine builders today could turn a motor around that quickly."
Wendell Allen parlayed his interest in racing into a successful career as a machine shop o
Wendell Allen learned the machinist trade in the Navy, then came home to Kansas to farm. He ended up working for the Kansas Department of Transportation in its Chanute garage.
"I came into town one day to get parts, and the store owner said his machinist just quit and wanted me to take over the shop," he says. "I got to thinking about it and decided to open my own instead."
For the first few years he turned rotors and brake shoes, did valve jobs, and rebuilt engines.And on weekends he went racing.
"I built some pretty good engines," he says, "and the next thing I knew I had other racers asking me to build them one just like the one I had."
He quit driving about 20 years ago, about the time John began.
"His mother told him he couldn't race unless he did well in school," Wendell says. "So he had an incentive to study. I figured he'd race a few years and move on to something else. But he stuck with it. It's been fun working with him, watching him do well, and being part of it."
Toby Harrison watches as his dad, David, fits a bumper brace onto the car he owns. David a
Today, race motors comprise the bulk of the shop's business. In addition to general machine work, he builds about 40 engines per year from scratch, shipping them to buyers from southern Texas to Alaska.
His dad's engine building expertise gives John an advantage not shared by many other drivers, but it's one he has to be careful not to abuse.
"We have an understanding," Wendell says with a smile. "Over the years, we've had some talks."
Wendell admits that John's engines are a priority in the shop and that he'll drop just about everything to get his son's car back on the track."
In a town this size," he says, "I can get away with it."
The crew finally figures out its problem with scaling the car. One of the youngest members of the team plugged the wires into the wrong scale platform, which skewed the figures as a result.
"They're young and they are learning," Wendell says of the newest volunteers. "They are eager, and will do about anything we ask them to.