5 Minutes with Ed Pink: Master Engine Builder [Interview]
Ed Pink has been called the most versatile engine builder who’s ever lived. During a career that spanned almost six decades, “The Old Master” as he is known has built literally thousands of racing engines, encompassing everything from Nitro Funny Cars to Indy cars to USAC midgets and IMSA sports cars as well as land speed engines. Pink’s motors have tallied up more than three dozen championships in the most competitive forms of racing.
A Southern California native, Pink was mentored by the late Lou Baney, and was a quick study. His keen attention to detail and his razor sharp business acumen launched a legendary career which found him at the pinnacle of motorsport for a long, long time. There was a time when “Pink Elephant” blown nitro 426 c.i. Chrysler Hemis powered the “who’s who” of drag racing including dragstrip legends like Don Prudhomme, Pat Foster, Ed McCulloch, Don Schumacher, Gene Snow, the Blue Max, Tom McEwen, and Shirley Muldowney, among dozens of others. Plus he helped develop the Ford 427 SOHC engine for Top Fuel Dragster and Funny Cars, a motor that won its share of races.
When professional drag racing accelerated into the stratosphere and teams began building their own engines, Pink was ahead of the curve, branching out into oval track, road course racing, and more. Wherever there was a checkered flag to be hoisted, an Ed Pink engine was at the front of the pack. Ed is enshrined in the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, Super Stock Hall of Fame, Hot Rod Magazine Hall of Fame, Boat Racing Hall of Fame, NHRA honoree, and was a recipient of the Robert E. Petersen Lifetime Achievement award.
A hot rodder since the 1950s, his post-retirement years have allowed him to attend Goodguys events and other western hot rod happenings with his wife Sylvia in their 1929 Ford Hi-Boy Roadster. At the 2015 Goodguys West Coast Nationals, he drove off with the Stroker McGurk award – an honor bestowed to the event’s top hi-boy roadster in honor of the late Tom Medley.
An avid Gazette reader, we had the opportunity to chat with Pink recently and uncover the man behind all those motors.
GG: Ed, tell us what kind of hot rods you drove on the street in Southern California during your youth?
Ed Pink: My first car was a 1922 Model T. I lived in West LA and a couple blocks from where I lived there was this old Model T in a garage. One day the people were home so I stopped and talked with them. I was 14. They sold it to me for $50. I wish I still had it today. It was cherry – all original paint in brand new condition. Later I got a ’26 Model T. My very first actual hot rod was a ’29 Ford roadster. The year was 1948. I ran it at El Mirage Dry Lake and later I ran it at Bonneville. I ran a 3-71 supercharged 239. ci flathead on fuel. That car was the reason I had Roy Brizio build my ’29 later in life.
GG: Who taught you how to build blown nitro engines?
Ed Pink: Nobody taught me. I was kind of self-taught. Coming up I was heavily involved with the Edelbrock family including Vic Sr., Bobby Meeks, Don Towle and Fran Hernandez. The biggest lesson I learned from them was that “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” My very first job was for Lou Baney at his Golden Eagle Gas Station on a corner lot in Southwest L.A. The press called the place Hot Rod Heaven. Isky, Norris Baronian, Sig Erson and a bunch of other speed merchants would hang out there on Saturday’s with their hot rods. Lou taught me how to be a mechanic. Before I got to be a decent mechanic, I swept the floors, emptied the trash, etc. Lou ended up being a big influence in my life. In a local newspaper article, they called me the “star mechanic” which we thought was funny because I was the only mechanic working there (laughs). I had a flathead-powered ’36 Ford at the time. After Lou closed the place he went to work for the Yeakel Brothers.
GG: Why were Ed Pink engines so durable?
Ed Pink: It all gets back to what I learned at Edelbrock –If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I never cut corners. I paid attention to detail. I used the best parts attainable and made sure everything was correct on the engine. I treated those motors as though they were living people. Like they were one of my kids.
GG: What was your most difficult engine project and why?
Ed Pink: The most difficult project I have ever been involved in was the Nissan Infinity IRL engine. They came to me with a cylinder block 80 percent developed and some cylinder heads somewhat finished. That was it. I had to design the rods, pistons, and every component to make a complete engine. Turns out, they didn’t have the necessary budget. I couldn’t hire enough people to pull it off so I just put my head down and got it done. We were continually behind the eight ball. It ran good and we did win an IRL race. The biggest reason it was the hardest project I was ever involved in was the fact that the budget wasn’t there and we just didn’t have the resources needed. We were working 6 or 7 days a week, 14 hours a day. I did learn a lot so it wasn’t all bad.
GG: During drag racing’s heyday, your engines were used by the top pros and won many big races. What made you the “go-to” guy?
Ed Pink: Our engines ran better than most of the competition but more importantly they stayed together. When a guy builds and runs his own motor – he can blow it up big time, he doesn’t have to answer to anybody. But when you’re in the engine-selling business, you must have a product that is reliable and wins races. One time at Irwindale, Goodyear hired me to do a tire test with my Old Master top fuel car. With Tom McEwen driving, we ran for 4 days straight, made 27 full quarter-mile passes and never had the cylinder heads off once. Keep in mind we were running all kinds of different tire combinations during the test. I pride myself on that feat to this day. Word got around that my engines made good power and were reliable. And that helped a bunch!
GG: Of all the famous southern California drag strips, which one was your favorite?
Ed Pink: Probably Long Beach – Lion’s Drag Strip. There was something about being down near the ocean. The weather let the engines make really good power and the traction was always good too. Great crowds as well. Orange County was good, but Lions holds a special place in my heart. We won a lot of races there.
GG: You have been in the engine business for 56 years. What accomplishment are you most proud of in your professional career?
Ed Pink: The customers who have turned into longtime friends. It really is all about the people and relationships developed. This racing engine business is very intimate. A great majority of my customers became such great friends because we spent so much time together. Prudhomme, McEwen, midget race car owner Steve Lewis – it didn’t matter if they were a driver or a car owner, or vendor you did business with – the friendships are the same.
GG: What critical business lessons did you learn during your long, successful career?
Ed Pink: Treat people right, do the best job you can do and when you go to do a job, always do your best. Don’t do the job half-ass and charge less. My name, reputation, and the driver’s safety were on the line so it has to be done right. I never let money motivate the job. If the customer’s budget didn’t fit the project, I wouldn’t take the job.
GG: Your name is synonymous with drag racing. But you built a lot of winning engines in other forms of motorsport. How many different racing series did you build engines for?
Ed Pink: I have built land speed engines, drag race engines, boat racing engines, Indycar engines, Daytona 24 Hours sports car engines like those used in Jim Busby’s Porsche 962, midget engines for Steve Lewis, sprint and silver crown engines, off-road desert racing engines, drifting engines and more. In midgets, we developed both Ford and Toyota 4-cylinder motors. Lewis’ Ford won over 100 races including 9 USAC Championships. When it came to the Toyota midget engine, all TRD had was a cylinder head and a valve cover! We designed the complete engine. The first time out in 2006 at the one-mile Copper Classic in Phoenix, it set quick time and won the race with Dave Steel driving. To this day, that Toyota engine is the one all the championship teams use. I’m very proud of that.
GG: Of all the racers you worked with over the years, who stands out?
Ed Pink: There isn’t any one person that stands out the most. In drag racing, Prudhomme, McEwen, McCulloch, Schumacher stand out. In midgets and Silver Crown, it was Jason Leffler, Tony Stewart, Kenny Irwin, and Dave Darland. In Indycar racing – Al Unser, Arie Luyendyk, Tom Sneva, and Danny Ongais come to mind.
GG: What advice would you give somebody that wants to go in the race engine business?
Ed Pink: Do the job correctly! Treat people as you want to be treated and do the job right. When the job is done and the money is spent, you have to live with what you built. We were at the Belleville Nationals in Kansas one time. A man came up to Steve Lewis and said, “How do you like your Ed Pink engines?” Steve said “I love them. You never really own an Ed Pink engine. He just gives you the pleasure of running them. He is hovering over them and treating them with the utmost care constantly.”
GG: You built Indy car engines for four decades. Tell us about those…
Ed Pink: We built 161 c.i. turbocharged Cosworth 4-cam V8’s that were on straight methanol with unlimited turbo boost. They made close to 1,000 horsepower. As the cars got better and faster, they would cut back the boost, at one point we were running as low as 45 inches of boost. We won the Milwaukee Mile and Phoenix Mile, also won the Indy 500 in 1983 with Tom Sneva. We also did the Nissan Infinity as well as the Buick turbo V6 engines. The Indy thing was so competitive. That’s what really stands out. Another great learning curve.
GG: You drive a Brizio-built ’29 Ford hi-boy roadster. It has won several major awards. What is your favorite part of driving hot rods and going to hot rod events?
Ed Pink: Two words. The people! The cars are what brings us together. Going to the Goodguys events over the years I have met so many great people. Sylvia and I are always looking forward to going to the next event. We will be at the 30th West Coast Nationals in Pleasanton. At hot rod events, when someone greets you – it’s always sincere. I love the hot rod people. Thanks to the late Gary Meadors and Goodguys I am living my dream. I talk to so many people I am hoarse when the event is over. That’s as good as it gets.
Today, you can find Ed and his longtime friend Bob Brandt embarking on the next chapter of their lives, operating Ed Pink’s Garage in Newbury, California. According to their homepage the garage is dedicated to, “doing special projects that range from building and installing unique engines in street rods and muscle cars to performing R&D work.”
Ed makes it a point to mention, “I want to make it clear that we’re not going into the racing engine business. I sold my business (Ed Pink Racing Engines) to Tom Mallow over five years ago, and it continues to stand on its own with Frank Honsowetz, who was my GM for many years, at the helm. Many of EPRE’s employees have been there for 20-30 years and are excellent technicians. Because of this, I will count on EPRE to be a valuable resource for precision machine work and testing on all applicable projects we have at Ed Pink’s Garage.”
Ed Pink’s Garage
Hall of Fame engine builder Ed “The Old Master” Pink is embarking on a new chapter in his storied career, collaborating with long-time friend and associate Bob Brandt to launch “Ed Pink’s Garage” in Newbury Park, California. The facility will be devoted to doing special projects that range from building and installing unique engines in street rods and muscle cars to performing
2631 Lavery Court, Unit 3
Newbury Park, CA 91320
Email: [email protected]
Phone: (805) 499-4091
Ed Pink Racing Engines
Ed Pink Racing Engines (EPRE) is one of America’s premier auto racing engine building, rebuilding, testing, design and development facilities. EPRE currently builds and develops championship winning race engines, as well as the production and sale of the highest quality engine performance parts including our dry sump oil pumps and water pumps.
14612 Raymer Street
Van Nuys, CA 91405