RCD Engineering: 48 years and going strong
RCD Engineering, Inc.
17100 Salmon Mine Road, Nevada City
Hours: Monday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Friday 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Closed for lunch noon to 1 p.m.
When Steve Leach was 12, his dad took him to the drag races near their home in Los Angeles. Leach had been to other races, but this time he noticed an open gate that led from the stands directly to down the pit, where the cars were. As luck would have it, no one was checking for “pit passes.”
“Once I got down there, the guys in the pit were nice — they said I could stay,” said Leach. “That was it for me — every weekend after that my friends and I would get one of our dads to take to the races so we could hang out in the pit.”
Leach would spend all day there, washing dirty engine parts, running errands and “asking dumb questions,” he said.
Back at home, Leach and his friends raided his father’s workshop and began making their own go-carts and mini-bikes.
“My dad was an electrician for an oil company, so he had all kinds of tools and materials in the garage,” he said. “This was the late ‘50s and early ‘60s — we didn’t have any money to go buy things, so we built our own stuff.”
Upon high school graduation, Leach was confronted with a harsh reality: if he didn’t go to college, there was a real possibility he would be drafted and sent to Vietnam.
He studied mechanical engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and found it was a perfect fit for what he loved to do — design things.
“When I graduated, I had no family or kids, so my plan was to work in drag racing until I got a real job,” said Leach, with a laugh. “I loved working on the ‘funny cars,’ which were starting to get real popular by the late ‘60s.”
Funny cars are a type of drag racing vehicles in their own specific racing class. They are characterized by having fiberglass or carbon fiber automotive bodies, giving them a look that resembles showroom models. They also have forward-mounted engines, unlike typical dragsters.
Over the years, Leach had witnessed the problems with starters on the race cars — too often the outcome of a race was dictated by whether or not a particular engine started in time.
“So I started making starters for those cars out of surplus aircraft starters,” said Steve. “Pretty soon they said they all had to have starters. It really made the show run smoother.”
When the old aircraft starters became harder to find, Leach began designing, modifying and making his own parts, which were an improvement.
“Then, in the ‘70s I decided I needed my own funny car, so I built one,” he said. “I had a good time, but it got really expensive really fast. By the end of the ‘70s, I realized that I liked making the parts more than driving the car and constantly tuning it.”
By that time, Leach had built a reputation among drivers, crew chiefs, mechanics and team owners. He was their go-to guy. His Removable Blower Mount Starter for funny cars and dragsters has since become a standard in the industry. He traveled to the more than 20 National Hot Rod Association races each year, watching cars routinely accelerate from zero to 330 miles per hour in just 1,000 feet.
“I love the thunder of the engine pounding in your chest,” he said. “At night, you’ll see six to eight feet of fire shooting out the exhaust headers.”
By the time Leach was married with young children, his company, RCD Engineering Inc., was flourishing. He opted to get his family out of the city, and in 1984, he moved to the San Juan Ridge, where he purchased a 40-acre parcel off Tyler Foote Road.
Today, RCD (Race Car Dynamics) Engineering has 25 employees, a 20,000-square-foot machine shop and a 10,000-square-foot shipping warehouse. Working closely with the Gates Corporation, the world’s leading manufacturer of power transmission belts and fluid power products, RCD’s drag racing car parts are shipped all over the country, as well as Australia, Europe and South America.
For the past 48 years, RCD has continued to design and improve racing technology through close connections with customers as well as the organizations that set the rules. In addition, they remain closely aligned with many manufacturers of blocks, heads, cranks, cams and blowers, and strive to stay in tune with the changing needs of the customer, providing innovative parts that work well with other manufacturers’ components. They buy their raw materials from established steel and aluminum companies, and buy American whenever possible — even if it costs more, said Leach.
Leach’s wife, Pat, serves as the company’s legal secretary, and his son, Jason, currently serves as production manager.
“Jason’s a better businessman than I am and he writes the programs for the computer machine parts — technologically, he’s just dragging me along,” said Leach, with a smile. “Eventually I’m hoping my son will fire me and just let me come down and design stuff. I’m really happy that he’s interested in taking over the business.”
Down the road, Jason says his vision is to expand their customer base to other kinds of racing, such as dirt cars, circle track, street and off road racers. His father agrees with the vision — he thinks Jason could double the size of the business by capitalizing on customers who are well known in the industry and building more parts for a more diverse audience.
Looking back, Leach says he’s enjoyed building the company every step of the way.
“This turned out to be a great job — I’ve always loved solving problems and making improvements,” he said. “In fact, I’ve never really considered this a job.”
To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email her at Cory@theunion.com.
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