(Aug. 24, 2017) Making race cars go fast has become a complicated profession. Many teams still do their own work and set-ups for their race cars, but more teams are turning to specialists to do some of this work for them. In this week’s Conversation we meet Geoff Armstrong, from GD Fabrication and Race Cars, one of the firms doing this important work.
A Conversation with Geoff Armstrong
Wade: Hello Geoff, how long have you been interested in fast cars?
Geoff: When I was a young kid my Dad was into muscle cars and when I was 14 he bought a 74 Plymouth Duster with a 318 cubic inch engine and four speed transmission. Dad and I rebuilt that car together and it was all finished up for me when I turned 16 and was able to get my license. That was a pretty awesome experience and created a special bond between my Dad and I. Geoff has always loved working on cars. Here’s the Duster Geoff and his Dad Joe rebuilt. Can you imagine having a ride like this when you turned 16?
Wade: And from those early days working on muscle cars you obviously became interested in racing.
Geoff: Its kind of an interesting chain of events how I first got started. I was real good friends with Steve Halpin and the time his Father was running open wheel so I kinda got introduced to racing hangin out with those guys. I travelled around `to race tracks with them for a year or so. I was working at Dobson Chrysler Dodge in Saint John with Mark Arsenault, one of Lonnie Sommerville’s crew members. Mark asked me if I would like to go to a Sportsman race with them in Geary. So I started working with those guys and learned a lot from Lonnie and the other guys on the crew. I spent almost ten years with those guys. Geoff’s shop in Saint John builds race cars from the ground up. The technology, equipment and process of building and maintaining race cars has really progressed by leaps and bounds in the last few years.
Wade: How did you go from being a crew member to building and maintaining race cars?
Geoff: When I was 18 I took off to North Carolina for awhile and went to the Bobby Isaac Motorsports School which teaches you about NASCAR, how to hang a body on a car, chassis set ups and things like that. While I was down there Lonnie hooked me up with Rollie MacDonald and I met him down at Hamke Race Cars. He was down there to put a clip on a car he had wrecked in Antigonish. And Rollie introduced me to Dean Clattenburg, a chassis builder from Nova Scotia. From there it just kind of grew until I started my own business.Geoff parks his parts trailer near the tech shed on race day. He provides a much needed service to help Speedway 660 race teams put on a show for our fans.
Wade: So what exactly do you do at GD Fabrication and Race Car Parts?
Geoff: I build, service, maintain and set-up race cars back home at the shop. Here at the track I work with my clients and provide information and feedback to help them get around the track a little faster. The last couple of years I’ve been focussing on the parts side of things and this year I started bringing a trailer to 660 every week with some of the common parts guys might need on race day. It’s kind of a way to provide a service here at the track and it’s really needed. Basically I’m focusing on the basic stuff and I want to help everyone I can. GD Fabrication and Race Cars has several clients at Speedway 660, including Brent Roy, the 2017 RE/MAX Group Four Realty Pro Stock Champion.
Wade: Not only that, but you also sponsor a couple of contingency awards at Speedway 660.
Geoff: Last year I partnered with CFR Chassis run by Dean Clattenburg, who is now based out of North Carolina, to offer a contingency award. Each week we gave a $150 shop credit to the top rookie of the race in Pro Stock. This year we have awards for both the Pro Stocks and Sportsman division. Its just a way for Dean and I to make a contribution to help the race teams here at Speedway 660.
Wade: Racing is huge down south, they’ve got lots of tracks, a big population and a longer season than we do here in the Maritimes. How hard is it to operate a racing business here in New Brunswick?
Geoff: You’re right it is a fairly small market up here. This is a part-time business for me, which really keeps me busy during the spring, getting ready for the racing season and during the summer season itself. I still have a day job though. It’s a pretty small industry up here in Atlantic Canada, but there are several top notch shops including Lonnie Sommerville Racing in Saint John, Shawn Tucker Racing Products in Fredericton, Frank Fraser in Shubenacadie and a few others. Even though we are competitors in a small market, I always try to get along with those guys.Geoff takes pride in his work and is meticulous in his efforts to help race teams put great cars on the track. GD Fabrications and Race Cars and the other small companies, doing the same kind of work, have helped make racing in this region more competitive and professional.
Wade: Things are constantly changing in racing, especially in respect to the technical and mechanical aspects of the sport. How do you keep up with all of that stuff?
Geoff: You have to be prepared to never stop learning and never stop improving. I’ve made a lot of friends on both sides of the border in racing. I am still continuing to learn about racing and am lucky to be able to pick up the phone and call people I have met over the years for information and advice.Brady Creamer, a Pro Stock driver from the Miramichi, is a GD Fabrication and Race Cars client. Geoff will be working with Brady on SpeedWeekend.
Wade: How do you feel about the future of racing?
Geoff: I really want to see the sport continue to grow here in our region. Attracting more fans is the key. Increasing the car count is also important. Having successful tracks like Speedway 660 is also very important to a small business like mine. Many of these guys support me and I like to support them with goods and services and my contingency awards.Brady Creamer’s car spent some time in Geoff’s shop recently. They are hoping to have a great run, during the McLaughlin Roof Trusses 250, on SpeedWeekend.
Wade: What advice would you have for the racing industry here in the Maritimes?
Geoff: Tracks have got to work together up here in terms of scheduling events. We just don’t have the population they have in larger centers in the States. Builders have to work together and drivers have to work together too. When we fill the stands and fans see great events, like the Firecracker 150 and the Clark Chevrolet Best of the Best 150 held recently at Speedway 660, hopefully those fans will come back and maybe bring their friends to the races too. We’re all in this together and we need to find common ground and work together for the over-all benefit of the sport.Geoff is always available to talk to drivers and crew members on race day at 660. He provides parts, service and advice, not only to his own clients, but any racer who may need some help.
Wade: I always ask the drivers who they want to thank for making it possible for them to go racing every week. So who do you want to thank?
Geoff: My Mom and Dad (Debra & Joe) top that list. They got me interested in cars as a kid and have supported me in everything I have done to come this far. I know they’ll continue to be there for me in the future too. My girlfriend Emily is supportive too. Dean Clattenburg, from CRF Chassis is a mentor and he has been a big help. All of my clients, who have confidence and faith in my work, are much appreciated too. People can contact me on FACEBOOK – at GD Fabrication and Race Cars.
I know SpeedWeekend is coming right up and I want to wish all of the race teams, in every class, the best of luck. Its the biggest event of the year and I know the fans are going to be treated to an awesome weekend of racing entertainment.