DRIVELINE INNOVATOR BOB STANGE PASSES AWAY
It’s hard to believe a perceived typo led to one of the most successful aftermarket companies ever to service the motorsports industry.
That was 1964 when a well-intended printer saw the name Stange Engineering on the ads he was hired to produce and took the initiative to correct the copy to read Strange Engineering. And the interesting part is the printer kept making the same mistake until the customer Bob Stange decided if you can’t beat them, join them.
Stange, the patriarch behind the Strange Engineering brand, passed away peacefully at his on May 22, 2023. He was 84.
Those who knew the Hall of Fame manufacturer, who revolutionized the driveline industry with everything from his racing axles, rear ends, spools, suspension units, and struts to front and rear disc brakes and billet magnesium blower drives, understand it was a commitment to excellence which pushed Stange.
No one knew Stange better than his longtime friend Chris “The Golden Greek” Karamesines.
“He was a great best friend, a very generous person,” Karamesines said. “What made our relationship so good is we worked together on many projects through the years. Had a lot of good times. Did a lot of crazy
Karamesines said their friendship went back to 1957 when Stange was working out of his two-car garage before they traveled to California to meet with other manufacturing professionals. It was a friendship so solidly bonded that they emotionally adopted each other’s children.
As Karamesines points out, “Even then, he took a lot of pride in his work. It had to be perfect. That, among other reasons, is why we got along so well.”
Legendary drag racing crew chief Austin Coil proudly proclaims he’d known Stange since 1967, and in 55 years, the two developed a priceless bond.
“He was honest and worked hard, but he could also party hard,” Coil said with a chuckle. “One thing I can definitely say for sure in this life is that he had his share of fun. We certainly shared many dinners together.”
Coil described Stange as “an overall great guy.”
“We did a lot of projects together and created some good things for racing,” Coil said.
Coil said that Stange undoubtedly took the industry to the next level because he mastered being a smooth talker.
“He’d call the steel company and tell them he was working on a big project, and if it worked out, he’d likely order 1000s of pieces,” Coil explained. “He’d tell them he needed a sample to give it a whirl. They’d end up sending him a piece which was enough to make two input shafts for a TorqueFlite back in the day.”
Another Hall of Famer, Don Schumacher, whose contributions as a racer and later as a mega-team owner are unparalleled, described Stange as one who strived for excellence.
“Bob was a special that was really intent on making the right parts and doing the right thing for everybody in NHRA Drag Racing, and really intent on helping the fuel teams with parts and pieces that would live through the crazy conditions that we put these parts through. Bob worked very hard to make sure the fuel classes had the quality parts that it needed to survive.”
And, as Schumacher points out, to ensure those drivers could count on Stange’s products as if their lives depended on it. Schumacher was quick to point out Stange’s goal was not the bottom line financially; it was instead to look out for the racers who trusted him, and because of that, he was always looking to reach the next level for them and the sport.
“Racers knew that they could count on his products to take them from one end of the track to the other, safely,” Schumacher explained. “He invested a tremendous amount of money making parts that would survive the environment of the fuel teams operating, and I don’t know what the sport would be without Bob Stange and Strange Engineering.
“He worked hard to make the best brakes and most reliable driveline products,” Coil added. “As always in business, there are issues from time to time, but whatever he faced, he always came out smelling like a rose. He always said his goal in life was to make sure everyone agreed he made the best parts in the world for his intended projects.
“As racers, we always tried to reach the point where we won more than anyone in the business. In Stange’s world, he wanted to make products better than anyone else’s.”
This wasn’t hype; there was pure substance, such as at the 1973 Winternationals, 14 of 16 Funny Car qualifiers ran Strange parts. Strange has been named Manufacturer of the Year several times, and Stange was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2010.
A good measure of Stange’s success was predicated on standing outside of the box. Just how far outside of the box was he? Those who CompetitionPlus.com spoke to said, “There’s standing outside the box, and then there’s where Bob was.”
Coil starts laughing when he recalls just outside of the box where Stange used to stand.
“I had a second-floor apartment, and he scaled the wall and onto the balcony, and he walked up and knocked on the door,” Coil recalled. “He could have just walked up a perfectly good set of stairs on the inside of the building. It had to be him because who else would knock on a second-floor patio door? I guess he wanted to surprise us.”
The only thing Stange did better than standing outside the box and making excellent parts was championing the little guy.
Stange was a proponent for the little guy, and together in the early-to-mid-1980s, he created the Team Strange Super Team, comprised of smaller budgeted teams like Karamesines, Frank Hawley, and five sportsman racers who knew how to overachieve. Four of the seven won World Championships.
With Hawley driving, Coil’s Chi-Town Hustler broke the dominance of Raymond Beadle and Don Prudhomme, winning championships in 1982 and 1983 for a fraction of the budget his competition sported.
“It was nice because we were all good friends first,” Coil said. “He didn’t fund us with enough to pay most of the bills, but back then, the $20,000 we got from Bob was as important as $20 million is to John Force. He was there for us, which meant the world to us.”
A little-known fact was in 1988, Stange’s Strange Engineering invested in advertising with an obscure start-up publication that had more ambition than talent and even less circulation. Yet they purchased the first advertisement in the original printed version of Competition Plus.
John Mazzarella worked for Stange in an Advertising and Marketing capacity for what he described as 21 wonderful years.
“There was no finer of a person than Bob Stange,” Mazzarella said. “He hired me away from the NHRA, and we truly had a whirlwind time. Bob was my boss and friend, and I already miss him. He took me into his family, and I loved him for that and so much more.”
Taking care of others inspired Stange, and nothing provided more inspiration than his dinners. Coil said it was a source of pride when Stange would gather up his friends at the racers and go to dinner and pick up the check.
All the intricacies of innovation, friendship, and work ethic made Stange an American success story. As Schumacher witnessed from Day One, it all started with the willingness to go the extra mile.
“I don’t think Bob got into this with the intent of making a living off of it,” Schumacher said. “He got into it for the love of drag racing. That’s what drove him. And it wasn’t necessarily for the sport as it was for the people in the sport.
“I can remember [in my early years] going over to his shop in Evanston [Ill.], and he’d be there at 10 PM, sitting on the floor working on axles and that kind of stuff. His expertise and dedication are what helped take drag racing to the next level, and his legacy continues all these years later and for years to come.”