Paul “Scooter” Brothers, President and co-founder of COMP Cams and chairman-elect of the SEMA board of directors, is a good guy to get to know. Involved in multiple forms of racing for practically his whole adult life, he currently leads a performance parts empire, yet remains one of the easiest guys to talk to in the business. It turns out that the head honcho of COMP has quite a few racing stories that you’d never think a CEO of a major corporation would tell you, but we think you’ll find that Scooter is no ordinary CEO. He’s a racer at heart, always has been, and always will be.
powerTV: OK, first of all, let’s get the question about the nickname out of the way…
Scooter Brothers: The name came from the lady in the hospital the day I was born. I don’t remember it personally, but I’m told that I was “scooting” around in the little basket they put me in, so she named me. And it just stuck. I should probably make us some really noble story, but this is as far as I know, the truth.
PTV: Let’s talk about more recent history. Over the years, you’ve been involved with racing of all kinds and at all levels, so you’ve got a bit of perspective on the topic. Are the more “colorful” part of racing – the rivalries, the shenanigans on and off the track, the personalities – a thing of the past?
SB: The last 20 years or so has been relatively cookie-cutter. When things got more refined and more professional, people got to be less of the “characters” they used to be. In the old days, it was not unusual to have some pretty big-time arguments – things went on that were a lot more cowboy-ish than you’d put up with today. It wasn’t unusual to have somebody threaten somebody else, “If you don’t let my guy win…” There’s just a lot of crazy things that used to happen, and today you can’t get away with that kind of stuff. In the early days you did what you had to do.
PTV: Do you have a few stories that come to mind about the old days? What was it like racing then? What stories can you share?
SB: <Laughing> OK, I’ll tell you a couple of funny stories, and then one that has stuck with me for my entire life that was really a life lesson. I’ll start way back, back in the early days of drag racing in the ‘60’s. Things weren’t very complicated back then, you know. They had very simple drag strips and a lot of things were approximated, and it just wasn’t a real nice setup over all. There were weeds everywhere and racetracks were basically put wherever they could be.
I remember one night where we had stock classes running, and they had big spots and some of the old racing cars were ’50 Oldsmobiles, so they were really slow, and they would get longer handicaps than some of the faster cars. So when they’d leave the starting line and be running down the track there’d just happen to be someone laying in the weeds right at the photo cell at the finish line, and just to “make sure” the cell was working he might’ve reached his hand out to trip the beam before the cars went by.
PTV: Just to make sure?
SB: Well, you know, you never know about those things. We always called it a hot dog wrapper blowing through there. Well, one night it got a little mixed up and the beam light got tripped early and the guy that was racing him saw the win light come on when he was only about 1000 feet down the track. He knew something was going on then! That’s one story that I wouldn’t have wanted to let out of the bag 40 years ago, but maybe nobody is still alive that remembers it happening. We’ll just say that I knew the guy laying in the weeds pretty well.
PTV: So, was it you?
SB: <Laughing> You’ll never know, but I wasn’t fat then like I am now and it was easier to lay in the weeks, I’ll say that!
PTV: Sounds very suspicious! Were you aware of any other “suspicious” activities that just happen to take place at races where you were in attendance?
SB: Oh, maybe. I do remember one other time we were out doing some oval track racing on the dirt races and I was supporting the engine of Billy Moyer, an Iowa guy, and this was in ’84 or ’85. Billy was and still is a National star and we were racing down in Lubbock, TX. He was in the front row and while they were going around on a warm-up lap he had a plug wire fall off.
We had always said back then that if the lights had gone out at the race track that it’d be a bad thing, and no one would know what to do. So, I happen to look up and there was a switch box by the lights, and all of a sudden the lights went out and the track went dark. The cars had to stop while they were figuring it out, so we went out on the track and put the plug wire back on.
PTV: Wow, what are the odds that the lights would just go out like that?
SB: Well, you never know, but they put a lock on that handle after that!
PTV: You had mentioned that there was one story that was a huge life lesson for you. What was that?
SB: Well, this is the one that I’m most proud of and it’s about John Lingenfelter. John and I were really tight. We had raced and traveled together, and he was a really special person. He was the kind of guy that would do anything, and I mean anything that he had to do to win a race.
The story that I want to tell you was back in 1977 or ’78. John had a super stock Corvette that was by far the fastest car anywhere, and this was before they had break out racing or anything like that. Basically the fastest car would win the race. We were at Indianapolis at the U.S. Nationals and this was on Monday morning, the day of the eliminations. They used to give the super stock cars a time trial first thing in the morning.
Well, he went up that Monday morning for his time trial and while he was doing his burnout the entire side of the engine block pulled out. He got around to the pits but had no spare engine. He lived in Decatur, IN which was maybe a little under 100 miles from there. It was about 2 hours before the first round started when all of this happened. For most people that would have been it, but John had seen a helicopter giving rides to spectators over the track, so he went and found the helicopter and had the guy fly him to Decatur so he could get a spare block. He landed in the middle of the street, ran in, grabbed the new block, and started prepping it in the helicopter on the way back.
While he was gone, a group of us racers got together, pulled the engine out and tore it down. In other words we had the crank, rod, and pistons laying there and we had everything as prepared as we possible could. We went out and borrowed ring compressors so that every piston had ring compressors on them. We had everything completely ready for when John got back. 45 minutes after he landed, the Corvette was in the staging lanes! It was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. There were actually some pictures taken by Rick Vogel who did a series of pictures for Car Craft. It proved to me that you can do just about anything if you set your mind to it.
John Lingenfelter campaigned his super-successful Corvette for several years which would pave the way for the Corvette performance parts that Lingenfelter Performance is known for.
PTV: Could you say that was one of those life lessons that never seem leave you?
SB: It hasn’t and it never will! I guess it’s something that I’ll never forget. When they had John’s funeral, there were a bunch of pictures of his racing accomplishments in the foyer, maybe 100 pictures or so. We were all milling around out there and saw the pictures of that day and the memories came flooding back. It was really pretty cool.
One topper to the story was that when John went up to the starting line with the rebuilt engine the carb started to flood over. It turns out that when someone had put a bolt in the rubber fuel line to block the fuel while we pulled the engine, he just happened to choose a bolt that had a little piece of silicone on it. No one ever noticed. That piece of silicone came off of that bolt and eventually got stuck into the needle and seat in the carburetor. John couldn’t race.
The entire place knew that the race would have been his had he been able to run. I’ve never seen what happened next to this day, but the NHRA let him come back and make a run by himself during the U.S. Nationals just to show how fast he could of run, and he ended up racing way faster than anyone else. It put the icing on the cake and proved what would have happened had he been allowed to run.
Something else that stuck with me was that there was maybe 25 or 30 of us working on John’s car to get it ready, and every single one of us decided what to do to get the job done fastest. That’s the most fun thing about racing is that the people that compete against each other on the track help each other in the pits.
PTV: So you may have tweaked the engine in the pits that ended up beating you!
SB: Yes! Absolutely. But everyone sees that in racing and that’s what makes great. There’s no question that as far as someone learning values and learning how to work that it’s a hell of a training tool. It’s a great life lesson and had about as much impact on me as being in the service.
PTV: You had mentioned to me before the interview that the last car you raced personally was a Camaro that you and John Lingenfelter prepared together. Since racing has had such a huge impact on you, is it something that you miss doing?
SB: You know, people ask me if I miss racing all the time, but I just tell them that I never stopped racing. I actually race every day. I just race companies instead of cars. My partner is a lawyer, and he hasn’t practiced in some time, but I have grown to know that lawyers race just like we do on a racetrack. If you look around at successful people in business, they all race against the guy next to them, whether he’s in the next lane, or across the courtroom, or somebody else on the midway. We all race our competition. And I tell my guys that it’s not always necessary to play fair – we have to use whatever we can call an advantage. In some cases, that’s what a racer does. Fair means one thing, but as you get closer and closer to the competition and business side of things, it means a little something different.
PTV: Scooter, these are fantastic stories. It’s incredible how much racing has shaped your life. Thanks so much for sharing.