Founder of Arias Pistons and
Nick Arias Jr. Racing Components
Nick Arias, Jr, was born in January 1929 in Los Angeles, and like many young guys growing up in Southern California at the time, he was wild about cars; something he never outgrew. Nick’s first car, a hot rod he built in 1946, was a Model A with a Winfield flathead engine. In 1949, an enthralled Nick participated in the first organized drag race held in Goleta, CA. That event, sponsored by the Santa Barbara Acceleration Association in conjunction with California Highway Patrol grabbed him and never let go.
“I began hot-rodding seriously around the end of World War ll, and can still remember the thrill of being at the first organized drag race at Goleta, CA back in 1949. Loud engines, fast cars and competition from all over … it was a young Hot-Rodder’s dream.” – Nick Arias, Jr.
Nick’s dad, Nick, Sr., worked for the Union Pacific Railroad as a machinist for 45 years. It’s said that he never missed a day of work. And even though, Nick, Jr. was mechanically inclined, he wonders to this day if he learned very much from his dad. In school, the aptitude tests showed that his interests were in industrial arts so, Nick, who had started out in academics switched to auto mechanics and machining. A move that literally changed his life. If fact, Nick has spent his entire adult life trying to get engines to work better and harder so cars would go faster.
Nick volunteered to go to Korea to fight in the Korean War. He enlisted in the Army and spent 1950 and ’51 in theater. Late in 1952, Nick and his buddy, Bob Toros, returned from Korea and immediately went back working with cars.
Amazingly, their initial project, a 1937 Chevy coupe, was their first 12-port straight-six engine that they completed in 1952 and ’53 and was a success – capturing the Russetta Timing points championship. The need for parts had put Nick in contact with a man by the name of Harry Warner, owner of Wayne Manufacturing. In 1953, Harry hired Nick as general manager and later hired Bob, as well. As it turned out, Nick and Bob would do the majority of engine work and cylinder-head work at Wayne. Thus, Nick and Bob’s engines were consistently the best at El Mirage and Bonneville for two years in a row.
As luck had it, Wayne Manufacturing was located next door to Frank Venolia’s piston shop. Venolia was a die maker who happened to manufacturer pistons for one customer. He never saw the need or opportunity to market his racing pistons; after all, there were already several other companies who had that limited market sewn-up. Still, Nick and Bob wanted to purchase Venolia Pistons. So, Harry Warner approached Frank Venolia and the two men put together a deal so sell those assets to Nick, Bob and Harry. That was in 1956.
By 1963, Nick and Bob had turned the piston business into a nationally recognized success. By then, Harry was out of the picture and Joe Pisano had become an equal partner in Venolia along with Nick and Bob. 1963 was the same year that the three partners designed, developed and began manufacturing forged racing pistons; a technology that did not exist until after World War ll.
Arias Pistons was formed in 1969 and became known quickly as a manufacturer of quality high-performance components. “If it had a piston, we built it,” Nick said. Domestic and imports. Diesel and tractors. Even airplane pistons.
Nick had been hearing from his Chevrolet Top Fuel customers that the Chrysler Hemi was killing them at the track, so he started designing and building his first Hemi-Chevy engine. Arias sold a few of these engines but it was never a big seller or winner in Top Fuel. However, in boat racing and tractor-pulling it was almost unbeatable.
Arias Pistons were used by most engine builders and were successful for most of the NASCAR teams. And while he also stuck with drag racing (??), Nick said that the Chevrolet racing officials did nothing to help with the development of his Hemi heads. On the other hand, the people from Ford unselfishly lent him the blueprints of their 429-cu.in. cylinder heads. After studying those prints Arias increased the intake and exhaust flow of the heads and then designed an aluminum 429-cu.in. matching block.
Nick continued designing and building engines throughout the early 1980’s. A 10-liter off-shore engine, a V-6 sprint car racing engine that had about a whopping 70 cubic inches per cylinder – but was only 19 inches long!
In 2000, Nick received the California Hot Rod Reunion Lifetime Achievement for Manufacturing Award. An award he is very proud of. He was inducted into Don Garlits’ International Hall of Fame in 2005.
Nick has no plans of retiring; he’s in the office daily. “We have always used good engineering first. We use wrought-forged and heat treated cast aluminum, the best on the market and we’ve done everything to aircraft standards. A winning combination.”