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Taylor Motorsports Products – Part One

By Al Heisley

Fifteen years ago, Dennis Taylor found himself telling his wife that his General Manager had decided to move on and that he was starting to look for a new GM. At the same time Dennis’ 20-year old son, Justin, walked into the kitchen and overheard his parent’s conversation. Seeing this as an opportunity, Justin, spoke up and said that he might like that job. Surprised, Dennis thought about it for a couple of days deciding that for several reasons, he agreed. After all, Justin’s name was already on the building so Dennis took his son up on it. Since then, Justin has become an interracial part of the business and he interacts with everyone who calls; especially the younger racers who call in.

However, long before Justin came along, Dennis’ own story began in 1969 when he and his father attended their first ever drag race. Dennis was 11 years old and the only thing he wanted to do after that day was drive funny cars! Obviously, something he couldn’t do at the time. That is, until 1975 when he was attending another race and had stopped to talk with Roger Garten. Roger thought he was someone else at first, and Dennis persisted and asked Roger if he could help. They were shorthanded, so he was welcomed, and Dennis jumped in and did whatever he was asked to do.

The car was a Top Fuel car owned by Dave Braskett. Before long, Dennis was hired as a team member and he began traveling with the team. At the end of the season, Dennis moved on to a couple of other teams, but nothing seemed to work out. By 1977, Dennis was working for Jim Green in Washington on the Green Elephant Nitro Funny Car. But he quit mid-year because of some minor disagreements. So, he returned to California and with the little money he’d saved he purchased his first race car in 1978. It was a 1973 Chevy Vega Econo-Funny Car. Built on a tube chassis with a BBC engine, a 4-barrel carburetor, and an automatic transmission, this was the first race car Dennis ever drove down a race track. It was an inexpensive car to race and a heck-of-a-lot of fun. A car he bracket raced until 1981 when he got his top fuel license driving Dave Braskett’s dragster. After he was licensed, he joined Dave as his partner, sold his Econo funny car, and purchased a fuel engine; Dennis’ contribution to the partnership. It was a Keith Black Hemi that they needed for spare parts.

At the ’82 March Meet, Dave drove another car as a fill-in driver and Dennis drove their car. As luck would have it, Dennis qualified for the race and Dave didn’t. Kind of cool because they were pitted next to each other, so Dennis didn’t waste a second razzing Dave.

By the time Dennis was 22 or 23 years old, he had raced most of his childhood heroes including two races against Don Garlits. But, because he was driving a Top Fuel car, he didn’t get to race any of the other funny cars or drivers.

Dennis and Dave raced together through the end of the 1986 season when a lack of financing brought their operation a halt. NHRA had taken the fuel cars out of division racing so any sponsors they’d had plus not having those purses to race for anymore stopped the bulk of their flow of cash. They considered building a funny car, which would have given them a little longevity, but Dave decided at the last minute that he didn’t want to do that and pulled out.

Because Dave Braskett had always kept his car at Keith Black’s shop, Dennis met and became friendly with several of the biggest names in the sport. A key to Dennis’ next step.

Dennis started with Dave when he was 16 so their entire team consisted of Dave and his girlfriend and Dennis and his girlfriend. They raced as many local and National events as possible. In short order, Dennis became the car chief learning a great deal about fuel cars and drag racing along the way. It turned out to be one hell of an education.

After Dave left the team, Dennis was forced to sit out the next two or 3 years until Crawford & Head approached him in 1990 about driving their alcohol funny car. Dennis said OK and for the next twenty years, he drove alcohol funny cars for other people.

Dennis also started and operated Creative Upholstery in Anaheim, CA. A company that catered to the automotive industry with some manufacturing of specialty products for dragsters and other drag cars. At one point in the mid-1990’s, Tony Nancy, who was the go-to drag racing upholster at the time, was slowing down and getting out of the business. A perfect opening for Dennis Taylor.

As time moved on and he proved himself, he made goods for Shirley, Prudhomme, McEwen and most of the other racers. But, because he was getting all this business didn’t mean he was a success. In fact, in the late-90s, Dennis was going to shut his business down. One day while attending the PRI Show, he ran into Fred Crow, the President of Simpson Safety Products, and asked him for a job. But, Fred didn’t have any openings. Disappointed, Dennis would have made any reasonable move for a steady paycheck. However, right about the same time, NHRA mandated that all nitro cars have engine diapers the following year. It immediately struck Dennis that who better than himself was there to handle that. He was still driving the Crawford & Head car so he knew exactly what the cars required and where the diapers had to fit and be located. Anyway, everyone already knew Dennis and to boot, NHRA put out a mandated manufactures list and Dennis’ phone started ringing off the hook! He had to hire people and by then, he had shut down the car upholstery portion of his business so he could focus totally on racing ballistics and parts.

The following year, again at PRI, Dennis ran into Fred Crow and when he extended his hand to shake Fred’s, Fred started apologizing, explaining that at the time he just didn’t have anything for him. Dennis chuckled and explained that had Fred hired him at the time, Dennis would have missed his opportunity and there’s a good chance that Dennis would have designed and manufactured all the mandated pieces while employed by Simpson. Dennis would have missed out of making the ballistic goods himself.

At the time, ballistic products were made from ballistic nylon. Dennis remembers standing on the starting line at the Winternationals that year with both race cars having his products on them hoping they’d still be on the cars at the end of the race track. As it turned out, both cars ended the race with his product still intact. Part numbers that are still part of the Taylor Motorsports product line. The only difference is that they have continued to improve them over time.
Once he got involved in engine diapers, it seemed as though there was a new product coming out every week! Not only was NHRA’s Tech Department calling weekly, but manufactures of non-competing though related products were calling, too. For example, Lenco called and asked if Taylor would make transmission blankets for them because no one was making a “nice” one.

One product rolled into the next and so on. Within a year and a half of asking Fred Crow for a job, Dennis went from renting 1,700-square feet to owning a 5,000-square foot building. He was there for 20 years. Not bad at all.

That year, 1995, was also when he stopped answering the phone, “CREATIVE UPHOLSTERY” and started answering it as “TAYLOR MOTORSPORTS PRODUCTS.”

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