Drag Racing, Feature Article, Washington — September 26, 2011 at 4:47 pm

Rob Boardway (issue 99)




By Steve Heeb

Rob has logged three seasons of drag racing, but his involvement with the racing industry dates back to the mid-’90s.

“I went to see my first race at the Goodguys Drags in 1995 and I was hooked,” he recalls of being a spectator at Pacific Raceways, then Seattle International Raceway. “I just couldn’t resist.”

A few years later he would be looking from the driver’s seat.

“My first race was the 1998 Mothers Day race at Bremerton,” Rob grins. “I loved it. It was a blast.”

He remembers the excitement of being able to race a car that was the result of so much team effort.

Rob soon got his first real job as a mechanic turning wrenches with the Total Performace Racing team based in Tacoma. The TPR team was building a ’81 Chevy short box pickup to field in the West Coast Pro Street circuit.

“That was a blast,” Rob says of traveling with the TPR team. “It was something I always wanted to do. We started at the bottom and worked our way up.”

He stayed with the team as they started racing in 2002 through the 2005 season before he left to start his own business building race cars.

“We do a lot of 4×4 off road vehicles and roll cages for race car applications,” he says of his Fox Island-based Stainless Brain Fabrication. “It’s been a lot of fun to be able to keep racing. I am real happy about that.”

Some of his company’s work that stands out has been a pair of Jeep projects.

“We did the specialty work on the fenders, rear quarter panels, rocker protection and suspension,” he explains. “We also have a contract with BJ’s Offroad to mass-produce aftermarket bumpers for Jeep Wagoneers. That’s done really well.”

But much of the work caters to clients’ race cars, completing from 15 to 30 cars a year.

“Everything for local racers from the lower classes to the higher classes,” Rob says. “Muscle cars and race cars are what we are into.”

One of the projects was his own ’71 Chevelle.

“I got the car in 1994 as a gift from my dad,” Rob explains. “I drove it to school and work.”

Rob recalls going to the High School Drags in the very same car back in 1998.

“I left SIR and still had the shoe polish dial-in on the car,” he laughs. “I still had the slicks on and no exhaust. I got pulled over but got off with a warning.”

It would be almost a decade later that Rob would set out to prepare his Chevelle for more serious racing at the dragstrip.

Today Rob’s Chevelle sports a 388-cid Chevy stroker motor with a 2-speed Powerglide transmission. A GM 12-bolt rear end helps turn the 28×10.5-inch Mickey Thompson slicks.

He credits the support of mentors like veteran racers like Jim Bruns, Nick Axtman Jr., and Dave McLean.

“They took me under their wings and taught me a lot,” Rob says.

Nick remembers how he and Jim first met Rob, that new kid who was pitted one spot away.

“Rob came over to my pit to ask some questions,” Nick recalls with a laugh. “Jim saw him and asked, ‘who is that backwards hat kid? He looks like trouble.’ I told Jim, you’re wrong on this one, he is a good guy.”

Nick says they like to joke that when someone puts a hat on backward that somehow their IQ drops.

“Rob is a great guy and has a very nice family,” Nick adds seriously.

“I thought I knew drag racing,” Rob laughs. “But I’ve learned so much from Dave. He’s been like a father figure for me for taking the time to teach me.”

He says Dave’s advice about racing both ends of the track helped him understand the importance of racing strategy at the finish line.

“Dave told me to look where I was at the finish and let off if I needed to,” Rob explains. “It was like a lightbulb going off and I won the very next race.”

Rob says overcoming that hurdle was a big thing.

“It makes sense now that I have been doing it,” Rob says.

Rob makes the rounds at several Northwest tracks including Bremerton Raceway, Woodburn Dragstrip, Pacific Raceways and Mission Raceway Park.

Mission is my favorite,” Rob says. “I like the camaraderie of the Canadians toward the American visitors. You feel like a family there and I really like the track conditions.”

Rob’s first win came during a Cash Bash race at Bremerton Raceway.

“I had blown the motor a couple weeks earlier,” Rob says. “I borrowed a motor from Dave and the first time out we won.”

Another memorable race was the 2009 Kitsap Muffler race at Bremerton.

“I went to the semi-finals and lost to Chris Martin after seven rounds,” Rob says. “I had to weed my way through the dragsters and the fast cars.”

Through his Federal Way-based G&M Honest Performance, Chris is able to keep abreast of racing trends as a driver and performance shop owner.

“With the current state of racing in the Northwest and the cost of travel we have been seeing an increase in the competitive level of the local bracket programs,” Chris says. “Rob is one example of the high level of racing that you can find locally. You know when he is in the other lane you need to bring your ‘A’ game.”

Rob thanks his sponsors like American Family Insurance, who help purchase the tires, and Hard Back clothing .

“And my wife Melissa,” he beams. “If it wasn’t for her I couldn’t do any of this.”

Inside the Chevelle, Rob keeps a photo of Melinda taken when she was a senior at Gig Harbor High School.

He also races with a pair of frog toys on the dash.

“A buddy and I like to burn out on the street we called ‘frog hollar’,” he laughs. “And we’re building a green mid-70s Camaro we are calling Kermit.”

The Chevelle proudly carries the Stainless Brain Fabricating logo which holds a lot of meaning for Rob.

“The grasshopper is in memory of my friend and fellow fabricator Ryan McLaughlin,” Rob explains. “Grasshopper was his nickname.”

Rob says Ryan had cancer and recalls how they had joked that someone should start building body parts out of stainless steel so they couldn’t get infected.

“I got my business licensed as Stainless Brain in hopes he would pull through and we would work together,” Rob says.

Ryan died from Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2005, but Rob keeps his memory alive in part through elements of the company logo.

For the last year, Eric Green has been working for Rob in the Stainless Brain Fabrication shop, and helps at the dragstrip on race days.

“I had been to watch races but it is really different to actually be involved,” Eric says. “It’s like another world. It’s my new hobby. Rob got me hooked.”

Eric’s responsibilities include prepping the tires and making sure the Chevelle is gassed up for the next round.

“I basically make sure the car is ready to race for Rob,” Eric says.

Rob hopes to find success in racing along the lines of Garrett Richards of the TPR team.

“We’re exactly 10 years apart,” Rob says of Garrett. “I’ve always followed in his footsteps. I’ve learned a lot about running the business from him.”

Rob also hopes to inspire rising racers like Rob, Jim and Dave had done for him.

“You have to have the motivation and passion,” he shares. “Once you have the drive, then you need to learn consistency.”

Rob won the Modified bracket during the Nostalgia Drags Aug. 28 at Bremerton Raceway, just one recent example of his drive and passion for racing.

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