Interview with VP Racing Fuels' Freddie Turza

As told to

Freddie Turza is Technical Manager at VP Racing Fuels, which he joined in 2008 following a 12 year period where he was employed by two prominent NASCAR teams as head engine builder and general manager. His role at VP Racing has included developing and refining the range of racing fuels, lubricants and additives manufactured and sold by VP, working with race teams and engine builders to ascertain their requirements for these products so as to produce outstanding performance. Describe your early life and motor engineering studies.

Freddie Turza: I grew up in Pennsylvania, as part of the Great North East, it was highly populated area and you could travel to five or six major cities in a day. Maple Grove, Englishtown, Atco, Cecil County were a few of the tracks that were just a short ride from home. I studied basic engines in high school, after that I attended the Universal Technical Institute, a technical institute in Exton, Pennsylvania, and after two and a half years of study, I earned a degree as an engine rebuilding major. Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins’s shop was very close but the area wasn’t just known for drag racing. Mark Donohue and Roger Penske started Penske Racing close by.

Freddie at VP Racing Fuels. What did your parents do for a living and how did you get into motorsports?

Freddie Turza: My father's side of the family are immigrants from Poland and were shoe makers they came from Krakow a long time ago.

My uncle was a drag racer and I attended my first event with him at 9 years old. He was a sportsman drag racer and raced C/MP in Modified Eliminator which is similar to Super Stock. I didn't get involved with tuning his engine, I was too young, but it struck a nerve and found it interesting. So I began working on small engines including go-kart and lawn mower motors. As I got bigger, so did the engines I worked on.

I recall when I was about 10 years old my mother got me a subscription to Hot Rod Magazine. In those times we didn't have anything like the internet but we did have newspapers, magazines and libraries I remember reading National Dragster and Eastern Drag Times when I was young. Hot Rod provided me entertainment as well as a certain amount of technical knowledge. When you earned a degree what did you do after graduating?

Freddie Turza: I went into the United States Marine Corps and spent six years in the Marines, based mainly Stateside, working on aircraft structures and was honourably discharged. Then I began working in engine shops building a name and brand and then established Turza Race Engines as a business in the late 80s. You had a shop in Pennsylvania and built engines for circle track rather than drag racing, V8 pushrod style engines with carburettors?

Freddie Turza: Yes, we had established ourselves fairly well in the North East and our reputation was growing, we became popular. Terry Labonte was recruiting guys for their shop and to become part of their NASCAR programme. I was introduced by a mutual friend and drove to North Carolina for the interview where they hired me on the spot. It was a great opportunity but it also meant I had to disband my engine business so that I could go and work for a professional NASCAR team.

Post race engine inspection at Labonte Racing.

I was with Labonte Racing for 8 years, I started as assistant engine builder then senior engine builder then General Manager at the shop. Then I moved to RCR, Richard Childress Racing, which was a more successful, better funded, higher profile operation and I spent 4 years with them. Those were great times, winning championships and historical events like the Daytona 500. How and when did you leave Richard Childress Racing?

Freddie Turza: After 4 years with RCR the country was in financial turmoil back then in 2008. General Motors went through bankruptcy and the government had to bail them out so a lot of the motorsports programs were cut. There was a merger of RCR with Dale Earnhardt Inc. and the restructuring caused myself and many like me to lose our positions. Jim Kelly from VP reached out and offered me a position with the company. The founder of VP Racing Fuels, Steve Burns, was also looking to expand the R&D side of the fuel business and they felt I was a good fit.

Freddie and Jim Kelly. How well did you know VP Racing Fuels' products before joining them?

Freddie Turza: I had been involved with VP for some time. We had a facility at Labonte Racing where we were testing VP Oil and hit on some formulation that worked extremely well at Daytona and Talladega. Coming to work with VP was an easy transition as I already knew most of the management – you could say I fit right in. VP Racing Fuels started out in drag racing, were they proportionately spread between drag racing, NASCAR and other oval circuit organisations?

Freddie Turza: VP Racing Fuels never had a relationship for fuel on the NASCAR side, that's always been Union 76 or Sunoco. JK wrote a book titled Fuelin’ Around that relates a few stories of how they got VP into a few cars but we've never been the official fuel supplier for NASCAR. We’ve supplied NASCAR or some of its teams with everything but that.

When you see how much racing gets done on a weekly basis, NASCAR is only a very small proportion of the total. With World Rallying there are numerous events in Europe, but the WRC sits at the pinnacle. VP Racing Fuels were originally thriving at more local events. We're currently working with several teams and with NASCAR on track preparation which is a new subject and something that will be of interest to a lot of race tracks and circuits in Europe. In the US did much need developing in the fuel side or was it a reasonably wide range of products?

Freddie Turza: It was widespread and just needed some fine tuning. I was the missing link as I had knowledge of testing from mechanical side and worked side by side with engine builders, tuners, and our chemists. What types of testing did you do, did you introduce any?

Freddie Turza: I was responsible for putting a lot of testing into our own hands for instance testing detonation properties in-house rather than contracting out to third parties to get better control over the development process. When you worked in R&D for VP Racing Fuels how did you compare the different racing disciplines and their fuel requirements?

Freddie Turza: When you’re working in R&D your attempting to solve a problem, fill a void, or enhance performance within the market. Having a general understanding of all types of racing and what the issues are helps greatly. I feel that my Industry knowledge has helped our lab and staff to better understand the how, why and when factor. What are the most popular VP products for drag racers?

Freddie Turza: The company originally started out in drag racing and our fuels are superior to any other products on the market. C12 is still the mainstay for so many racers but C16, Q16 and so many additional products have made a huge mark at the drags. At what point did you start to develop relationships with professional drag racers?

Jenkins Competition decal.

Freddie Turza: In Pro Stock I had worked for a very long time with Victor Cagnazzi, Dave Connolly, Erica Enders and Steve Johns. I had been affiliated years ago with Bill Jenkins which is how my PS connection came about. When I had my shop I did a lot of my development at Jenkins Competition.

I had been down there doing some dyno testing in the Jenkins shop and getting ready to leave with some engines in the back of my truck, he was highly impressed with one motor, he brought me two Jenkins Competition decals and said here, put these on the car, it was his stamp of approval, I've held onto them for years and need to get one in a frame! The Jenkins Competition logo was known for decades, how he brought along drivers and working for other teams. I suppose he set the trend for independent engine building facilities supplying multiple teams.

Freddie Turza: He was probably one of the first who started lease engine programmes with Joe Lepone, Gordie Rivera, Don Beverley and others. So I had a relationship with a lot of the PS guys.

Later, some became interested with what I had done with the NASCAR side and I was interested in what they had been doing on the NHRA side, so some of those relationships came together quickly. When developing fuel how do you test for horsepower vs other products?

Freddie Turza: When we develop fuels we are targeting a certain criteria or a specific need for a racing organization. Here in the States we work with certain engine shops depending on the type of racing and applications. The dyno is still where you get to see what works, and what doesn’t. In the US who do you consider the principal flag-wavers for VP Racing Fuels and Lubricants?

Freddie Turza: I have a personal "go to" list of racers and engine builders that I speak with on weekly basis and discuss past ,present, and future of the needs required to optimize the performance of their racing endeavours.

In the States the main engine shops I work with Ray Barton, Pat Musi, Gray Motorsports which took over Cagnazzi Racing, Panella Bros, there must be 100 different shops for development and testing.

Ray Barton.

Victor Cagnazzi.

We had dominated Pro Stock and all of the sportsmen categories for years! We still dominate all the sportsmen divisions and have multiple World Championships on a consistent basis.

On the fuel side for Pro Stock we are currently under constraint however because of ‘official fuel contracts with Sunoco’ which now provides the spec fuel for Pro Stock. VP C25 had previously been the spec fuel for PS so it was an easy fit for me to work with those teams on a consulting basis up until the time when Sunoco came in and took over as the official fuel. But I can state that prior to the Sunoco started supplying spec fuel, VP Racing Fuels had powered EVERY Pro Stock Championship for cars since we began going to the races decades ago.

Some Pro Stock customers have spawned off to Pro Mod, with Rickie Smith and Pat Musi working on nitrous motors, so I took quite some time on fuel development for nitrous engines using gasoline.

In regards to Lubricants, we are working with Ray Barton Racing Engines who has multiple wins and championships in the NHRA Factory Shootout class. In Pro Stock, we are working with Titan Racing Engines and Camrie Caruso. In Pro Modified we have Eric Latino, Chevy Floyd, Panella Racing Engines from Stockton CA and several NHRA sportsmen category racers.

Most of our eyes are on the NHRA Pro categories however the NMRA, PDRA have very good car counts but not a lot of crossover with the NHRA, then you have bracket racers which are a very large number. Where I live in North Carolina, there are five tracks within an hour's drive. Do you have many relationships with NHRA Pro Stock Bike teams?

Freddie Turza: With bikes, I have a relationship with Matt Smith through Rickie Smith, but it's more a friendship. A number of drag racing workshops in the UK like I.C.E. have equipment to build engines and measure high horsepower, but some UK Sportsman racers will buy crate engines or make do with what they've got and then take it to engine builders. A lot of UK racers will make do and mend rather than set out on a clean sheet the best, those with mechanical skills will do with what they've got, which is probably a different profile from the States.

Bengt Ljungdahl.

Who are the European drag racers you would regard as VP Racing Fuels and Lubricants' most successful performers?

Freddie Turza: Pro Stock guys like Jimmy Alund, Michael Malmgren, Bengt Ljungdahl, Robin Noren have been using our fuels for a very long time and we take pride in our Pro Stock relationships. On the Sportsmen side – one young man come to mind and that is Jordan Payne. His father and I have had a great relationship and Nigel was key to our success in the sportsmen categories years ago. How much do you value feedback from racers on fuel formulation and performance?

Freddie Turza: I would say that race fuel is a key ingredient to the success of any type of racing. Racers need to view fuel as a performance part; many of them already do. You need to be available to discuss what the racers needs are and how to correlate this to fuel formulation and changes within their program are sometimes key to optimizing a fuel choice. How do you measure detonation when testing race fuels?

Freddie Turza: Detonation can be measured and looked at in many ways. Knock sensors provide an audible and recordable method of seeing detonation. Detonation can be broken down into several phases and are always subject to discussion among many of us. It can also be monitored with crankcase vacuum, torque and HP numbers. Visual inspection of spark plugs, etc.

Nic Williams (near lane) vs Jordan Payne (far lane). How do VP lubricants vary from the rest of the market, do you consider them superior?

Freddie Turza: There are very few race fuel companies out there compared to the number of performance lubricant companies I don’t consider our products superior, that’s a very bold statement considering the other companies out there that have produced performance lubricants for 75 years. But we were the new kids on the block when VP got into the racing fuel game so if history is any indication, we’re very focused on becoming the best I do however believe that Richard Glady and his team have developed some extremely good products and our relationships with race teams aides in the development process. For example our new 0wt. oil for Pro Stock and our 70wt. Nitro products. There is a large range of Powersports additives and oils. Which of these are specifically designed and developed for the drag racing market?

Freddie Turza: I think for some of the amateur style racers our pour-in products like Octanium will provide an aid in performance as an alternative to race fuel. Our lubricants can easily be cross referenced over to another brand, and after discussions with engine builders we can come up with the proper fuel, lubricant and additives needed for the racer to be successful.

As the company grows and you get people in to develop those products. Richard Glady is the reason why we have a lubricant division, he's been in the lubricant industry for his entire career similar to me in the fuel area. He came on board about 5 years ago with some very good products. It's now my job to showcase those products with my relationships, racing teams and organisation. Did Richard identify gaps in product range on the drag racing side and how far have those been filled?

Freddie Turza: He knew there were some gaps and that he'd need help from someone like me to bring them to the forefront. We're working on filling them. We discuss with the teams to see what their needs are.

Nic Williams (near lane) vs Dan Williams (far lane). You mentioned some PS names in Europe and Jordan Payne, I understand that VP wants to talk more to the racers to include Europe in those discussions, to find out what they use and what their requirements are.

Freddie Turza: I feel it's an easy fit from the domestic US side of drag racing into the European market and there are conversations to be had. We ship containers of fuel and lubricants across the Atlantic all year long to our distributors so products are readily available and everyone can go to to find out more about the extensive product lines. As you've been to SPR 10-15 times you know the scene in Europe is different, a high proportion of sportsman racing particularly in the last two years, and a higher percentage of motorcycle racers than in the States.

Freddie Turza: Sportsman racers are the backbone of our industry and behind what we do at the weekend. There is a large market in bracket racing in both the US and Europe. There's also a high proportion of sports compact style cars. Do you feel you can cater for all those markets?

Freddie Turza: We got involved with rally racing in Europe to a degree, when we decided to branch off into rally fuel we used M-Sport based in Cockermouth, Cumbria for fuel development on four cylinder Ford Fiesta engines and Bentley Continental, and worked directly with them. We're not focused wholly on V8 pushrod style engines, we have 80 fuels in our arsenal and it's a matter for finding out what is the correct fuel for an application. Our racers have diverse needs and we are constantly striving to help them improve their performance.

Damion Redshaw (Team Odyssey Batteries Junior Dragster). So you talk to the racers about their requirements for fuel, and for lubricants in the future?

Freddie Turza: Covid restrictions have set us back drastically in our travels to and from Europe, some of the key factors at being at a race event, SPR or Tierp, just to approach racers, have a discussion with them or have a fuel seminar with the racer is important, it gives you that opportunity to speak face to face. As an alternative away from the track there could be a questionnaire linked with a prize draw as an alternative. What about methanol and nitro fuelled vehicles?

Freddie Turza: We've always had a good baseline methanol product. You can have a high quality product but the engine builder may need some help in getting whatever fuel it is optimised. Working with the teams is a niche I have. I don't have all the answers but I’m here to help find them. Does VP talk regularly to TF and FC teams?

Freddie Turza: I have different relationships with the nitro teams, we are getting ready to test with a high profile TF team on the lubricant side shortly. In a recent podcast Drag Illustrated's Wes Buck mentioned the cost of nitro, all nitro used for racing in the US, Europe and Australia comes from China; nitro made in the US cannot be used in racing for regulatory/legal reasons. The search for a replacement for nitro that is cheaper and easier to make yet has the same qualities, does that occupy your thoughts?

Freddie Turza: : I don't know if someone has attempted that it's been in my mind for several years. I have in my mind a rough draft of what would be needed, it would need time, energy and money and would be something the industry would have a look at and we would embrace it Would it require a lot more input from the chemists?

Freddie Turza: The nitromethane molecule is a particular type of product, it would be difficult to replicate it or come up with a different formula, it would take some time coming up with a theory and put it into a race car and test - it would be challenging for sure.

We've highly refined the fuel system on a nitro car compared to when we were young boys, it is sometimes difficult to undo what you've done.

Freddie in an interview with Brian Lohnes at 2021 PRI Show. That sums up the development of the nitro classes in that they are unlimited but at the same time limited by the rule book at a high level which is to do with safety, no doubt. At some time the teams will come knocking at your door saying can we get a different type of fuel?

Freddie Turza: I'm not a doomsayer in any way but what if we don't have access to it or they stop making it. This is not a domestic product, it comes from a communist country that we are relying heavily on nitro fuel supply for racing purposes in the States and Europe, and the risk of it being cut off is higher. Thanks for your time Freddie, and I'm looking forward to meeting up with you when you next come to Santa Pod.

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Interview with Brian Lohnes at 2021 PRI Show
VP Racing Fuels website
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