A preeminent name in hot rod racing products, founder Darrell Reid is looking to automation to keep up with scorching demand.
Reid’s deft manufacturing touch has earned him a glowing reputation within the auto racing world. After more than 45 years in the business, Reid has found his permanent place within the ranks of the industry’s best.
After working for more than a dozen shops throughout his career, as well as owning, co-owning, and managing his own businesses, Reid has experienced just about everything under the sun when it comes to manufacturing. As he sees it, ending up in the racing world was something like destiny — which he embraces with enthusiasm.
“It’s a blessing to be able to do this,” says Reid. “I went to my first race when I was 13. I knew that someday I would work in the industry, I just didn’t know in what capacity.”
While working for John Force Racing in early 2005, Reid took on some side work straight from his very own garage. Blown away by Reid’s ability, the customer demanded that Reid launch his own business. After some convincing, and with financial backing in place, Reid was taken with the idea and decided to give it a go.
“I never intended on starting a business,” Reid says. “I was simply doing work during my off-hours for someone, and he funded the business initially on a loan. I took the leap. One day I was at Force, the next I was at Reid Machine.”
Since 2005, the company has been synonymous with top-notch quality within the National Hot Rod Association. Through a combination of exquisite precision using Mastercam for computer-aided manufacturing and engineering, client relations, and an endless trove of know-how, Reid Machine has become one of the most sought-after manufacturers in the entire racing world.
“The racing community is very small,” says Reid. “When someone makes a good product, everyone knows about it. When someone makes a bad product, everyone knows about it. We were fortunate to make a good product, and most of our sales have come by word-of-mouth. I do some advertising, and I go to the racetracks myself and visit with folks, but it’s usually word-of-mouth.”
Comprised of three shop employees and one office manager, Reid Machine operates out of a 2,000-square-foot space complete with six mills, two lathes, and three 3D printers for prototyping. Reid frequently works with CAD/CAM Consulting Services out of Anaheim to deliver auto racing products as well as occasional one-offs for various industries — a relationship that has taken his work to another level in quality.
“As Mastercam has gotten better, it’s made us better,” says Reid. “We do a lot of work with dynamic milling. I really enjoy the high-speed tool paths in Mastercam, and our support from CAD/CAM Consulting has been phenomenal. Their product has made us better and given us the opportunities to utilize tool paths that have streamlined our manufacturing and reduce cycle times while improving quality.”
Though Reid himself still has his fingerprints on just about every aspect of the business, his team has helped him grow from a one-man show to a sustainable heavyweight — a transition that is a constant process requiring recalibration, creativity, and communication.
“When it was just me, I was doing QuickBooks, the quoting, all the purchasing, and cleaning the bathrooms, too,” says Reid. “When I started to transition in 2014 and finally hired an office manager, I was able to break away and put more of my focus into the shop. I now have three people out in the shop, and I have my office manager, Wendy, who is fantastic. It’s just been here in the last month that we’ve gotten the people in place so that I can pull back into the office to work on my company, rather than in my company.”
Challenges: On a daily basis, keeping materials in stock has proven to be a much bigger hurdle than it was prior to the pandemic — a painful reality many businesses have had to come to grips with. Solving the supply chain issue is no easy feat, either.
“Our biggest challenge has been material challenges,” says Reid. “At one point in time, it took us six months to get the materials for one of our components. Luckily our customer based stayed with us, but we had approximately 40 assemblies sitting on the shelf, waiting for materials to come in.”
Opportunities: “We have new products coming out that I’m working on and am excited about — such as new valve train assemblies,” Reid says. “I’m also looking into installing a couple of robots in order to get more reliable throughput.”
Needs: Count Reid Machine among the many voices in the manufacturing world lamenting the lack of potential prospects in the younger generations. For myriad reasons — a shift in occupational priorities, education, and interests, to name a few — Reid Machine has seemingly cycled through one employee after another in search of individuals both capable and willing to stick around.
“We’re having a tremendously difficult time getting qualified and even unqualified people to stay with us,” says Reid. “We’ve settled into some folks, but I went through three additional people this year and five the year prior. That’s been a challenge.”
With such a significant divide between what Reid believes his business needs and who he has been able to hire to meet such needs, it is understandable that he has begun to consider heavily investing in robotics to complete as much of his work as possible.
“I would rather have people in here doing the work because it gives us an opportunity to provide jobs for somebody, but if I’m unable to keep my customers happy, I won’t have a business,” says Reid. “So, that opportunity provides itself to look at robotics and automation. I think it’s necessary. In any business, if you aren’t adjusting to your conditions, you won’t survive. I like people; I like the challenge of exchanging ideas with people and working with talented people, but I do believe that we will be incorporating more automation into our work in the future.”