In a tiny lab in Concord, NASCAR drivers such as Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards and Danica Patrick can be found undergoing a strange procedure -- having molds made of their ears.
Now, while that might sound a bit bizarre, it makes perfect sense when you realize the lab is located inside the racing communications company, Racing Electronics, which provides radio systems to NASCAR fans, as well as the drivers.
NASCAR drivers can often be found walking into the Concord office to have ear molds made in order to get the communications gear they need that will fit them perfectly.
Racing Electronics provides the radio equipment, as well as the "harness" or wiring system that runs through a NASCAR ride, connecting a driver to his team for vital communication while racing.
It's hard to miss the company's work if you're a racing fan. Just the other day a front page photo taken from Daytona showed a crew member wearing Racing Electronics gear.
In addition, Racing Electronics provides gear for NASCAR fans to listen in on their favorite teams during a race.
Bruce Silver, the founder of Racing Electronics, is now the president and CEO of the privately held company. He knows what it's like to be a race fan getting to hear the chatter between a driver and his team.
The germ of the idea that would become Racing Electronics first formed in 1986. Silver was a sales manager for a car dealership in New Jersey. One of his customers owned some dirt-track race teams and had a Busch Grand National (now Nationwide) team.
At a race in Syracuse, N.Y. in October 1986, Silver sat in the grandstand with a team radio from his friend's crew.
"And I just held onto it for most of the race," Silver said. "When things got going I listened in and I thought it was amazing that people could listen in and listen to the teams communicate."
Silver said he still remembers that race and hearing the driver, Jimmy Horton, as he was leading the race, chasing after a $100,000 win.
"He said, 'I'm coming in. Get me out fast and I will win the race,'" Silver said. "And the emotion that was there, the emotion of what I heard, sent a chill up my spine."
In fact, Horton did win the race, Silver said.
"And I felt a part of it by listening to it and being able to hear that," he said.
It would be a few years before Silver took that experience and ran with it to form Racing Electronics. But around 1987 he started fooling around with scanners and headsets and tracking down the radio frequencies of various teams.
By October 1988, he was at another race in New Jersey and saw other people listening to their own scanners. But they were frustrated they couldn't find frequencies of the teams or decent headsets.
"On the way home from the race the concept of Racing Electronics developed," Silver said.
Of course he never expected it to become a full-time career. He just thought it would be a nice side project to earn a little extra money. He placed a tiny advertisement in Area Auto Racing News in November 1988 and sold his first order the week the ad came out. He didn't get a lot of response at first. Until people started placing orders to have the Racing Electronics headsets in time to enjoy the races in Daytona.
"And that was the start of it," he said.
Racing Electronics started off as a mail-order business, until about 1990 when Silver had merchandise carted to the various race tracks. Before long he realized it was time to leave New Jersey and set up shop in Concord, in the heart of NASCAR country.
"Having the business located in Concord is probably the best thing we've ever done for this company," Silver said. "We were very disconnected being up in New Jersey and the connection of being here and the easy access of the teams -- being able to walk right into our show room and our shop, come into our ear mold lab and have their ear impressions taken, it's just been very rewarding to the company."
GROWING BIGGER AND BETTER
Since forming Racing Electronics, Silver has watched the company grow. He declined to discuss sales or financial details, but he did say in the past 10 years the company has grown from about 40 employees to about 80.
The company's growth has gotten the attention of business leaders in the community, and Racing Electronics recently received the small business of the year award from the Cabarrus Regional Chamber of Commerce.
John Cox, president and CEO for the chamber, said Silver's work has been a benefit to the community.
"In many respects NASCAR is a universal language and many people speak it--and when they hear it on race day, it's usually through one of Bruce's headsets," Cox said.
"He is a true entrepreneur in that he created this industry from a dream and availed himself of Opportunity North Carolina Funds to hire some folks he otherwise couldn't have hired."
And Silver is about to add at least five more jobs by the end of the year. He had two companies in China who were under contract to produce the headsets. But Silver has taken the equipment out of one location and plans to be in full production by the end of 2012, making a line of headsets here.
Racing Electronics is located on 18,000-square-foot piece of property and will grow even larger, with Silver looking for a manufacturing facility to move some of the production to.
"Our big focus now is to bring production back from China," Silver said. "Currently some parts come in from China and everything is assembled here. My goal is to dramatically reduce it and put American citizens back to work."
While Silver is watching his business grow thanks to race fans, he is also quick to point out his business does so well because all of his employees are also race fans themselves.
In fact, Silver is not just a race fan, but he often climbs behind the wheel of a race car himself. He started competing in the Legends Racing series in 2007 after two employees encouraged him to drive.
"And it only took one race," Silver said. "It only took one practice actually. Anyone who has ever driven in a race car and competed knows that it's not what it seems to be. It's a very addictive sport and it's more fun than anybody can imagine."
He runs in about 60 races a year in the Masters Division series, driving his #53 Racing Electronics 1934 Ford Legends car.
Some people might think a man could get burned out on being involved in the corporate end of racing as well as being a driver. But for Silver it's his "golf game," he said.
"When I get in my Legends car it's total focus on driving and performing," Silver said. "I don't think about business. I don't think about other daily trials and tribulations going on. It's about racing."
And Racing Electronics looks to be a part of NASCAR for some time to come.
"I'm a race fan," Silver said. "The people that are in this business are race fans. We like the competiveness of this. It's our lives."
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