JV’s Corner July 2019

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The Birth of BRODIX

The Birth of BRODIX is a story of several very different people, from very different walks of life, that came together to produce a unique product.  This success story could only happen in America.

Francis Dix came to Mena, Arkansas in 1960 from Chicago.  His main goal was to raise dairy cattle, but he had grown up in the foundry industry.  The dairy cattle business did not work out so he decided to start an aluminum foundry from scratch in Mena.  Very little capital was available, but he built enough equipment to begin producing aluminum castings for various companies on a limited basis.  This proved to be a real struggle located in the hills of Arkansas with no money.

His daughter, Paula, was training to be a nurse in Fort Smith, Arkansas.  She met and married me, a scruffy young hot rodder. In 1965, I moved to Mena and joined Francis in the foundry.  We struggled for several years.

The actual first glint of what was to come was a casual conversation standing in the parking lot of the foundry.  Francis was convinced that the only way to make it was with our own product, and he said that was up to me.  Naturally, I decided it had to be a high-performance product.  I was enamored with cylinder heads as that seemed to be where the glory was in racing engines.  At the time, Mopar had announced that they had dropped the aluminum Hemi head production for the aftermarket. The aluminum small block Chevy head had been a dismal failure by all that had tried to produce a reliable piece that made adequate horsepower, but the Hemi head seemed logical because it was an accepted head.  The experts stated that even if you could make a reliable aluminum head, it was not possible to match the iron head horsepower because of the loss of combustion chamber heat.

I contacted Chrysler and amazingly they furnished us with the Hemi head blueprints and drawings.  A 75-year-old polish immigrant, master patternmaker, John Goska, had retired 30 miles from Mena and came to work for us.  He made the first Hemi head pattern and later the first small block head patterns.  After about a year we had a raw casting, but no machine shop.  Very early in the game, Chrysler came out with their new aluminum head and gave them to most of the professional racers.  This situation did not help our small market.

Not to be deterred, we produced an aluminum small block Chevy head casting, but again we had no way to finish machine it.  We rented an old ice house and managed to purchase, beg, and borrow enough equipment to actually finish the head.  The problem was that in Mena, Arkansas, there were no machinists capable of finish machining a cylinder head. I had not thought of that.  So far, the head business was more than a financial disaster, and the foundry business was failing also.  After trying several machinists who did not work out, I put all of the crude fixtures in a big wooden box and screwed and nailed it securely so I would have to make a massive effort to ever go back into the head business.

A few months later, a scruffy old man with chicken feathers in his hat and an old, V-neck t-shirt approached me about a machinist job.  He was a retired tool and die maker from Detroit that had moved to Mena and bought a poultry house, but he was not in love with his new business.  My reasoning at the time was that I had tried three expert machinists who had failed, so maybe this old, unimpressive guy with chicken feathers in his hair could do the job.  His name was John Kellog.  He was a grumpy old guy with a heart of gold.  With great effort, we opened the big wooden box so he could look at the tooling.  He said he could machine a set of heads in two weeks and that if he did not do it, I did not have to pay him.  We shook hands.  In two weeks, I was testing the new heads at Polk County Speedway, a little dirt track outside of Mena.

The biggest obstacle was that we had no money for marketing, we were located in the hills of Arkansas, and we had no name in the high-performance industry.  Conventional wisdom was that if the heads did not leak then it was impossible to keep the valve seats from falling out of the head.  Our heads did not leak or have a valve seat problem.  We still could not sell them because the experts, including one of the biggest corporations in the world, opined that aluminum heads could not work because of the heat loss.

We persevered and through a fluke meeting in Chicago we met a very wonderful man, John Doss, who owned Speed Service in Chicago.  He marketed the head for a while, but decided not to continue with the project.

The iron “turbo” head definitely made more horsepower, but was not reliable because of a severe cracking problem.  Our head was reliable and repairable which was the only thing that saved us from bankruptcy.  Even though it was still a major struggle, we at least had a little income that helped keep us alive.

Sprint cars were cracking heads daily.  Because of the reliability and weight savings of our heads, we were slowly gaining ground.  One of the first asphalt racers to run our heads was an outstanding racer from Michigan, Bob Senneker.  However, it continued to be an uphill struggle.

The tipping point came in the middle 1970s.  A lot of ASA asphalt late model racers would meet at New Smyrna Beach, Florida in the winter during Speed Week.  The promoter from New Smyrna Beach called me and asked for contingency money for the seven days of racing.  I told him I didn’t have any money.  He talked me into offering one cylinder head per night for the feature winner.  My statement to him was that “it was a pretty safe bet that it would not cost me much unless Senneker won every night.”  He told me he didn’t care; he just wanted to build the payout one way or another.

Low and behold, Ed Howe’s car won five of seven nights with our heads!  It seemed like it was the end of the world!  How were we going to handle this massive payout?  Ed called me later and said it would be nice if I would give him another head to make it an even three sets.  We made a deal to do this if he would run our decal, but we had to come up with one.

Then came the problem of a name for the product and the dollars to incorporate, etc.  Francis had a defunct corporation which he had named BRODIX, derived from the Brotherton and Dix names.  Hence, we now had to come up with the money to buy decals.  The sales picked up very well from there, and we were on our way.

What are the odds of a foundryman from Chicago, a kid with a high school education from Arkansas, an immigrant patternmaker from Poland, and a tool and die maker from Detroit, coming together in the hills of Arkansas? With that combination, BRODIX was born!