A look inside one of the industry's top companies.
Text and photos by Rick Jensen and courtesy of COMP.
The COMP Performance Group™ has roots dating back over 50 years. It all began during the early 1960s when a small group of racers got together and started making their own racing cylinder heads. The men – Ivars Smiltnieks, Bob Woodard and John McWhirter – formed Racing Head Service® in a basement stocked with just a handful of equipment. Despite such humble beginnings, they quickly outgrew their basement operation and moved to a building in the suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee. As their business grew, so did their reputation and workforce. By 1969, in addition to manufacturing cylinder heads, the group had also begun selling speed parts and engines for drag racers.
Wanting to expand their operation, the RHS partners met with Mark Heffington and Tom Woitesek in 1971. The two new men joined the original group to form another, separate company called Cam Dynamics. Around the same time, RHS moved again, this time to a much larger building near the Memphis International Airport. Cam Dynamics found space just down the street. RHS continued to expand, opening new speed shops in Little Rock, Arkansas, and Jackson, Mississippi. It was also during this time that Russ Smiltnieks joined the group and Scooter Brothers became a minority owner in RHS.
A few years later, in 1975, the group of racers and businessmen restructured. Competition Cams® was created with six partners: Ivars Smiltnieks, Bob Woodard, John McWhirter, Tom Woitesek, Russ Smiltnieks and Ron Coleman. Competition Cams moved into the same building as RHS® and began shipping products one year later.
Competition Cams (known today as COMP Cams® or simply COMP®) continued to grow, especially in the drag racing market. At the same time, RHS became more involved with oval track racing engines. Eventually, the two businesses expanded into their own separate buildings, and Bob Woodard was bought out. The warehouse parts business continued to grow, and more speed shops were opened. RHS developed the first commercially available crate engine during these prosperous years.
Despite their rapid growth during the 1970s, the parts industry began to change and business for RHS slowed. In the early 1980s, they were forced to slim down and eventually closed their warehouse. At this time, parts of the company were moved to their current location on Democrat Road in Memphis.
Even while RHS was downsizing, COMP Cams continued to grow. Staying true to their roots, the group of racers and businessmen created The National Muscle Car Association (NMCA) in 1986. The association experienced quick success and held five to six races around the country every year, including one in the group’s hometown of Memphis.
Two years after creating the NMCA, more big changes took place. First, Ivars Smiltnieks wanted to return to RHS, and Scooter Brothers wanted to move to COMP Cams. A deal was worked out, and Smiltnieks was bought out of COMP in exchange for RHS. A second change was prompted when the airport expanded, taking over the group’s nearby locations. The entire group then moved into the Democrat Road facilities where a new building was constructed for RHS. This remains the COMP Performance Group headquarters today.
In his new role at COMP Cams, Scooter created the research and development side of the business. He hired the first engineer and oversaw the installation of computer design equipment. Under Scooter’s direction, the engineering side of COMP Cams continued to grow and advance, bringing about superior products and a rise in sales. During this new period of growth for COMP Cams, Russ Smiltnieks was bought out, and RHS continued to slowly decline.
Yet another big change took place in 1995 when Tom Woitesek retired, leaving COMP Cams in the hands of Ron Coleman and Scooter Brothers, as it remains today. The two men decided to invest heavily in the future with technology, people, inventory and equipment. It was during this time of investment that COMP raised the customer service bar for the entire industry by creating a 24-hour cam help service that anyone could call. It was also during this time that the NMCA was sold and the tool manufacturer, Powerhouse® Products, was acquired.
By 2000, Ron and Scooter had introduced the new brands VThunder® for motorcycles and GoParts™ for karts. One year later they had also acquired TCI® (formerly Torque Converters Incorporated) and the electronics division that would become FAST™ (Fuel Air Spark Technology). Realizing the importance of the emerging nitrous market, the COMP Performance Group™ founded ZEX™ Nitrous Systems shortly after having acquired the torque converter company.
In 2002, the group turned their attention to re-launching the RHS name. Soon after the successful re-introduction of the company that had started it all, the COMP Performance Group™ founded the ProRacing Sim™ software company. Continuing the rapid expansion, Inglese™ was purchased in 2007. This was closely followed by the latest addition, Quarter Master®, in 2008.
The past few years have seen all the companies within the group unveil a variety of industry changing products. FAST revolutionized electronic fuel injection with the EZ-EFI®, and then partnered with TCI to make a similar leap in technology with the EZ-TCU™ transmission controller. Quarter Master has introduced several ground-breaking new clutches, RHS created the LS Race Block and COMP continues to push the limits with camshafts and valvetrain technology.
However, if you ask them, they will tell you that their employees are what really make the difference. “I think the real ‘secret’ is the employees of COMP,” explains VP of Marketing Chris Douglas. “The fact that we still have the very first employee, Kenny Arendale, working here and over 20 employees with 20-plus years of service is a testament to the spirit of this company.
“While we have grown to become a rather large company in our niche industry, the CPG still operates on the principles of a very small company. We are very proud of our technology and product advancements, however our employees have never lost sight of the fact that we are really in the customer service business. This is why we invest so much in our toll-free CAM HELP line, on-site event support, etc. – when you’re dealing with technical products, good customer service/support can make all the difference in the world.”
Since its humble beginnings over 50 years ago, a small group of dedicated automotive enthusiasts and racers have tirelessly built the COMP Performance Group into the well-known and successful business that it is today. With years of experience to draw on and state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, the COMP Performance Group stands ready to find even more success in the future.
COMP’s Memphis headquarters displaces 225,000 square feet, with corporate, R&D, marketing, sales, support, and manufacturing departments all under one roof. Additionally, its TCI location in Mississippi is 150,000 square feet, and the Quarter Master facility just north of Chicago is right around 75,000. As seen here, some rooms at headquarters are literally stacked floor to ceiling with camshafts!
This is Research and Development, a restricted area where engineers test new products on a wide variety of cars and engines. The floor was covered with Ford 5.0s, GM LS V-8s, Viper V-10s, and the like. The day we visited, an LS-style intake manifold was being tested on the in-house SuperFlow SF-902 engine dyno.
We met Product Engineer Cody Mayer (left) and Valvetrain Engineering Group Leader Billy Godbold (right), who dropped by to showcase some of COMP’s newest products: the Ultra Pro Magnum rocker arms.
These GM LS rockers are in various states of development. On the far left is the 30th CAD/third rapid prototype Ultra Pro Magnum 1.8 rocker. This would fit on the intake/exhaust (on early cathedral port heads) or exhaust (on later rectangular port heads). Next to it is a steel rapid prototype rocker with an offset intake for rectangular port heads. The two to the right are sliding-tip versions of the same rockers. While most people think of roller tips for a performance application, the Ultra Pro Magnum rockers’ bridge design is stronger, stiffer, lighter, use less material, and have a lower moment of inertia.
COMP’s R&D vehicles pretty much run the gamut: this Buick’s turbo V-6 was chucked long ago to make room for test engines and other cool parts.
The big Buick’s engine bay is now crammed with a 502-inch GM Performance Parts crate engine controlled by a FAST EZ-EFI fuel-injection system. The red/yellow box is a controller for the wild six-speed TCI transmission. We took this puppy to lunch and despite sticky drag radial tires, the torquey engine and lightning-quick TCI 6X Six-Speed resulted in a lot of tire smoke. Yes, this is considered R&D as well…
A camshaft being born.
Owners Scooter Brothers (left) and Ron Coleman (right) have built the COMP Performance Group into one of the largest and most respected aftermarket companies in the industry.