It was without a doubt worthwhile as his son, Camren Massengale, claimed a tenth-place finish in points in Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series’ Holley EFI Real Street category in 2015, a championship in 2016 and a third-place finish in 2017. He also competed in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street, claiming an eighth-place finish in 2016 and a seventh-place finish in 2017.
At the same time, Rodney’s business, RPM Transmissions in Anderson, Indiana, was booming, with drivers across the country showcasing the strength of his products in both street and strip cars. Among them is Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series and NMCA racer Glenn Pushis.
“I only run RPM Transmissions in our race cars,” said Glenn Pushis, a multi-time champion who competes in Holley EFI Factory Super Cars and Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center Chevrolet Performance Stock. “Rodney is easy to work with and works with your combination, sourcing only the best components for your application. Rodney has been around heads-up racing for many years, and knows what it takes to win.”
Read on for more about the motivated Massengale, who continuously comes up with ways to help drivers—including his son Camren—put power to the pavement.
We were surprised to see you climb out of your race car when you were very competitive and hand the keys to your red IRS-suspended, 2001 Corvette Z06 over to your son Camren.
It really was an easy decision, especially considering what a good kid Camren is, and I had no problem handing the keys over to him. I wanted to experience the father and son deal, and I like helping him. In addition to that, considering he has won more races than me, I’d say he’s probably a better driver than me. In 2018, he’s still going to run the red Corvette in Real Street and Xtreme Street, and he’ll do some Ultra Street racing, and it’s going to be a good year. I have way more fun with him driving, and I have put him in the beam every single time he has staged the car. He hasn’t taken a light without my being on the starting line with him, and I would like to keep it that way.
Camren achieved an incredible 4.685-second elapsed time in Holley EFI Real Street at the 16th Annual Honeywell Garrett NMCA All-American Nationals in August at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio. That proves you have a competitive combination with your nitrous-enhanced 440ci LSX engine and RPM Transmissions-built Turbo 400. Will you keep that combination for 2018?
Well, nitrous is all we know, but until the rules are released for next year and we can sit down with Kenny Johnson, who works with us at RPM Transmissions and at the races, and look at what would give us the best advantage, we truly don’t know exactly what combination we will run. I think we had pretty good parity in the classes in 2017, as there was some tough competition, and we’ll probably have to work a little harder to go a little faster in 2018.
We’re seeing more LS engines in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street, where the current class records are the 4.714 and 150.15 mph achieved by Jessie Coulter in his 1991 Camaro powered by a Brian Tooley-built 388ci LSX engine, CRT-massaged 76mm Precision turbo and RPM Transmissions-built Turbo 400.
When the Xtreme Street rules opened up to make it easier for Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series Real Street racers to run Xtreme Street, a lot of racers took advantage of that and began double-entering, and that’s when we really began seeing more LS engines in Xtreme Street. But while turbo and blower combinations have an identical rule set, nitrous combinations like ours have a different rule set for weight. I wouldn’t want (NMCA/NMRA Event Technical Director) Lonnie Grim’s job for anything. He and the rules makers work hard to keep parity in the classes. They have to look at everything, including what a combination is capable of doing and what a combination is actually doing. There are racers who are hobbyists and racers who give this everything they have, and the rules makers have to be careful what they base the rules on, and they do.
In addition to the Corvettes you were driving and the Corvette Camren is driving in Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series and NMCA competition, you own a gorgeous blue race-ready 2009 Corvette ZR1.
My focus is on helping Camren get to the number-one spot in his Corvette in Real Street again, so I’m on a mission, but I’m sure I’ll get in the blue Corvette at some point in 2018. It has to be when I have time and when I’m not helping Camren, though. And I would want Camren to put me into the beams and be on the starting line—I wouldn’t want to make a pass without him there. He’s my racing buddy.
RPM Transmissions has evolved a lot since it opened in 2005 in Daleville, Indiana, and relocated to Anderson, Indiana, in 2011.
Yes, it has. We modify, build, and repair automatic and manual transmissions. Our focus is on GM automatic overdrive transmissions and Tremec manual transmissions. We have a niche market and want to stay there and not get into things we don’t know about. The Corvette market has always been our biggest market, and we also do Corvette differentials. For all these years, we worked on street car stuff, and when we started racing with the NMCA, we started doing transmissions for race cars. Now, we need to start looking at some other forms of racing that we had previously stayed away from. In one building, we have six builders, a shipping and receiving department, sales people, and a person who takes transmissions in and out of our shop, and Kenny Johnson takes care of all of the race car stuff. In another building, we have a chassis dyno. Some people think we assemble engines, but really, we just assemble our own engines for our own race cars.Would you say you work mostly with strip vehicles or street vehicles?
We do way more street stuff. Actually, I would say we do 90 percent street stuff and 10 percent strip stuff. If you go to a Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series race and then an NMCA race, you’ll notice that there are a lot more cars with our transmissions in them at the Chevrolet Performance Challenge Series race than at the NMCA race.
What are some of your most popular products?
That would be the 4L60E and 4L80E, which are GM automatic transmissions, but we also do manual transmissions. In 2018, we will be in the 6L80 market, and that’s the transmission that replaced the 4L80E for the 2010 and newer Camaros, Corvettes, trucks and other vehicles. We do a bunch of those for vendors, but we really need to do those for anybody and pick up that market.
The Turbo 400 seems to be a popular transmission at the race track.
Yes, and I personally build all of the Turbo 400s at the shop. It’s robust, and it simply doesn’t fail. It’s the final go-to and end-all transmission for a lot of people. Once people get past the realm of a street car, they put in a Turbo 400 because they’re tired of the overdrive transmissions failing.
In addition to transmissions for street and strip vehicles, RPM Transmissions offers transmissions for half-mile racing.
The half-mile racing, which is all based on mph, is really popular all over the country, but especially in Texas—it’s huge. The events typically take place on runways at closed airports, and cars likes Corvettes, GTRs, Lamborghinis make 1,000 to 2,000 horsepower, but don’t have the drivetrain to support that, so they leave the line softly, but once they get going, they really go. Some of the Underground Racing Lamborghinis are 240 mph in the half-mile, and our Corvette market is right around 200 mph in the half-mile.
Your products and your service are ever-evolving.
That’s right. Just about every day we learn something new and use something new. We have to, because everything is constantly changing, and there’s always going to be a better way to do something.
We’ve seen you working on transmissions for customers—and even non-customers—when you’re racing with Camren. How do you juggle helping them and helping him?
I definitely can’t recall a single race where I wasn’t helping a racer with their trans, and that’s okay. It seems that it’s about 50 percent helping customers and 50 percent helping Camren, so we’re fortunate that we have a good car that doesn’t require a whole lot of maintenance between rounds.
You’re humble about your success.
That’s because I relate all of my success to my staff. I wouldn’t be able to do anything without the guys who work with me, and who have been with me for so long and truly care about the business. There are 16 of us now, and when some of us are gone for racing, the rest of them holds the fort down and keep the workflow going.
(Interview by Mary Lendzion and photos by Kevin DiOssi and the FSC Staff from the February 2018 issue of Fastest Street Car.)