Lance Keck has had an appreciation of cars for as long as he can remember.
He would watch the Camaros, Challengers, Mustangs, and Mavericks cruising around his family’s home in Central Valley, California in his youth, and after serving as a hospital corpsman with the Navy years later, he began drag racing and road racing in a 1969 Camaro, a 1955 Chevy, and assorted Datsuns and Nissans, among other cars.
He eventually opened his own business, AutoStaff Motorsports in San Diego, California, where he built high-horsepower engines and worked on high-performance cars, and after twelve years, he began doing design and installation work with Paxton Superchargers in 1998.
When Paxton Superchargers was purchased by Vortech Superchargers just a few years later, the path was paved to his current positions as Engineering Manager—Auto Group, Director of Motorsports and Race Support Director for Vortech, which employs about 50 people and is based in Oxnard, California.
As part of his commitment to contribute to the company’s momentous growth in the supercharger market, Keck can often be found at NMCA, NMRA and other events to support racers and tuners who rely on its products to put out palpable amounts of power.
“Lance is a very intelligent guy, and in going to the races, he lets racers know that Vortech supports them, and in addition to that, the information he gathers from them and takes back to Vortech is what helps the company take its products to the next level,” said Jason Lee, who tunes countless combinations, including those featuring Vortech superchargers, with his PTP Racing business partner, Patrick Barnhill. “What Lance does can’t be done in a cubicle. He has to see racers beating on the products and talk to them about whether they want power down low, at the middle of the track, or out the back. He’s focused on that, and that puts other centrifugal blower companies on notice that Vortech is continuously developing better products and taking part in the evolution of drag racing.”
Read on for more about Keck, who’s known for being fiercely focused when watching customers cruise or compete in their Vortech-powered vehicles.
YOU WEAR MANY HATS AT VORTECH, WHICH WAS FOUNDED IN 1990 BY JIM MIDDLEBROOK. WHAT’S INVOLVED WITH YOUR ROLE WITH THE ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT?
There are several different sections of a supercharger kit that have to be designed and developed, so I work with designers and engineers to come up with products that we can sell, and I make sure documentation is done properly. For new vehicles that are determined to be viable products, once all of the mechanical bits and pieces are done and we have a running vehicle, I’m responsible for going through the calibration process and determining horsepower and torque, and I’m also responsible for the drivability. We do model year updates, and I’ll use the Mustang for example. There was a model run for 2011-2014 and 2015-2017, and each of those model years have their own strategies for calibration and Ford chose to change the strategy for 2011-2014 and 2015-2017, so we have to revisit programs for drivability and performance.
WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS DIRECTOR OF MOTORSPORTS AND RACE SUPPORT DIRECTOR?
My main duty is to monitor our products. This includes the YSi through V-30-131A, on the race track. If something needs to be developed, I’m there to recognize that and get it through the engineering process once it has been approved. One of my other duties is to work with sanctioning bodies, including the NMCA and NMRA, as well as with X275, Ultra Street, and Outlaw 8.5 races all over the country, to promote our product and to work with racers on their particular programs with our products. If they have questions or needs, it’s my responsibility to take care of them one way or another.
WHAT MIGHT WE FIND YOU DOING AT AN EVENT?
We’re still pretty young in the racing environment, so we don’t have a booth at the races yet, but I walk around and talk with racers. As you know, racers guard much of their data, but many will talk about their blower compressor data, and along with that, I’ll look at their 60-foot and 330-foot times, as well as back-split performance, and I’ll compile data and ask them to compile data, too. Nothing stands still in racing, so with the data I acquire on my own and from the racers, I can come back to work and talk with the engineering group about a particular product, whatever it may be, and make improvements if improvements are necessary.
IT SOUNDS LIKE IT’S CRUCIAL TO GATHER DATA FROM RACERS.
It’s vital to our product that we go out and acquire data from the racers and make ourselves available to the racers. It makes our product better, and we couldn’t do what we do without coming back from a race with data. It also helps us see how we’re performing against our competition, whether it’s another supercharger company or even a turbo company.
IN WHICH MARKETS DOES VORTECH HAVE THE MOST SIGNIFICANT PRESENCE?
Our street market is certainly the strongest part of the company as far as the automotive group is concerned, but we’re building our racing brand and we have products for cars of all performance levels, whether they’re for top-end sportsman drag racing or the Bonneville Salt Flats. The Mustang market is huge for us because it’s sort of what the company was born on, as Jim Middlebrook had recognized in the early 1990s that the Mustang was a hugely popular platform and developed the first Mustang kit for the 1986-1993 Mustang. The Sixth-Gen Camaro is another large one for us, and it’s an interesting platform. The car is extremely popular, and it’s going direct-injection. It’s a pretty technical piece, and Vortech is a very technical company. Pretty much all of the racing products have seen extremely large growth, from the V-30 94A to the V-30 131.
TO WHAT DO YOU ATTRIBUTE THAT LARGE GROWTH?
We attribute that to our dedication to continually improving our product. Ultimately, we want our race units to be in every class and at the top of every class, and engaging in an ongoing development battle helps us do that.
IT SEEMED LIKE VORTECH HAD BEEN RELATIVELY QUIET ON THE RACING FRONT FOR A WHILE, BUT HAS REALLY BECOME PROMINENT IN THE PAST FEW YEARS.
Back around 2008, the economy was not doing well, and the owner of the company, Jim Middlebrook, decided that racing was probably not something we should be focusing on. When we backed away from the racing environment, we had a competitive product, but when the economy came back around a few years later, we reviewed our products and our strategy. When we considered the advancement of everything from engines to chassis, we realized we needed to concentrate on the durability of our product. It wasn’t quite up to the standard it needed to be, so we went through a significant development process to improve and we are starting to get there, and that’s why you’re starting to see our name thrown around more than in the past.
WHAT TOOLS DOES VORTECH USE TO DESIGN NEW TECHNOLOGY?
We have some custom proprietary software packages that we’re able to input data from and then the program will give us a blade profile. Once we have that, then we can start running some of the CFD (computational fluid dynamics) and some of the other flow technologies and generate a blade profile. We then bring that data into solid works and complete an impeller profile.
DO ADVANCES IN SUPERCHARGER TECHNOLOGY FOR RACE CARS BENEFIT DRIVERS PURCHASING SUPERCHARGERS FOR STREET CARS?
The racing environment really helps us to understand what the street environment may need. The reason we’re there is so that we can improve our products, whether they’re for race or street. All of our centrifugal superchargers are gear-driven and we learn quite a bit about the gear boxes that turn the impellers through the rigors of racing, and we benefit from seeing the race units’ bearing data. A lot of the impeller design technology in race products also trickles down into street products.
HOW DOES VORTECH CONTINUE TO WORK WITHIN THE CALIFORNIA AIR RESOURCES BOARD (CARB) AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA) RULES TO OFFER POWER-ADDERS, BUT STILL BE LEGAL IN EACH STATE?
The challenge with emissions testing is always ongoing. The standards that are put out from the California Air Resources Board and the EPA get stricter every year, so what we have to certify the vehicle to is what the OE manufacturers certify the vehicle to. Even though the vehicle now has a supercharger on it, it has to certify as if it was naturally aspirated, so we basically throw away the original calibration and start from scratch to build a new one. We do testing in-house and engine evaluations at a certified emissions lab.
WHAT ADVANCEMENTS IN TECHNOLOGY FOR THE RACE AND STREET MARKETS DO YOU SEE COMING DOWN THE PIKE?
I see advancement in a number of areas, certainly the electronics of the vehicle, and the power-adder, whether it a be a roots-style or centrifugal blower or turbo. Those advances are certainly moving on as everyone is striving to have the most efficient and highest-performing products.
(Interview by Mary Lendzion and photos by Steve Baur from Fastest Street Car’s July 2018 issue)