Ace in the Hole—How Ace Racing helps stick-shift drivers get it done

Anthony Heard competes in the NMRA's TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout using Ace Racing Clutches to propel his turbocharged, SN95 Mustang to 8-second quarter-mile times.

Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by the FSC staff and courtesy of the manufacturer

When real-world technology is applied to racing at the track, everyone wins. At Ace Racing, the hard-working team of enthusiasts made it their mission to “make driving fun” by offering compete, easy-to-install clutch kits for most domestic V-8 applications ranging from street to strip and circle track to truck pulling and beyond.

Founded in 1967 by Carl Ijames and two partners as a small grinding company that supplied parts to the heavy-duty clutch industry for rebuilders, Ace soon saw enough success that Ijames could buy out the other men and assume sole ownership of the company.

Still a proud family-owned business even after more than half a century, Ace has grown to now employ approximately 120 staff members at its 120,000-plus-square-foot facility in Sullivan, Missouri.

“We’re the last complete heavy duty truck clutch manufacturer in the country,” said Kevin Ijames Jr, Administrative Manager at Ace and grandson of the company’s founder. “We manufacture every component in our heavy duty clutches with the exception of the bearings, springs, and fasteners.” Ace also received its ISO 9001:2015 certification including design responsibility, as well as its ISO 14001:2015 certification for environmental management.

ACE-2_Street King Ceramic

In the early- to mid-‘90s, Ace branched out into making friction material for its heavy duty clutches and purchased equipment from another business.

“That came with a few formulations for sintered-iron discs. Having the ability to make our own friction material really set us apart,” noted Ijames. “That kicked us off into the racing world.”

Expanding upon its strong success in over-the-road trucking and similar markets, Ace used the lessons learned from the extreme demands of the industry to design and build better products for racing.

“We came out with a patented 7-inch billet Pro-style clutch and went mostly into the doorslammer world with Pro Stock racing,” remembered Ijames. “After that, we began building 5.5- and 7.25-inch clutches for circle track use.” Ace also eventually expanded into the truck-pulling world as well as more drag racing applications and clutches for street use.

For hardcore, high-level drag racing, Ace offers its Pro Billet clutches in a variety of sizes. Available in either aluminum or titanium, the Pro Billet clutches are also configurable to be used as single, dual, or triple disc setups. For the “non-nitro” sportsman crowd, Ace’s NexGen clutch provides the right amount of tunability that racers demand to get the most out of their cars.

“A lot of people don’t realize that a slipper clutch will allow you go to faster,” Ijames explained.

The NexGen’s lightweight 7075 T6 aluminum design offers segmented .250 thick heat shields, an updated pressure ring with replaceable drive lugs, and patented integrated thrust and wear pads to further improve consistency, reliability, and strength. These clutches are fully rebuildable and available as 10-, 10.5-, and 11-inch kits with either three or six adjustable levers

Similarly, Ace’s aluminum Powerforce clutches were developed from drag racing technology and also use patented lever-assist technology that offer increased torque capacity with a near-stock pedal feel and no break-in period. Powerforce kits come with either one, two, or three discs with a ceramic friction material offering up to a 1,500 lb-ft torque capacity, and a matching aluminum flywheel.

“The centrifugal weights add about 15 percent more torque capacity at peak torque rpm,” shared Ijames of the Powerforce clutch’s performance focus with great streetability. “It’s our own formulation on the friction material. We put a lot of thought and testing into these clutches to help with the harmonics. Even if you’ve got a car with 1,000-horsepower, you shouldn’t to have to change the way you drive. The Powerforce clutch is the solution.”

For street-focused and daily driven vehicles, Ace offers its Street King line of stamped-steel, dual-disc clutches that bolt directly to flat OEM or aftermarket flywheels without a need for any adapters. Utilizing two sprung-hub discs, both the floater and pressure plate are strapped; ceramic material discs can handle up to 1,000 lb-ft of torque while the organic discs are rated to support up to 800 lb-ft.

Ace even manufactures clutches for autocross and road racing enthusiasts, as its new Track King line shares many features to the Powerforce except for the centrifugal weights.

“This is a new product that’s coming out for us, and we’ve been testing it for over a year with great success,” Ijames added.

In the truck pulling world, Ace offers a Borg and Beck-style clutch with Long levers that can have centrifugal weights added (if so desired) in a single, dual, or triple 10.5-inch size.

“For the higher-end puller, our NexGen products are available in 10.5-inch or 11-inch, six-lever configurations, similar to the Borg and Beck but uses an aluminum clutch assembly instead of a stamped steel cover, with integrated wear pads, segmented heat shields, and more,” clarified Ijames of the product that allows for adjustment of the base pressure while still installed in the vehicle.

Circling back to circle-track racing, Ace’s economical, proven-performance 10.5-inch clutches offer organic or ceramic friction and a high plate load.

Individual parts and components are also available from Ace, as the manufacturer’s replacement friction discs, ranging from 6 to 13 inches, can be used in any other clutch of the right size. Both aluminum and steel flywheels are also available for purchase, and all have bolt-through (not riveted) heatshields for easy rebuilds.

Igor Gabrielov, the vice president of the company’s friction department, has a PhD in material science and is always working on research and development to come up with better friction formulations.

“We work hard to give teams confidence in our repeatability and complete traceability. We manufacture the friction discs from start to finish,” elaborated Ijames of how each disc receives its own unique set of numbers that allow it to be traced throughout the entire production process. “We strive for consistency in our products, because that’s what every racer wants.”

Racers who choose to run Ace clutches know that they’re getting a top-quality product with top-level tunability, reliability, and performance so that they can stick shift their way to success.

In the NMRA world, racer Anthony Heard has found tremendous success in the TREMEC Stick Shift Shootout thanks to his dual-disc, Ace Powerforce clutch. His ’99 Mustang runs a 76mm turbocharged, 331ci small-block Ford engine with a TREMEC Magnum six-speed, and the combination has worked so well that he’s captured the win in the class four times.

“It’s an awesome clutch that holds every bit of power, but still gives a soft pedal feel,” said Heard, who regularly runs lots of stick-shift events locally in his home state of Florida. “Having the adjustable counterweight to add pressure when you need it is a huge advantage, and you can change the diaphragm if you need a softer base pressure, too.”

Over the years, Ace never wavered from its commitment to keeping as much of the manufacturing process in-house in the USA as possible. All of the research and development, machining, stamping, assembly, testing, and more, is still done in Ace’s Missouri-based facility.

With a team of 10 engineers on staff, multiple dynos, and specialty testing equipment all on site, Ace not only tests all of its products and friction materials, but also contracts a third-party engineering laboratory in Michigan to validate their data.

The company follows the Advanced Product Quality Planning process, a structured approach to product and process design. Multiple checks and balances prevent flaws from design, manufacturing, or assembly so that by the time the customer gets their Ace clutch, it’s already proven and ready to go.

“Being made in America is huge for us, and we are very much an in-sourcing company. If we can do it, we do, and we control everything from start to finish,” continued Ijames of the products that offer complete traceability through Ace’s strict serializing program. “We check everything, from the raw material coming in, to the entire production process and every step along the way, to the finished product and final assembly.”

Ace’s team also checks the plate load and release on its clutches, both horizontally on a table and vertically as if it were mounted in a car. Additionally, private label manufacturing opportunities allows others to get in on Ace’s level of quality.

“The last five years or so, we’ve been focusing more on the street markets and are putting our talent, technology, and knowledge to help everyone win whether it’s on the street or at the track,” added Ijames. “The NMRA and NMCA closely ties both of those worlds together, and the community truly does offer the best of both.”

NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock champion Drew Lyons

The Ijames family tradition focuses on helping its customers and being totally transparent in the manufacturing process. “If you went to any other manufacturer and asked to see what goes on, you’d be underwhelmed or told to go home,” laughed Ijames, who welcomes racers and drivers to visit the Ace facility and see the company’s capabilities. “We work with a wide variety of markets that allows our innovations to cross-pollinate from one industry to the next, and our expertise from top to bottom shows in the quality and success of our products.”

Whether it’s providing a clutch for a 40,000-pound load truck, a 10,000-horsepower dragster, or almost any V-8-powered American automobile, Ace aims to make driving fun. The company strives to make sure that its easy-to-install products never hinder the customer from doing their job as best as possible while still offering precise control whether it’s for daily driving, drag racing, drifting, road racing, circle track, truck pulling, or any other demanding motorsports avenue.

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