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Where It All Started—Jesel Valvetrain Innovation

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography courtesy of the manufacturer

Thanks to the vision, drive, and determination of Dan Jesel, his company Jesel Valvetrain Innovation changed the automotive industry for over three decades and contributed to countless successes in racing all around the globe with its premier valvetrain components.
“Dan grew up around cars, racing and perhaps more importantly, engines,” noted Dennis Ventrello, company Creative Director. Jesel’s father gave him a Model A pickup to tinker with, and his second car, a ’58 Chevy, truly opened his eyes to performance. Jesel eventually built his first of many dedicated race cars, and took his efforts to the drag strip.

Through the 1960s, though, Jesel’s focus shifted from racing to engine building and he focused his efforts on pulling the maximum amount of power from the engines that he could.
“It didn’t take long for that transition to bring him to valvetrain development,” Ventrello explained of the man who split his time between building engines at a New Jersey-based speed shop and renting space from Manley Performance Products so that he could focus on his own operation, Competition Machine Service.
“CMS grew, and not only were its engines winning, they were breaking records,” continued Ventrello. Jesel moved into a larger facility in 1972, and in the late ‘70s, made the realization that “the most reliable way to build a high-rpm small-block Chevy was to create a shaft rocker setup as the ability to move the rocker pivot point and adjust rocker height allowed Dan to optimize the valvetrain geometry.”

In 1980, Jesel bought some bars of aluminum rocker arm extrusion from Ed Iskenderian of Isky Cams, and Jesel Valvetrain Innovation was born. First operating out of a shop in Wall, New Jersey, and with only a single manual milling machine, Jesel’s growth eventually necessitated the purchase of a larger building in Lakewood.
While reading an industrial magazine, Jesel was inspired to build a belt-drive setup for an old, overhead-valve, pushrod V8 engine‑—and the project transitioned into an industry leading product. By ’89, Jesel had moved on to developing the Jesel Keyway Roller Lifter. Although it took nearly a decade, the product launched in ’98 and became the industry standard for reliability and performance.

Jesel expanded its focus into the drag racing markets, although the company had since become the go-to supplier for NASCAR, NHRA Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Comp Eliminator, and Le Mans and Daytona 24-Hour endurance racers.
The company has been in Lakewood since its initial move, and today, Jesel’s facility spans 65,000 square-feet of climate-controlled space and features a spotless, hospital-like atmosphere. Jesel’s trusted team of 55 employees operate 35 CNC machines; staff state-of-the-art engineering and metallurgical departments; and manage the building, shipping, and sales departments to ensure some of the shortest delivery times in the racing industry, despite many parts being custom-built to suit the customers’ specifications.

“Dan [Jesel] has always invested heavily in the time and equipment needed to produce not only a reliable product, but an industry leading one,” Ventrello said, proud of his employer’s prowess and the standard that the company built its reputation on. “That commitment begins with Solidworks engineering, FEA component analysis, and rapid prototyping, before moving on to machining, finishing, Spintron and in-house dyno testing. A concept can be transformed into a working prototype in a matter of hours.”
Although the Jesel product lineup is extensive as compared to its early offerings, the company is best known for its shaft rockers, camshaft belt drives, and roller lifters—all of which can be found in many of the quickest and fastest cars in the country, including many that lead the pack at NMRA and NMCA events. Recent products such as the Jesel Cartridge roller lifters; billet, tool-steel cam cores; and dual-plug front drive distributor kits secure Jesel’s position on the cutting edge of race engine development.

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