Inside Fortin Racing - The Forefront Of Racing TechnologyPosted in Features on November 19, 2014
Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. This business axiom has been true for centuries, and it seems that Fortin Racing learned that lessen well. Beginning in the early ’70s when his dad retooled the English Hewland transaxle and made it a must-have for the VW-powered buggy crowd and continuing to the present when Doug Fortin Jr. perfected the five- and six-speed sequential transmission now found in Pro2 and Pro4 trucks, Fortin Racing has been at the forefront of giving the racer what he wants.
Located in El Cajon, California, Fortin Racing has become one of the go-to shops for professional and amateur racers who are looking to get a leg up on the competition. Racers such as Ricky Johnson, Mark McMillin, Carl Renezeder, and Jean Louis Schlesser, five-time winner of the Dakar Rally, have all chosen Fortin gearboxes and other Fortin Racing parts to build their vehicles.
Like many of us, Fortin, 41, started riding motorcycles in the desert with this family. Soon he began racing go-karts and at 18 years old, he won his first major off-road race. For over 20 years, Fortin has driven off-road in everything from Trophy Trucks, Unlimited Class 1 cars, Class 10 cars to CORR ProBuggies. All of which showcased Fortin parts and all of which were used as testbeds for those parts. “Win On Sunday, Sell On Monday” is another time-tested adage of the Fortin clan.
When Fortin graduated with an engineering degree from UCSD in 1995, he worked for a few firms before making his way back to the family garage. And that’s where his father still built the transaxles he was famous for. Soon though, Doug took over the family business and moved into a larger facility. It was there, in 2003, that he built his first five-speed H-pattern transmission. It was then that he bought his first CNC machine.
He had been subbing out the CNC work to other shops, but he soon discovered that they couldn’t keep up with the demand. Fortin wanted to have better control over his products. From there, he bought more machines and with them came their power steering racks, long-travel rear-drive hubs and a long list of other products.
While the housings for his transmissions are cast, it was the internals that put his CNC machines to work. Fortin manufactures all the gears, shafts, side plates, and other various pieces one will find inside their products.
One of the evolutions of racing was that Fortin went away from clutches and to a torque converter for his transmissions. He was seeing that with higher-powered engines of the early ’90s, the transaxles in the Class 1 cars were being beat due to the clutch. Fortin designed a way for a torque converter to replace the clutch and the rest is history.
While some Trophy Truck teams still run the venerable Turbo 400, Fortin’s five-speed sequential transmission is becoming the norm. Based on his opinion that they are stronger, more efficient at transferring power, and more reliable. Fortin says that in a few years every team will use some form of torque converter-based manual transmission.
Of course, a lot of that reliability and ability to transfer power quickly comes from the fact that many of the internal pieces are made from exotic materials that, along with the use of CNC machines, came from the aerospace industry.
And Fortin says that thanks to this technology, race-based products can still evolve further. One of his latest products is a sequential five-speed gearbox with an integrated transfer case for the Pro4 trucks. He, along with guys like Dale Dondell, has been using it this season and so far Fortin says it’s been a success.
The Pro4 that Fortin has campaigned this season is a testbed of sorts for the products that he’s designed and built. From the new front and rear hubs, CV joints and axles, and driveshafts to the new front differential designed specifically for off-road racing, they were all proven on trucks such as his, and while he does enjoy winning, he is a businessman first. He tests his products in real-world racing conditions before he sells them to his customers.
There’s two things that Fortin strives for his parts to be: reliable and lightweight. “The real secret is building as light as possible,” Fortin says, “but having the reliability to finish races and to win championships. We’re not building parts that are expected to run 100,000 highway miles. They’re designed to win Baja.”
Fortin Racing’s current product line represents over 30 years of engineered race-tested technology. For Fortin, it’s always been build a part that is needed, build it well, and build it to help their customers win.
And if Doug Fortin and his team can take home a few trophies along the way as well? The racer in him thinks that’s just fine too.