(Editor’s note: This is the first part of two-story package on Arrington Performance and PHCC’s plan to buy the buildings and land where it is located. Monday’s story will look at how the company and college will work together.)
Arrington Performance has overcome many obstacles on the way to save jobs and continue operations in the community.
Arrington President and CEO Eric Hruza (pronounced Herza) said company officials worked hard to save jobs and keep the doors open in 2010, when then-part-owner Joey Arrington split from the company and moved out of state.
“Our goal was to keep our employees here,” Hruza said.
Now, Arrington Performance will keep is doors open despite another change — the sale of its facility. Patrick Henry Community College (PHCC) announced last week that it plans to buy the Arrington Manufacturing land and buildings in the Patriot Centre industrial park.
The PHCC board is scheduled to consider approving the purchase Monday. The college’s motorsports program is located in one of the two buildings on the site.
Arrington Performance occupies the other building where its predecessor, Arrington Manufacturing, originally built high-performance Dodge engines.
Arrington Performance builds hemispherical combustion chamber (HEMI) engines and custom performance parts for late model American muscle cars, classics and hot rod applications.
The company now employs 34 people, and all but one are full-time positions. The total number of workers is only about six fewer than when the company was operating at its peak, Hruza said.
Some of the employees who have left retired, while others — such as Danny Glad — joined PHCC’s staff, he said. Glad is an assistant motorsports instructor at PHCC who formerly built engines for NASCAR.
“It was a struggle, but we were committed to keeping” the jobs in Martinsville and Henry County, Hruza said.
Arrington Performance also underwent a bit of a makeover when Dodge left NASCAR, he said, and explained that “obviously had a pretty big impact on the company,” Hruza said.
If there was a silver lining, it was that the performance company had known that Dodge was on a decline and “we saw it coming,” he said of Dodge’s announcement in 2012 that it was leaving NASCAR.
Because of that foresight, “we focused on trying to find an alternative product niche,” Hruza said. The end result was conceiving, designing and building various prototypes.
Arrington Performance also tests and manufactures the prototypes, sells them and provides service after the sale, he said.
“Our goal had been to become the world leader for after-market product parts,” Hruza said.
And while the company no longer does research and development for Dodge, it still does some of that for Chrysler, he said. Hruza declined to elaborate for confidentiality reasons.
Some areas of the facility are open to visitors, and Hruza said “there are a couple of small areas that we’re really proud of.”
One such area basically was used for storage when Arrington Performance took over the building in 2006, Hruza said. It now houses a full-service installation facility, with a primary focus of increasing power by replacing stock parts with custom parts, many of which are made on-site. The company also does suspension, transmission and power train upgrades, he added.
Customers “tend to fall into two really broad categories,” Hruza said. The first group includes what he considers to be successful white-collar professionals “who don’t want to work on a car themselves but want the best” custom parts on it, he said.
The second group includes “highly successful blue-collar professionals” such as plumbers or other trades people who buy parts and may install them or “have a big part in the design process, the style” and the end result of “how the car looks,” Hruza said.
Typically, customers spend between $8,000 to $15,000 on the low end, around $30,000 to $50,000 in the mid-range, and more than $250,000 on the high end, according to Hruza and Jason Hensley, who builds drag cars and also worked as a NASCAR fabricator.
The company ships about five vehicles a week to customers, including some in Alaska, German, Japan, Sweden and Brazil, Hruza said.
Currently, about 23 cars occupy a large part of the leased space. The work on them is in various stages of progress. Many are painted bright colors of green and purple. There also is a more sedate, beige colored 2006 Chrysler.
Daniel Alderman, a PHCC graduate, is proof of the strong relationship between the company and the college, Hruza said. Last week, Alderman, the shop foreman who also manages the installation crew, was installing new parts for a customer who essentially “wanted to upgrade their upgrade,” Hruza said.
Customized parts make the cars “world class” and in the same league as Porsches or Lamborghinis, he said of the vehicles that are street legal after the new parts are installed. “Some are daily drivers,” Hruza said.
Another vehicle is there to have a standard cold air induction kit removed and replaced with a better version to increase the horsepower “and well, it sounds really good” when the engine is running, he said.
Arrington Performance also is capable of making a race car, Hruza said.
Hensley was at work on building two drag cars last week. One is to be completely remade. When done, it will weigh about 1,500 pounds less than when he started on it and have an 1,800 horsepower engine.
“Somebody has contracted us to do this” job, Hruza said as Hensley explained the car arrived at the performance facility as a brand new vehicle.
The owner “wanted the world’s quickest Challenger, and he (the owner) will have it” when Hensley is finished, Hruza said.
Arrington Performance has a number of machines that are considered advanced manufacturing, including engine dynamometers, which are basically computerized systems that allow “you to take a stock engine and get rid of the car” to measure power and efficiency, Hruza said.
“In the old days, power and efficiency were almost exclusive,” Hruza said. “That is just the opposite now. Efficiency is power, so the more efficient you can make it, the more powerful” it will be, he said.