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Where It All Started-Late Model Engines

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
 
Driven by grit and determination, partners Bryan Neelen and Pecos Loughlin sacrificed instant gratification in favor of building a strong future. Their creation, Late Model Engines, flourished as a result and became one of the premier producers of LS and LT-based horsepower.
 
Growing up in a small town in upstate New York and not from a racing background, Neelen worked on his and his friends’ cars while in high school. In 1999, he told his parents he was moving to Houston, Texas, to build engines and they were incredibly supportive of the decision. He relocated, enrolled in the School of Automotive Machinists, and doubled up on coursework to complete the 18-month curriculum in half that time.
 

While studying at SAM, Neelen met Loughlin who had been working at a local speed shop. The two started moonlighting doing side work and often worked late into the night. Neelen went to work for a machine shop and got experience with everything from Willys Jeep engines to big-displacement nitrous combinations, dirt late-model applications to asphalt circle track machines, and more.
 
Around 2000, Neelen and Loughlin were working out of a 2,500-square foot warehouse in Houston and stayed busy doing valve jobs, cylinder head porting, and more—often by hand.
 
“We didn’t have a bunch of machines,” recalled Neelen, who often scrounged for the little bit of money he could get and ate more than his fair share of Ramen noodles. “We would sell our work on eBay to build up cash to buy equipment one piece at a time.”
 

Eventually, their clientele grew and the men were able to quit their day jobs to start Late Model Engines in 2003.
 
“We knew that the racing industry was changing with new technology, and understanding the future of it was critical. Old-school manual lathes and mills were outdated, we needed to learn the CNC stuff,” Neelen, now 42, recalled of one particularly inspiring trip to the Performance Racing Industry trade show.
 
LME’s first CNC machine was a Bridgeport-style mill that they had gotten for free and was driven by an old computer punch-tape; the men retrofitted it to modern standards and got going boing engine blocks.
 
“We started advertising in magazines, added more equipment, and focused on the late-model market with a specialization in LS engines,” explained Neelen of the niche. “I remember when we got our first order over the phone for a 347 LS stock stroke short-block—and now we sell multiple engines a day!”
 

Thanks to the relentless innovation of Neelen and Loughlin, Late Model Engines now builds over 400 engines a year, along with 600 sets of cylinder heads, while employing a team of 19 employees. After an initial expansion, LME moved to its current 17,000-sqft location in April of 2017. The shop houses seven CNC machines, a flow bench, dynos, and every piece of equipment needed to build some of the baddest LS and LT engines on the planet along with billet intake manifolds and many more unique products.
 
LME’s team takes talents and experience, both in the shop and at the track, from many different areas and brings it all together in a winning package from short-blocks to cylinder heads and everything in between.
 
“When someone buys one of our engines, they are buying the knowledge and processes that we’ve developed over the last 19 years,” noted Neelen proudly. “We have every aspect of the engine dialed in and work with the customer to tailor our proven combinations to their specific application so that we can give them a more custom engine that’s already been verified to work well.”
 

Thanks to their work with Scoggin Dickey, LME has been a longtime supporter of the NMRA/NMCA through sponsorship of the Street King category and more.
 
“We felt it was important for us to support the racers that support us and give back to our core market,” affirmed Neelen of LME’s involvement in the organization.
 
Neelen and Loughlin made many sacrifices early on to get their futures lined up, but they had fun building their business and have made an indelible mark in motorsports history along the way with LS and LT-centric customers all around the world.

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