The NMRA returns to the St. Louis area as the Inaugural NMRA Gateway Rumble presented by HPJ Performance brings back the roar of Ford Performance once more to Worldwide Raceway at Gateway. HPJ Performance, a local performance shop specializing in late-model Fords, signed on as presenting sponsor of the event, and we talked with owners Mike Zacheis and Sam Salah, and Doug Stroud of HPJ to get a little more information on their business that caters to the Ford faithful.
Long before the birth of HPJ Performance, Salah told us of the day he and Zacheis met.
“I walked out from a day of work and I see some guy looking at my car and critiquing every inch of it and that was Mike,” Salah recalled. “After that, Mike did all the work on all my cars going back to my first Fox Body, and we have been friends for over 20 years now.”
HPJ Performance has been improving vehicle performance for Ford enthusiasts for over three years, but the genesis of the company started well before that, after normal work hours in Zacheis’ home shop.
“I worked with my grandfather who owned businesses in the agriculture/tractor side. I went into industrial maintenance after that for almost 10 years, and all along I always worked on cars and raced,” said Zacheis, who worked 7-8 hours at this day job and then spent several more working on side jobs.
At the same time, Zacheis and Salah had started a Facebook page called Horsepower Junkies STL, which gained over 3,000 members early on. The two used the page’s following to host dyno days at local shops, which grew into custom tuning services with help from noted tuner Eric Brooks.
“Very soon, twice a year, we would have dyno/tuning events that would be 20 cars or more per event, and draw a large amount of spectators,” Salah told us.
Thing looked more and more like the makings of a full-fledged business, and there was no lack of support from clients.
“I had an 80×100 shop full of customer cars—on average 18 at any given time—and had built a clientele list,” Zacheis said. “I was getting like three hours of sleep a night and my wife finally said ‘you’re going to kill your self’. A lot of changes started happening at work and that opened the door for me to do this. I leased a place and have been growing ever since.”
“I always had a passion for business and cars I looked at HPJ as an opportunity to take what I love and turn it into a business with one of my closest friends,” Salah explained. “After seeing the huge following from our dyno events and Mike continuing to get a large amount of work through our Facebook page and events, we both decided to form HPJ Performance.
Zacheis’ Ford roots go deep, as he still owns his first Mustang, a 1986 Fox Body, and his father owns a number of Ford products as well.
“I have a bunch of family in northern Illinois and when I was 13, one of my cousins had a Fox Body that was built. After going for a ride in it, it started from there. Zacheis has added to his pony count with a 900rwhp 2004 Cobra, but he mostly keeps busy on customer cars where his shop performs all sorts of upgrades from simple lowering jobs up to full-tilt 1,400rwhp builds.
“We have a customer car that is a 2015 Mustang with twin turbos making over 1,400 at the wheels,” said HPJ’s Doug Stroud. “We got a little too carried away with it.” In addition to the CPR turbo kit and the Powerglide transmission conversion, the HPJ staff built its own three-link, solid axle conversion based on the 2011-14 Mustangs, and hope to offer it to customers once they get it tested and receive some positive data.
“A fully built IRS costs upwards of $8,000 when its all said and done,” Stroud told us. “For that you could have a solid axle and have a real party, and long term it’s a much stronger unit than a built IRS.”
HPJ’s customer base has deep ties to the NMRA as well, with customers like Turbo Coyote Shootout racer Keith Ciborowski, his father, Limited Street racer Mike Ciborowski, and Street Outlaw competitor Tony Hobson.
While HPJ Performance started out modifying the typical Fox Body Mustangs and Modular-powered cars, the shop specializes in 2007-newer GT500s, 2011-up Coyote Mustangs these days, and has even expanded outside the Ford market.
“Our focus has primarily always been Ford Mustangs,” Zacheis said. “Business wise, there are over a dozen LS shops, which makes it harder to break into that market. With few Ford shops in the area, I put myself in a good position with that, and cornered the Dodge market recently.”
With the shop’s Dynojet dyno coming to life in the background during our phone call, Zacheis followed with “We are expanding about every two years. We already bought property around our current building to expand and build into another, but we’re looking at other properties as well.”
Turning our conversation towards the upcoming NMRA Gateway Rumble, which kicks off next weekend, the HPJ staff is pretty excited to have a big Ford event in their backyard again.
“We’re about 15 miles from Gateway and beyond excited,” said Doug Stroud. “We’re hoping long term it’s going to be a huge event. The previous Ford races were huge and it’s something we’d like to see come back.”
“We have the sponsorship for three years and hope it lasts much longer. We’re at the track all the time, so it’s big for us,” echoed Mike Zacheis.