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Interview: Brian Tooley—The Cam Master, Valvetrain Specialist, and Go-Fast Professor of Brian Tooley Racing

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Written By John Ryan

Photography By Brian Hogan

If you’ve been a member of the Ford and GM racing communities, there are only a few names well known in both circles and one of them is Brian Tooley. It’s not hard to conceive that performance company owners are gearheads, and Tooley is no exception. He grew up around circle track racing and spent many nights and weekends helping his dad and his buddy Larry Coulter. Back in 1983, Tooley bought a new Camaro Z/28 and said he’s always been a GM guy at heart. He also joined the Navy that year and spent the next 6 years as an electronics technician. It was in 1993 when he formally joined the performance world, signing on with Holley Performance when it moved product development and R&D to Bowling Green, Kentucky, from Warren, Michigan. Brian spent a few years there doing helping to design cylinder heads, perform flow bench testing and dyno testing of small-block Ford and Chevy performance parts.

But many racers know Brian Tooley for his first performance business, Total Engine Airflow (TEA). He had started porting heads and spec’ing cams for racers back in 1993 and did this on weekends until he left Holley and went full time with the business in 1996. Tooley’s head porting got the attention of a lot of racers, many of who ran in the World Ford Challenge, Fun Ford Weekend, and later the NMRA and NMCA series. He supported noted racers like Bart Tobener, Jimmy LaRocca and Mike Murillo, porting heads for them, which helped them win some championships. He also did cylinder head porting for Bischoff Racing Engines and Pro Line Racing. Tooley also got a dyno and bought a 5-axis CNC machine five years later, in the process joining a small group of individuals who were the first to offer CNC-ported cylinder heads.

In 2001, Tooley hosted an open house for LS racers who showed up to attend a race that this author and Chris Endres put together at Beech Bend Raceway. During this, Tooley CNC-ported a cylinder head while everyone watched and then took the time to explain the gains he was getting with stock LS castings. This was arguably a major turning point for the LS scene in general, as Tooley and later other companies took head porting to the next level with this new technology.

Tooley’s hard work and success did not go unnoticed, and in 2004, Trick Flow Specialties (TFS) acquired TEA, though he had a relationship with them going back to the mid 90s.

“My personal experience with TFS goes back to 1996 when I sent a TFS Twisted Wedge head to be flowed to the original owner of TFS, Rick Smith. He tried to hire me that same year. Our TFS Twisted Wedge R heads also won the Muscle Mustangs and Fast Fords magazine Ultimate Cylinder head shootout around 2003, beating the likes of the Kaase canted-valve heads by 20 hp, which definitely got the attention of TFS as well.”

So after joining TFS, Tooley set up the company’s internal CNC program, and spent the next 6 years in cylinder head design, testing, and porting. During those years TFS came out with new cylinder heads for the LS scene like its popular 245cc and 215cc castings. He also continued to do cam testing. This author can personally attest to a number of these products as well as their performance, having personally ran a set of the 215 castings in a 2000 Camaro Z/28. In combination with a cam from Vengeance Racing, the Camaro went high 10s on motor and low 10s on a 150 shot of nitrous.

Tooley left TFS in 2010 and moved back to Kentucky and enjoyed life for a bit, but he got the itch again and started Brian Tooley Racing (BTR) in 2012. Initially just offering his famous .660-inch-lift valve spring kits, Brian Tooley Racing (www.briantooleyracing.com) has become one of the biggest suppliers of high-performance parts for late-model GM performance parts. Located in Bardstown, Kentucky, his company stocks tens of thousands of parts and has over 2,500 individual part numbers in its system, all of which are housed in the company’s 15,000-square-foot building. While BTR stocks many parts made by GM and other OEMs, the company also manufactures and sells its own products.

Tooley and his team have partnered with racers that include Jessie Coulter of Jessie’s Garage who has been collecting numerous wins in NMCA Xtreme Street and Chevrolet Performance Challenge Holley EFI Real Street competition with his turbocharged Third-Gen Camaro that packs an LS-based engine. We caught up with Coulter at the recent 12th annual NMCA Super Bowl in Joliet, Illinois, where he noted, with some competitive humor, that BTR sells just about everything you need to build a car like his, but he’d prefer that Tooley sell slightly slower combos that only make 90 percent of the power he makes. Tooley also noted that you could buy a long-block similar to Jessie’s from BTR, which is pretty cool considering that combo handles over 1,500 horsepower. Just taking a quick glance at the company’s website, there are over 12 turbo camshaft grinds offered ranging from mild to wild, and it has just as many designed for supercharged and naturally aspirated combinations.

BTR has also been active in half-mile racing as well, campaigning its own 2009 ZR1 to a 6-speed record of 209 mph. The company also supports Charlie Hill in his C5, providing one of its 388 CID race engines, which helped power him to a record setting 229 mph with his twin-turbo setup. Tooley, his son Michael, and other team members frequent all major events helping out customers and supporting the racing scene in general.

BTR is extremely active in the street car market, which is a personal favorite of Tooley’s. He’s designed a large number of camshafts and combinations for Gen III, IV, and now Gen V applications. Following his “bigger is not always better” he has designed packages that offer excellent performance and great drivability.

Tooley is guided by two key values; one is doing the best job you can all the time. He and the team help customers select the right parts to help them achieve their goals. The other value is the importance of managing and people. He’s a big believer in non-stop education, training, and motivating people to create a great team. He noted the company has had one person leave in 5 years. Reflecting back on his experience in the Navy and with a few companies, he noted, “The military taught me a lot about discipline but also good and bad management styles. I, of course, learned a good bit working for Holley, but it’s really my experience at TFS/Summit Racing that has put me where I am today. I’m still riding on the coat tails of the LSX dyno, Spintron, and durability testing that was conducted at TFS a decade ago.”

When asked what was the most satisfying aspect of being in this business, Tooley had this to say, “In my younger years, it was the satisfaction of producing good products that performed well, etc. After coming out of this terrible depression, the most satisfying part of being in business is supplying high quality jobs to great people. It’s very satisfying to provide people with jobs that pay more than they’ve ever made, and giving them great work hours, great benefits and a great culture. The ability to change someone’s life for the better is certainly a rare opportunity.”


Mike Galimi
Mike Galimi is the Director of Content & Marketing at ProMedia Publishing and Events with nearly 20 years of experience in motorsport writing and photography.
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