Photography courtesy of the manufacturer
Owning a world-class manufacturing business is in Callies Performance Products founder Rick Norton’s blood. The pioneer of aftermarket crankshaft technology was born into a family legacy of machining, but he had the vision to take things to a new level.
Growing up in Ohio, Norton’s grandfather, Harold, bought a small tool and die shop in 1950.
“They had about three people at the time, and then Rick’s father, Richard, came into the business in the late ‘50s. Rick [Norton] joined when he graduated from Ohio University in ’69 with a degree in business, although he had worked there through high school as well,” elaborated Les Lipski, who has been working with Norton, now in his 70s, in some capacity since ’84 and is currently Callies’ Chief Financial Officer.
It was Norton’s love of manufacturing that prompted him to purchase the Norton Manufacturing business from his father in the late ‘70s. He soon found himself making crankshafts for everything from tractors to four-cylinder engines.
Next, Norton started working with the Big Three OEMs, beginning with Chrysler, in the early ‘80s.
“Rick realized an opportunity to take his mass-production setup to the automotive aftermarket, so he partnered with John Callies who had been doing work with Pontiac and GM,” Mr. Brook Piper, Sales Manager for Callies, explained of how the business was officially formed in 1989.
Wanting to capitalize on the reputation and recognition of Callies’ name, the high-performance crankshaft company was titled in his honor, although Norton was the owner. “That relationship lasted a few years, and the two parted ways in late ’92.”
According to Piper, Norton Manufacturing was producing more than 1,700 crankshafts per day on the OEM side originally, but with the focus on performance, Callies now puts out over 3,000 annually.
“Everything’s different now. The OEM was cookie-cutter, but the performance takes much more precision,” he added, noting that Callies’ OEM side was sold off nearly a decade ago. “With the Callies products, everything is made here in the USA and we have a huge focus on quality. We have another division called Compstar which is our entry-level line, but we do all the final touches to make sure everything’s correct and that doubles our production numbers.”
Originally, Callies was located in a corner of the Norton Manufacturing building, but now resides in its original hometown of Fostoria, Ohio, and occupies two buildings spanning nearly 200,000 square feet. In the beginning, approximately 25 employees were on staff, but that number has grown to 96 in present day.
Given Norton’s “machinery junkie” reputation, it’s no surprise that he has invested a substantial amount of resources into making sure Callies has only top-quality equipment on site. The purchase of a CNC pin-chasing crankshaft grinder revolutionized the manufacturing process from its standard manual grinder operation, and greatly enhanced the company’s flexibility to produce an endless assortment of applications for big-blocks, small-blocks, and more, including crankshafts, connecting rods, and camshaft cores.
Now, Norton’s company is known as an industry leader and is celebrating its 30th anniversary as well as a similarly longstanding history with the NMCA and NMRA.
“We love working with more grassroots-type racers and engine builders,” Piper continued. “That’s been our mantra since day one, and we try to stay true to it—we want to help the little guys achieve big success.”