Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography courtesy of the manufacturer
A premier manufacturer of performance clutch systems since 1971, RAM Clutches’ roots extend back nearly 100 years. From its humble beginnings to earning its reputation in the drag racing and circle track markets, RAM’s rich history played a key role in the family-owned-and-operated company’s success.
“My grandfather, Tony Norcia, started a business in Canton, Ohio, in the 1930s rebuilding electrical and water pumps, and clutches,” explained Pat Norcia, 54, RAM Clutches’ Operations Manager and Co-Owner.
Soon, Tony’s son and Norcia’s father, John, started working in the small shop and went on to create his own entity — RAM Clutches — in 1971. “My dad took agriculture clutch ideas and brought metallic friction technology to drag racing,” he said.
Early drag racing clutches were made from asbestos or organic fiberglass and were evaluated on how many runs they would last, but Norcia’s technology changed the game so that focus was instead placed on controlling the tire and how quickly a car could accelerate.
“The product line grew, and, in the early ‘80s we released a carbon fiber unit that was one of the first carbon clutches used in any type of racing,” Norcia noted of the lightweight units that allowed for the clutch to be slipped so as to finesse the car’s launch, and RAM made inroads with Modified and lower-level Pro Stock racers as a result.
RAM relocated in Columbia, South Carolina, in 1983 and built a 22,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. Its innovation, coupled with the proliferation of early data acquisition technology, meant that racers were able to better understand their combinations and optimize their operations. Not long after, the company expanded into oval-track racing and developed specific clutches for late model and dirt track use. “We introduced the RAM Coupler in ’84 and it weighed only 5 pounds,” Norcia added.
Norcia and his brother/RAM Co-Owner, Mike Norcia, 56, both began working at the family shop when they were in their early teens. The drag racing market, specifically Top Sportsman in IHRA and Mountain Motor Pro Stock, was growing tremendously at the time and they were part of the movement to get RAM more involved. In the ‘90s, Pro Modified gained popularity and RAM’s distribution network expanded alongside it; The company began to see its products carried by major warehouses around the country. Later, in the early 2000s, the brothers saw horsepower numbers climb dramatically and they worked with several teams to provide solutions for more effective power transfer. Over the years, RAM has helped secure countless wins and dozens of championships in series like the IHRA, ADRL, PDRA, NHRA, and NMRA/NMCA.
RAM remains in its original South Carolina location and maintains a team of 15 full-time employees. Additionally, apprentice and internship programs in collaboration with the local high school as well as Midlands Technical College means RAM keeps a constant infusion of youth, energy, and inspiration. Seven CNC machines operate every day, along with two Blanchard grinders, and the company proudly ships its Made in the USA products all around the world to high-end drag racers, sportsman oval-track racers, and everyone in between.
RAM also took point on helping to develop a brand-new, diaphragm-style aftermarket clutch for Ford’s Coyote engine and worked with NMRA G-Force Racing Transmissions Coyote Stock racers, including Tim Matherly and Joe Charles.
“We started with a clean sheet of paper and hand-picked each component,” added Mike Norcia, Sales and Marketing Manager at RAM. “We came up with an adjustable diaphragm, and really enjoyed working with such a family-oriented group of tight-knit racers.” It isn’t just NMRA that can reap the benefits of RAM’s products, though, as NMCA driver Jordan Ensslin won the 2018 ARP Nitrous Pro Street championship shifting gears with RAM on board.