Auto Service World
Feature   June 1, 2004   by

School’s a drag

He picked up his NHRA license six years ago, and to the kids in the Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School Automotive Club in Cloverdale, BC, that’s pretty cool. Not only do they get to hang out with a real-life drag racer, they get to learn his tricks of the trade.

“I teach the high school kids how to drag race,” says Klaas. “I go out on Fridays with the high school drags. I go with the Lord Tweedsmuir School, because that’s the school I attended, and my kids attend the same school.”

A master technician and shop owner, Klaas has owned a number of hot rods over the years, including some very fast Camaros. When he heard that his alma mater was becoming a member of the BC Secondary School Motorsport Association (BCSSMA), under the leadership of shop teacher Doug Anderson, he just had to drop by and take a look. And when Anderson heard of Klaas’ history, he asked Klaas if he’d come out and teach the kids how to race.

It was a natural fit, since Klaas and his three sons already spend a lot of time at nearby Mission Raceway.

“My kids know everybody who works at the track and they get along with everybody. It’s just a fun place to be.”

The club members not only race their own cars, they also maintain and race the school car, a 1970 Dodge Dart Swinger with a 360 V8 that runs in the low 12s.

“It’s bracket racing,” explains Klaas. “There’s not much more they can do with the car.” That’s because the BCSSMA limits the high school class to a 12-second quarter mile.

One main focus of the association is to encourage youth to race safely on approved courses only, and instead of just one motto, the club has two: “Be cool and stay in school!” and “Race the Strip, Not the Street.”

And while knowledge and safety are important to Klaas, so is the fun. “We all go out and have a good time.”

Off the track, Klaas is known for his diagnostic skills at his shop, Buildit Auto Services Ltd., in Langley, BC. “We specialize in electrical and computer problems. We still do everything else, but that’s what we specialize in,” he says
Other shops in the area, including dealerships, will send their tough problems to Buildit Auto, where more often than not he’ll hook up his most coveted tool, the Simu-Tech, made by Edge Technology.

Like an electronic breakout box, Simu-Tech goes between the computer and the wire harness, but that’s where the similarities end. Instead of having to check each pin by hand with a meter, this unit will sweep test every wire in a vehicle’s ECM or ABS wiring harness for power, ground, current, and resistance in less than 60 seconds. Then it will flag all ‘out-of-spec’ components or wiring circuits and tell you where to find the problem. Its database covers a huge range of vehicles and is updated regularly. There are only three such machines in BC, and while they’re not cheap, Klaas wouldn’t be without it.

He also spends a lot of time helping other techs solve difficult problems.

“A lot of times it’s over the phone – ‘We’ve got this problem, we’ve hooked the machine up, we’re getting these readings’ – and you go through it with them and you just basically explain over the phone how to do certain tests.” When asked if he does this on a retainer basis, he just laughs. “No, it’s just a mechanic helping a mechanic.” Colleagues describe him as ‘a man who enjoys the hunt.’

At 46 years of age, he’s been in the auto repair business for a while, and his boys are right there with him. Son Doug, 26, is a licensed technician and is a major part of Buildit Auto. “Without him, I wouldn’t be able to do the racing program,” says Klaas. “He’ll work extra hours just so I can go racing.”

At only 17, Brennon is crew chief of Klaas’ own racecar, a 1976 Plymouth Arrow, “the fastest Arrow that we know of right now in Canada, and hopefully in North America.” Running a small block Chevy 350 with injected alcohol, he’s already hitting 9.5 in the quarter mile. But soon they’ll be adding nitrous, hoping to hit 8.5 seconds in the Doorslammers Bracket (“the doors have to open and close, and you have to be between 8.70 and 6 seconds”). Brennon helps build the motor and is at the track every time the car goes out. According to Klaas, “I can’t race without him!” Already knowledgeable on the alcohol system, Klaas is now teaching him on the nitrous stuff. “I tell him, ‘When I hit that button you’d better know what’s happening inside my motor!’” This year, Brennon will be racing his own car for the first time, an ’87 Firebird.

His youngest son, 15-year old Devon, comes out to the track to watch the races, but his real love is hockey. “If he’s not playing hockey, he’s working it – either refereeing or score keeping.” Klaas understands that everybody has to have their own thing. “I enjoy the racing stuff, so that’s what I do.”
By being good at what he does, and by investing in the necessary equipment, Klaas has built a thriving business. The 1500-square-foot shop is just one big bay with two hoists, where “by stacking them up I can get five cars in.” And it’s always busy. His philosophy for success is simple: “Be honest with the customers.” Spend their money like it’s your money, he adds, and if you find something with the vehicle that will save them money while you’re into the job, you recommend doing it.

“The bottom line is, you still give them that option, whether it’s new or used parts, or whatever.”

With mandatory emissions testing in BC’s lower mainland, Buildit Auto does a lot of work helping drivers pass their annual AirCare test. Though at times critical of the extreme standards and the seemingly inconsistent testing procedures, Klaas has become very proficient at solving difficult drivability problems. As with any customer service issue, he keeps the customer on side by keeping them informed.
“I take readings both before and after an emissions repair and keep them on file to compare with, should the vehicle fail its test.”

Sometimes there’s no problem, just a need to retest the vehicle.

But though he’s good at his job, it’s his hobby he loves. The racetrack beckons him.

“It’s my favorite place,” he admits. “We just picked up a motorhome and an enclosed car trailer, and we’re gonna go out and have a good time this year at the track.”

When it’s Friday Race Day for the High School clubs, Klaas works right alongside Anderson. Although the real emphasis is on getting students out in their own cars, of the over 50 high schools currently holding membership in the Association, many have school cars that are maintained and driven by students in their automotive programs. Once at the track, Doug techs out the cars (checks for mechanical safety) while Klaas teaches the racing. “Any kids that wants to bring their own car, they just can’t go out on the track; they have to know all the rules and regulations.”

Klaas drives for the first couple of runs while the student rides along. “We go through and I explain all the people at the track, who they are and what their jobs are.” He explains how the lights on the tree work. Then there’s the protocol of going down the track, and things like what do you do when you go through the finish line. The students learn that because you have to turn left to get off the track, the guy on the left always has the right of way. Usually they’ll switch places after two runs, and then they’re on their own.
Safety is a big factor with the car club, as well as a good attitude.
As Klaas tells them, “Nobody’s forcing you to come here. You’re coming here because you want to, and we’re gonna teach you the safe way to do it.”

The goals of the BCSSMA are to encourage high school completion, responsible living, and character development by the students’ involvement in motorsport competition. That being said, for Klaas it’s still about having fun. He’s known for his practical jokes around the track, and for making outlandish faces at the other drivers during a race.

And speaking of fun, he’s just added a wing and a parachute to his racecar. With nitrous coming on board, it’s going to be a whole new ride. In fact, it’ll be a whole new license to thrill.

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1 Comment » for School’s a drag

    whats wrong with the way it was?

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