OLDSMOBILE PERFORMANCE PROFILE: DOUG PETERSON/COMPTECH MACHINE There are many routes to Indianapolis. Partners Doug Peterson and Don Erb took a road less traveled to reach the Indy 500. Among the seven independent engine builders who...
OLDSMOBILE PERFORMANCE PROFILE:
DOUG PETERSON/COMPTECH MACHINE
There are many routes to Indianapolis. Partners Doug Peterson and Don Erb took a road less traveled to reach the Indy 500. Among the seven independent engine builders who supplied Oldsmobile IRL Aurora V8 engines for 32 drivers in this year's Indianapolis 500 starting field, Peterson and Erb stand out as exceptions to the generally accepted rules of oval track racing.
Peterson and Erb are the owners of Comptech Machine, an engine building enterprise headquartered in Eldorado Hills, Calif. California's fertile Central Valley is famous for its agriculture, but Peterson and Erb raise a different kind of crop: They build championship-winning racing engines. While the other Oldsmobile IRL engine builders are concentrated in the Midwest, Comptech is the "Left Coast" connection for Oldsmobile's new-generation 4.0-liter racing engine. Other IRL engine builders have roots in oval track and stock car racing, but Comptech earned its reputation in road racing.
Peterson and Erb founded Comptech in 1979 as an automotive machine shop specializing in high-performance street and sports car engines. An accomplished amateur road racer, Peterson won a pair of SCCA club racing championships. Honda recognized Comptech's potential and commissioned the company to campaign an Integra in SCCA competition in 1986. In the next five years, Peterson and driver Parker Johnstone won three championships and finished second in the two years they didn't take the title.
The Comptech team moved up to IMSA's Camel Lights division in 1991 with a Spice chassis powered by an Acura NSX engine. "With Parker driving, we won three consecutive driver and manufacturer championships in 1991-93, won the Daytona 24-hour race twice, and won the Sebring 12-hour once," Peterson recalls. "Parker set an IMSA record for the most number of pole positions and fastest laps."
The next step for Comptech was open wheel racing. "We ran six CART races in '94 and six races in '95," Peterson reports. "We did a lot of engine testing for Honda during that time. In '95, Parker sat on the pole for the Michigan 500 and was running away with the race when a wheel bearing failed. That's the way things go in racing.
"We ran a full season in CART in '96, but in the end it just didn't work out," Peterson concedes. "Parker left to drive for another team, while Don and I still had an engine shop to run. We wanted to get involved in the IRL. When we signed up Bradley Motorsports as a customer, we became part of the Oldsmobile program."
Comptech had enjoyed success previously with Oldsmobile engines. Peterson supplied the two-valve pushrod small-block V8s that powered Brix Racing's IMSA World SportsCar to consecutive victories in the Rolex 24 at Daytona in 1994 and 1995.
"We finished our first IRL Aurora V8 in January, 1997," Peterson remembers. "Buzz Calkins raced it in Orlando. The Bradley Motorsports team was our only full-season customer in '97, but we also did engines for Team Scandia driver Vincenzo Sospiri, who finished second in Loudon by six hundredths of a second.
"This year we picked up Price Cobb Racing as a customer, and we supplied engines for ISM Racing's Jeff Ward and Steve Knapp at the Speedway. We'll have three engines in the Indy 500, and that's about where we want to be.
"A total of 25 people work in our engine shop, racing shop, and CNC machine shop," Peterson says. "Six work on the IRL program. We're a relatively small builder, so we have to be careful about making too many commitments."
Peterson relishes the opportunity that the IRL's open engine rules have created. "I never seriously thought that Comptech would be building Indy car engines," he confides. "I have to admit that the engine leasing programs in CART always bothered me. When we raced in the Camel Lights series, we built the car, developed the race engines, and did everything. When we went to CART, we found ourselves in a series where you have to take an engine out of a box, stick in the car, and then put it back in a box again. The IRL has allowed us to do something we could never have done otherwise -- to build engines for Indy car racing. That's a real opportunity for us.
"The IRL rules allow us to 'massage' the engine's internal components -- the valvetrain, the camshafts, the pistons, and so on," Peterson reports. "I'm sure that every IRL engine builder is doing the same thing. We've all made progress since last year. Between the upgrades that GM Motorsports has developed and the improvements that the builders have made on their own, I estimate that the average