Chris Graham and Charles Carden

Spirit Of Mazda: Chris Graham

Engine builder places people before profits

There are a lot of good engine builders who are excellent at what they do, and for all of them, the goal is to deliver the best powerplant they can. That is Chris Graham’s goal as well, but that’s because he’s all about making the customer happy.

“What I like about Chris is his willingness to help people for the good of the sport,” says Shea Hughes, owner of Racing Analytics and a customer of Graham’s. “He is the owner of Race Engineering, which has built a ton of Spec Miata engines. He’s really done a tremendous job of rebuilding that business, [and] he’s done that through relationship building. He has a tremendous ability to accommodate the needs of racers at all levels, from club racers on a shoestring budget to someone that wants to test the pro ranks and build something on the higher end.”

Hughes isn’t alone in his feelings about Graham. Like Hughes, Charles Carden is in the prep shop business and, like Hughes, is a beneficiary of Graham’s services.

“He’s a great guy with a big heart,” says Carden. “He’s really conscientious about his business. Last year we had an issue with an engine, and he made three six-hour trips from his house down to Atlanta to help us get the problem solved. We left the same day we put the motor in and went racing, and it ran flawlessly after we got the hiccups solved.”

Carden attributes much of his success, and the success of drivers in his cars, to Graham. Carden’s customers have competed and won in a variety of venues such as SCCA, American Endurance Racing, World Racing League and SVRA. Building Spec Miata engines these days has some significant challenges, but Graham has proven up to the task.

“It’s a complicated rule set, and I don’t envy him, at least where Spec Miata is now,” says Hughes. “You have to be right at the edge, but you can’t be over – that’s a lot of pressure for an engine builder. As prep shops, we have a habit of calling and saying, ‘I want the biggest, best engine you’ve got, but it can’t be over.’ He’s got to comply with the current specifications. That’s a tough job and a lot of pressure from guys that want to see big numbers on a dyno but don’t know what goes into making that number.”

Both Carden and Hughes also note Graham’s fun side, and that plays a big part in how Graham has run his business. Graham doesn’t just build engines; he builds relationships. “That’s the root of his business,” says Hughes. “It’s not about profit margins, not solely about performance, it’s about making sure that his customers are happy and making sure he does everything he can to accommodate those customers.”

For adhering to the principle of flawless execution, Chris Graham is the April recipient of the Spirit of Mazda award.