Spec Miata specialist grew from fun-loving humble beginnings
As a prep shop, Old Dogs Racing happened kind of by accident, explains Mark Gibbons, who with partner John Watson runs the Spec Miata specialist. Track days turned into racing, racing turned into a small shop to keep his and his buddies’ cars going, which turned into a business.
“We started doing some track days with our street cars – Corvettes and Mustangs and things of that nature,” says Gibbons. “A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you drive one of my Miatas and see what you think?’ Going from 150mph to 100 is a big difference, but he said, ‘Going through the corners, you’re going to be going a lot faster.’ So I jumped in the Miata and I fell in love with the car. And the cost of running the Miata vs. a Corvette or a Mustang really made me think about doing this as a sport and creating a race team amongst our friends.
“Once we started doing that, I was bringing my cars to some different prep shops and I was not at all happy with the quality of work I was receiving for the cost. Therefore I opened my own shop to do the work on our own vehicles. People started seeing the prep on our cars, where we were going to the track and not having breakdowns and mechanical failures, and it just caught on from that.”
Now, aside from their personal cars, Old Dogs takes care of 14 customer cars with the help of Richard Thompson and Woody – “Just Woody,” says Gibbons. The shop has four ’02 and two ’99 Spec Miatas that it rents. Being based in Florida, they have a lot of customers coming from up north to run the winter races in January and February. The shop also builds cars. Old Dogs races primarily with NASA and SCCA, and Gibbons is pretty proud of some NASA races he’s won. But it’s not just “old dogs” running out of the shop. The team has welcomed several new, young drivers coming out of karts.
“I see some growth with the younger crowd coming in because of the competition and the cost of road racing,” Gibbons says. “Spec Miata is by far the strongest class. [Spec Miata] gets a lot of publicity in certain magazines and a lot at the tracks with people coming to watch just because it’s so competitive. When you’re racing three and four wide through the corners and nobody is touching, it’s absolutely incredible. And also the support from Mazda Motorsports for having all the parts we need on a consistent basis.”
Growth in the class fuels growth in Old Dogs’ business, most of which Gibbons says comes from word of mouth. It’s good old-fashioned honesty that he believes sets him apart and is helping that growth.
“Being truthful, showing people what we find on their vehicles,” he explains. “There’s no behind-door type work being done on their cars unless they approve it, unless they see it. And the fact that it shows on the track the next time they’re in the car. Customers have told me, ‘Hey, I cut my time by a second from my best thanks to the way the car handles and drives now.’”
What started out as some buddies having fun together has blossomed into a business built around their passion, which isn’t a bad way to earn a living.
Old Dogs Racing
* There was an error with Richard Thompson’s name in this story when first published; our apologies to Mr. Thompson.