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Many of the largest and most influential companies within the hot rodding aftermarket industry began as one-man, part-time operations, and such is the case with Strange Engineering and its founder, Robert Stange. The origins of the company were humble enough, with Stange working many late evening hours after he punched out on the time clock from his daytime job to build parts for his friends within the drag racing fraternity.
Stange, who was born at the outset of World War II, learned welding in high school, and was later hired at the Portland Cement Association, a research laboratory for concrete located in Skokie, Ill. Through on the job training, he also became a skilled machinist.
While campaigning his ’50 Ford coupe at nearby Union Grove Raceway, he quickly began to attract the attention of other racers who were in need of his fabricating talents.
Robert began by shortening and re-splining stock axles for racing applications, and one thing led to another. Strange’s first actual product was a fabricated Anglia-style front spindle for dragsters. Then came such other items as wire wheels, and torsion bars. Strange Machine and Engineering was officially created in 1964.
His son, Jeff, has taken over running the business and agreed to answer some questions from the manufacturer point of view.
When did you start working as an exec with the business and what is your job with Strange these days?
Jeff Stange: Strange was in development in the late 1950’s, but became incorporated in 1964. We are very excited about celebrating our 50th anniversary with our customers throughout the year in 2014.
Prior to college graduation in 1988, I worked at Strange during high school and summers through college. Jobs progressed from selling shirts at events, broaching spools, simple manual mill operations, etc., to working my collegiate summers on instruction sheet layouts and marketing.
When I started at Strange full-time in 1988, the company was in a little disarray - mostly because of exceptional growth during the 1980s – including the massive success of my father’s Team Strange race team. I spent a lot of time in every area of the business, so I could have a complete understanding and working knowledge of how everything was connected or disconnected. I spent a lot of time listening to people and working with them. It certainly taught me quite a bit about people and working with a wide variety of personalities. At that point I was in my early twenties. During this process I spoke about work with my father just about every night. Asked him questions, listened, more questions, etc. – whatever we discussed, it was an unbelievable learning experience.
My father really wanted to focus on product and customers and never really liked dealing with the day-to-day issues– so he eventually assigned that role to me and away I went. I think I may have worn him out with questions, suggestions and changes.