Racing mechanic opens shop in A.L.

Published 9:30 am Monday, April 19, 2010

Almost as soon as he could drive he was racing. Now Kevin Stoa’s back in Albert Lea to work on racing engines.

Stoa owns Kevin Stoa Engineering in Albert Lea, and it’s been open since January.

“Well, I’m from here originally,” Stoa said. “I graduated in ’87.”

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Stoa’s older brothers were into motors and all things cars, which is how Stoa got into the business originally.

“I’ve been racing since ’85,” Stoa said. “I just got more and more passionate about it.”

Stoa took a job with JR Motorsports, where he managed a race engine shop for seven years in Ankeny, Iowa. He was looking for a change and was hired as a Sprint Cup engine assembler for a NASCAR team. He was in North Carolina for three years with driver Chip Ganassi’s team.

“They shut down their engine shop,” Stoa said. “They’ll lease instead of fixing their own.”

After the shop shut down, Stoa moved back to Albert Lea to start his own business. He said any business can be a challenge, but he’s up for it.

“It’s a challenge every day,” Stoa said. “To build something that will be abused — it’s not like a car that someone will take care of.”

He hopes that the engines he works on will last, and his goal is to be better than other race engine shops.

“Building something better than our competition and going beyond expectations is what we strive for,” Stoa said.

Stoa has two other full-time employees, Preston Brogard and Jerry Nelson.

“We’re all experienced engine builders,” Stoa said.

Stoa’s shop usually works on dirt-track race engines. They’re raced in places such as Lansing and Deer Creek, but Stoa has customers from all over the United States.

“We have about 20 specialized machines,” Stoa said. “We do mainly racing engines and restorations on old Camaros and classic cars.”

Most of his clients are people he met while racing or working on race engines in Iowa and North Carolina.

“We have a fair amount of people who get referred to us,” Stoa said.

The majority of dirt track race cars are built from Chevrolets. They’re common, mass-produced cars.

“Usually their parts are cheaper than Dodge or Ford,” Stoa said.

Stoa plans to stay in Albert Lea because so far his business has been prospering. His shop is at 130 North Broadway Ave. in Albert Lea.

“This is a permanent move,” Stoa said. “Things are going well.”

Stoa would consider expanding some day, but doesn’t like that large companies usually can’t interact with customers as much.

“We’ll just see where it goes,” Stoa said. “I’m prepared to expand but I want to keep a personal touch with everything.”

Stoa describes himself as passionate about racing engines. A lot of his customers come back again because they wear out their engines.

“We have racing customers who come back at least yearly,” Stoa said. “Then people who have street rods and do drag racing may only get an engine every 5 years.”

Stoa also hopes to get more machinery to better suit his business. One machine he hopes to have up and running by August is the dynamometer.

“It tests the engine’s torque and horsepower,” Stoa said. “You run the engine and put a load against it and test it at high rpm.”

Stoa wants to get back into racing again, and there are a few tracks in southern Minnesota and Iowa. One event is the Super Nationals competition in Boone, Iowa.

“People come from all over to compete in it,” Stoa said.

Stoa works on engines from around the country including some from California, Texas, Missouri and Arkansas just to name a few, but he’s not opposed to working on different kinds of engines.

“I tell people I’ll do anything to make a dollar,” Stoa joked.