Suceesful Engine Business a Big Part of His Short Track Effort by MikeTwist
Throughout the years, there have been more than a few drivers who have blamed their poor performance on not having enough horsepower under the hood.  Engine builders have been the scapegoats for everything from poor set-ups to terrible wheelmen.
Then again, it’s not very likely for Helton to struggle much.  He scored his second career SAS championship in 2004 and did so in style by winning four out of seven events.  In fact, he never finished outside the top five all year long is SAS competition.  Helton also won his second career pole position for the prestigious Snowball Derby.

“We had a great year,” said Helton.  “We ran good and put ourselves in a position to win.  We were also real lucky during the year and that helps.”
Helton made some fireworks of his own when he won the pole for the Snowball Derby.  (Speed 51 Photos)

Volunteer Performance is located in a shop behind Volunteer Chevrolet in Sevierville, Tennessee.  Helton is the owner of the dealership and runs it as his day job.  In the engine shop, Robbie White is the head engine builder on a total staff of three.  White has been with Helton since 1996, when Volunteer Performance got their start.

“We started out building engines locally,” said Helton.  “We were building engines for Frankie Grill’s car when Wayne Anderson drove it and when he won the NASCAR All Pro {Now SES] championship in 1999, it was with one of our engines.  Frankie’s always had good drivers that have finished good and that speaks well for his cars and our engines.  But we’ve also done well with our engines in
Speed51's Jeremy Troiano interviews Helton at the Snowball Derby.
other cars.  Jeff Fultz won the championship this year with one of our engines in a Hamke car.”

Ironically, the record for SES victories was recently broken by Fultz using Volunteer power.  The previous record holder Anderson, who notched two championships with Helton’s engines under his hood.
Helton gets the best engines.  When three engines were put on the dyno before going to Kentucky Speedway last year, the Fultz engine showed five horsepower over the one of Stanley Smith.  Helton’s motor had five fewer horsepower than that one.

“I don’t always get the best stuff,” said Helton.  “It’s the luck of the draw.”

The move from the Southern All Stars to the higher profile Southeast Series is a big step, but it’s one that Helton’s team is ready to take.
Helton paces the #5 of Steve Wallace.
“We’ve been running the Southern All Stars for several years,” said Helton.  “Now we have the opportunity to move up, so I’d like to try something different.”

The kind of record that Helton put together last year in SAS would be next to impossible to duplicate in the SES, but he still he high hopes for the season.

“I’d like to finish in the top five of the points,” said Helton.  “It might be a struggle since it is a new series with different rules, but I like to set my goals high.”

A 2005 SES schedule has yet to be released, but Helton is already planning to add a few races to his own racing schedule for the year.
Helton (R) hangs out with Florida's Jay Middleton before the start of the '04 Snowball Derby.
“We are going to pick and choose some of the straight rail races this year,” said Helton.  “I think that we are going to start with the Southern All Stars race at Birmingham.”

One place where Helton hasn’t been racing has been in Florida.  He has decided not to enter Speedfest at USA International Speedway or Speedweeks at New Smyrna Speedway to instead stick to the engine building business at the busiest time of the year.

“We’ve got several motors that we need to build,” said Helton.  “Right now, we are just trying to catch up.”

Catching up isn’t easy.  It takes as long as two months for Volunteer to go from an order to a finished engine.  But to their customers, it’s worth the wait for one specific reason.

“Every motor is custom built,” said Helton.  “We don’t have a pool of engines waiting.  Each engine is specific and we can tailor it to what the customer needs.  We have a small shop and doing one at a time might hurt us in some ways, but it is good in the long run.”

If Gary Helton struggles at all during the upcoming NASCAR Southeast Series season, he’ll have to come up with another excuse than his motors.  Helton will have powerplants from Volunteer Performance Race Engines in his #68 car as he makes the full-time move from the Southern All Stars Series to SES competition and there are a few reasons why blaming the engine builder won’t work to mask his bad runs.

First of all, Volunteer horsepower helped win Jeff Fultz the SES title last year.  It was also under Stanley Smith’s hood when he won at Kentucky Speedway.  Wayne Anderson has beat up on the SES guys in recent seasons with Volunteer engines as well.  The engines are proven to win.

Secondly, Helton owns the company.  He started Volunteer Performance nearly ten years ago, so the old adage of where the buck stops definitely applies to his own race team.

At night, Helton, White and the rest of the team stop selling cars and building engines and get to work on their racecars.  White is the crew chief for Helton’s cars.

Having two roles in racing can be conflicting sometimes, but even when he is racing against his own engines, Helton keeps everything in perspective.

“I want to win as a driver, but if I can’t do that I’m behind the guys that have our engines,” said Helton.  “Sometimes seeing them win can be just as satisfying.”

And just because he is the owner, doesn’t mean that