Strange Oval is a relatively new division of Strange Engineering, established in 2012 to service the circle track market in the same way that Strange has successfully served the drag racing market for over 50 years.
“Jeff Stange (the owner of the Strange companies) felt like the drag race side of the business had reached its limits for what could be done to expand the product line,”explains Jim Kontje, President of Strange Oval. “Jeff had always wanted to get into the oval track market because much of what Strange makes for drag racing can carry over to the oval track market with very slight application adjustments. It was a natural fit for Strange to expand the product line to include the oval track market with our signature axle product, KERA, which takes oval track racing axles to a new level of technology.”
To learn more about Strange Oval and the racers it supports and works with, The Burnout sat down with Kontje as well as Justin O’Brien, a racer and builder who has been instrumental in helping to develop and test some of the new Strange Oval products, on and off the track.
The Burnout: Strange Oval has been very involved with both specific race series and specific racers. We talked a little bit about the Midwest Late Models and Dirt Modified Models before, so what can you tell me about those series’ and the ways in which Strange supports those racers?
Jim Kontje: There are a vast numbers of cars that run in and around the midwest, and in particular under the IMCA sanction. We consider it one of our “target” market areas. Our axles offer certain advantages that compliment the variations in horsepower, tire compounds and chassis, depending on which class of car you run. We work directly with chassis builders to insure our products are optimized and that often carries over to the chassis builder customers that we’ll work with directly in order to fine-tune the applications, whether tuning for better corner exit when on the throttle or for more corner exit forward bite. We accomplish this with various combinations of axle diameters to best suit the characteristic the racers are most looking for. We’re also a contingency sponsor to IMCA as they are very pro-active in “giving back” to the racers.
It’s a very “hands on” approach. We give racers certain options to try in order to validate the types of performance gains our products can offer. That gets a racer’s attention and they will normally come back to us to run our full axle combinations. There are certain things that racers can try that mirror what we offer but don’t go the whole way. Once you expose racers to a small set of advantages they usually want to go the whole way with our stuff. We simply dangle the carrot of what our axle technology can provide.
The Burnout: Strange also has a type of informal partnership with Justin O’Brien. Can you talk a little bit about that, and how important on-track field testing can be?
Jim Kontje: It started when Justin first called us about our KERA axles. Strange Oval, at the time, had only been in existence for 5 months and really didn’t have much penetration within the Midwest dirt modified market at that point. We just hit it off and he offered his time as well as track time to test our axles to better understand what advantages they may offer. We were relatively unknown at that time and he saw something in what we offered and was open-minded enough to give us try. We make it a point to get Justin’s feedback if we’re looking to try something new or have an idea about making improvements with our products.
He was an integral part in driving us to make smaller diameter KERA axles for the modifieds as well as smaller axles for the B-mods and Sport mods which had less horsepower and didn’t need the thicker axles we had been making at the time. That was around the PRI trade show last year and today we have all the applications covered with axles specifically for these lower horsepower cars.
Of course Justin was one of the very first to run the parts and continues to do so today. I have great respect for Justin and consider him a friend. We’ll have one of Justin’s modifieds in our booth at the PRI trade show coming in December.
The Burnout: Jim, are there specific products that you’re working on that Justin is helping to test? Anything we should be looking out for, and can you talk about past products that have benefited from that relationship?
Jim Kontje: Currently Justin’s running our new aluminum drive plates that I mentioned earlier. He’s just putting laps on them so we’re confident they’ll withstand anyabuse before bringing them to market toward the end of the year. He’s my first call and is the one that offers up the time and help whenever we ask. We had the same type of relationship with the axles when we were looking to try different axle diameter combinations and he’ll be one of my first calls at which point we’re ready to build a quick-change rear end. I think we have a mutual respect and understanding that I’ll provide a product he can trust and he’s going to provide the feedback I need to make it better and we’re going to “listen” to what he has to say. It’s a great example of how it’s supposed to work.
Justin O’Brien: We have helped Strange Oval in building a new rear axle drive flange for the modifieds. It isn’t completed yet but should be real soon and, just because Jim has mentioned this to me, I would like to help them develop a new quick change rear end. They are a great company to work with, they don’t just wanna hear all the good news, they are always wanting to make their products better so if that means getting some criticism then they are completely ready to listen. That’s what it takes to be the best and have the best products!
The Burnout: What are the specific types of products Strange has for the modified racer?
Jim Kontje: Presently we’re supplying the various classes our KERA axles but we’ve just started making axle drive plates that are aluminum bodies with a press fitted steel splined insert. We do a similar product for the Late Model market as well. You gain the weight benefits from having the aluminum housing yet far better durability with the steel spline insert as compared to an all-aluminum drive plate. We’re also considering a quick-change rear end at some point in the future.
We’re building rear ends for drag racing that can withstand 15,000 ft. lbs. of torque so I’m confident we can build a rear end for the modifieds (& late models) that can withstand any abuse that may be thrown at it. It’s a farly large undertaking and we have to be certain we’re prepared on all fronts to tackle the project. We also listen very closely to what a racer wants or feels needs improvement, we look for opportunities based on direct market feedback and if we can bring something to market that offers improvements at an affordable price. We’re “listeners” at Strange Oval.