Fabricator specializes in high-end roll cages, exhaust systems
February 1, 2013
After realizing he was spending too much time traveling, risk management consultant Hank Padilla decided to take a dramatic career detour. He did some vocational coursework and opened a fabrication shop, serving the local area (Littleton, Colo.) with precision tube bending and GTAW for roll cages and exhaust systems.
What do you do if your professional job involves too much travel, and you have a hankering to change careers? If you’re Hank Padilla, you change careers—you quit your job, enroll in a trade school, work up a business plan, and open a small fabrication shop after you graduate. It actually took quite a bit of time and effort before Padilla was ready to initiate this big, life-changing plan, but in a nutshell this is how he transitioned from a buttoned-down consulting career in risk management to a high-octane path he blazed to become a co-founder, a co-owner, and the lead fabricator at Hanksville Hot Rods, Littleton, Colo.
The longtime racing enthusiast and family man found that he wasn’t happy spending time on the road. “I was traveling too much,” Padilla said, and it was tough to keep up with his daughters’ hobby, racing junior dragsters.
“We would spend a weeknight or part of a weekend overhauling a carburetor or doing some other work on the dragsters, and we’d watch “Monster Garage,” and I guess you could say I watched one too many episodes. I realized I wanted to spend more time with my family,” he said.
Padilla had been a hobby welder and fabricator for years, but had never been too serious about it. Spending weekends at Bandimere Speedway in Morrison, Colo., had immersed him and his wife, Jennifer, in the racing culture, and eventually they gave some thought to starting their own business.
Padilla enrolled in a trade school and focused on two areas, collision refinishing and street rod fabrication. As he was progressing in his coursework, Padilla and his wife pondered specific business models, looking for a niche. A few twists and turns led them to specialty tube fabrication. They knew of a handful of small, one- and two-man tube bending shops in their area, but figured that their specialized racing knowledge and Hank’s professional background would help them create a unique business, bringing something novel to the local area.
Padilla’s background gives Hanksville a thorough perspective on making roll cages. A guy who races a 2000 Ford Mustang® that turns a quarter-mile in less than 13 seconds; puts his daughters on the track in junior dragsters; is a certified technical inspector for the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) and National Auto Sport Association (NASA); is the chief tech inspector for NASA’s Rocky Mountain Region; and serves as a volunteer technical inspector for the Porsche Club of America’s Rocky Mountain Region and Sports Car Club of America’s Colorado Region is a guy who knows a lot about roll cages.
“The best way to build true competition roll cages is to understand the mindset of the tech inspector and also to understand the rules and their intent,” he said. “It provides a deep knowledge about the rules.”
The key to making a high-quality roll cage is mandrel bending, which Padilla cites as a unique service in the Littleton area. The mandrel fills the tube to preserve its shape, preventing it from flattening during the bending process. The knowledge developed for mandrel-bending roll cages transfers to exhaust systems, so the Padillas went after this market too. The mandrel is more critical in exhaust systems, because the material is thinner and the bends are tighter than for roll cages. Padilla can bend radii as small as 1.5 times the tube’s diameter (1.5D in bending parlance) and space them closely together, with as little as 2 times the tube’s diameter between the bends.
Although roll cages and exhaust systems seem like complementary products, they actually go to two separate markets—race cars and street cars.
“We make custom mandrel-bent and TIG-welded stainless steel exhaust systems for performance cars—Audis and Porsches, and muscle cars like Chevelle®s, Camaro®s, and Mustangs,” he said.
“Mainly they’re looking for performance and sound,” Padilla explained. “The mandrel keeps the tube from crushing, kinking, or rippling, so you have much nicer, more beautiful, and better-flowing tubes.”
Padilla brought risk management knowledge with him to this business venture. For example, to reduce the risk associated with a downturn in one of the company’s business segments, Padilla sought a third revenue stream, which the company calls its commercial business.
“These projects can be anything, from production bending for manufacturers to local racing shops that outsource roll cages to us to university students building something for a senior project,” Padilla said.
He also applies risk management to roll cage design. Padilla discussed a recent roll cage he made for a customer with a Jeep®. He views a specific outcome, rolling the Jeep, as a certainty rather than a probability. Padilla assumes a worst-case scenario and builds the roll cage appropriately.
“It’s the same for our road-race cars. We know that every road-race car goes off track at some point, and you never know what you’re going to hit or what you’re going to encounter,” Padilla said.
Regardless of what the driver encounters, he’ll be thankful he encountered Hanksville Hot Rods first.