Racing Cars Is Starr Founder's Profitable Passion


Al Shawver's New Chassis Design Draws Raves -- And Orders -- After Debut

December 16, 1990

Al Shawver is a man of ideas.

The former Finksburg resident also is a man of determination, working hard to turn dreams into profitable business at his auto performance shop in Hagerstown.

Al got his start in racing as a helper at the age of 14. He knew then that he wanted to be a driver someday.

But, at 20, his dream of going racing was put on hold.

He spent eight years in the Navy, working half that time on nuclear submarine prototypes.

In 1974, he returned to the Finksburg area and began working for an engineering company that trains power plant operators for both conventional and nuclear-powered facilities.

He also returned to racing -- first as a crew member and later, when he thought the time was right, as a driver of his own car. And, as he is in everything he does, he was successful at it.

In 1983, he won the late-model track championship at the Lincoln Speedway in Hanover, Pa. Two years later, he won the late-model title at Winchester (Va.) Speedway. He recaptured the Winchester title in 1987.

Shawver finished in the top five in the point standings at both Hagerstown and Winchester speedways in each of the last six years that he raced.

In 1989, he left racing to open his shop, STARR Performance, in Hagerstown. Shawver said he picked the Washington County city because it placed him closer to a number of race tracks and provided good access to interstates 70 and 81.

At first, the shop sold only performance parts for street, drag and oval-racing cars. But Al was not satisfied. He still wanted to build racing chassis.

He moved to his current location, a 2,000-square-foot shop at 91 Western Maryland Parkway, last summer. The new place provided sufficient space to build cars.

In May, he began to build the first STARR chassis -- for semi-late or street stock divisions at area speedways.

Upon its completion, he raced the first car of his own design at the open competition street stock race at Hagerstown in November.

"I chose the open comp race to be the first one because I knew the competition would be the greatest," Shawver said. "I brought (the car) out under those circumstances because it would have a greater impact."

The car performed well, as one might expect of a project completed under Shawver's hand.

"It raced well against cars that were out all year," said Al proudly. "I am very, very pleased. I believe it opened up some eyes.

"They realize the odds that we were up against, and that impressed them even more."

The car won the first heat it raced in. Shawver then came back and ran in one of the top two spots for 47 laps of the feature race before motor problems forced him out, three laps from the end.

"The handling was most impressive," he recalled. "It had more forward bite than I had anticipated."

The forward bite makes the car quicker, enabling it to accelerate better coming out of the corner. With the proper set-up, which the new STARR chassis apparently has, the car provides more grip to the race track and keeps the wheels from spinning coming off the turn.

Al was not the only one impressed by the car's performance. He picked up orders for two more cars that day. So far, Shawver has built three chassis and is working on his fourth. He has orders to build four more.

The chassis-building business is very competitive, but Shawver is confident his chassis is the best.

"There are a lot of things that set my car above the others." he said.

"Simplicity, as far as the racer is concerned, for one.

"I have designed into the chassis the important things to keep adjustments to a minimum. The chassis is simple and light, but strong enough to take the abuse of three to four racing seasons. The car is not built to be a one-season car."

Shawver offers more than performance parts and chassis for the racer. He also offers years of racing experience and technical know-how.

"Most drivers, especially drivers with not much experience, don't understand what makes the car work and how to adapt the car to their style," he said. "This is where I can help someone.

"One of the most important things in making the car work is the weight and balance of the car, and that's where most inexperienced drivers miss the boat. I provide good track experience with my cars, and it will be hard to beat my cars in this class."

Al also can repair any chassis or set up cars and he has a large parts inventory.

"And if I don't have it in stock, I have quick access to all major chassis suppliers across the country," he said.

Building race cars is not a business that will make you rich overnight.

But it is a business that can be very rewarding.

Al has done well in everything he has done.

There is no reason to believe that his new STARR chassis won't be successful, too.

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