If Ron Hoettels (pronounced “huddles”) had become an exterminator instead of an engine builder, the world would have a better mouse trap; he would insist upon it. Hoettels has always wondered about all things mechanical – how they worked and if there was a way to make them work better than they do. As a kid, he tore apart his dad’s lawn mower, much to his father’s consternation – that is, until his dad found it much easier to mow the lawn with the new and improved Ron Hoettels mower.
When Ron entered the Soap Box Derby in 1947, his car won the “Best Engineered,” award; by 1949 it had been outlawed. It was valuable experience for future battles with rules makers.
In the 1950s, Hoettels was introduced to midget racing. Midgets were the going thing around Ron’s home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; he took a liking to the mighty mites right from the get-go. His machine shop business came first, however, and it wasn’t until the mid-1960s that Ron started thinking about midget car engines. Many of his midget racing friends were complaining about the high cost of a 110 Offy, and Hoettels thought there should be something out there that would run just as good as an Offy for less money.
Many racers of the day were going with the Chevy II or other 4-cylinder stock block engines. “Those engines were designed for economy, so it was tough to get much horsepower out of them,” Hoettels says.
“The small block Chevy [V-8] was a performance engine, but at 265-302 cubic inches, it was twice as big as a stock block was allowed to be in midget racing. So why not cut it in half and see if we can make that work.” And that's just what Ron did. In the end, he used only about one-quarter of the Chevy engine block. He then designed and manufactured an aluminum crankcase and front-drive unit, along with a custom balanced crank-shaft for the engine. The cylinders, cam-shaft and head were all Chevy, however. Hoettels built his own fuel injection setup for the engine, a practice he would continue for all of his engines. The price tag for this inline four: $3,300. That compared well to the $5,000-$8,000 price tag for an Offy.
The final thing Hoettels needed for his new engine was a name, so he came up with Speed Engineering Service Co., abbreviated to “SESCO”. Ron sold the first SESCO engine to car owner, Howard Linne. Linne won some races with it, and then Mel Kenyon bought one and won the Twin-50s at DuQuoin, Ill., prov-ing the superiority of the SESCO. Soon, every major team had switched from the traditional Offenhauser to SESCO power, and were winning everywhere.
Hoettels ultimately built nearly 300 of the Chevy V8-based inline-fours; he even built a Ford version, before the bottom dropped out of the market for the SESCOs in 1976. That year, Ron's engine got “shot down” by a little German economy car engine – the Volkswagen. It wasn't horsepower that made the VW engine a winner; it was the fact that it was a flat-four which lowered the car’s center of gravity. Plus, the VW was air-cooled, so no water or radiator was necessary, which significantly reduced the weight of the car.
Ron’s answer to the VW engine challenge was to build an opposed four-cylinder engine of his own, still using at least part of the top end of the small-block Chevy (in this case, aluminum heads.) He produced about 50 of these engines. When USAC cut the allowable cubic inches to 146 for this engine, it was no longer competitive.
Ron built another flat-four in 1978 which was an expensive “Spite” engine. This engine utilized the crankcase from his previous engine, but this time with new cylinders and double overhead cams. He built just one of these engines, which is on display in our museum. It was a winning engine, but was only legal in the Badger Midget Auto Racing Association.
In 1983, Hoettels designed a V-8 engine based on the top end of two Kawasaki 1000cc 4-cylinder motorcycle engines with a Hoettels-designed bottom end. Midget legend, Mel Kenyon, did much of the development work on the engine, which produced 256-horsepower at 8,500 rpm. The engine was also adapted to drag bikes, boats and land speed cars.
Another SESCO V-8 creation is the Suzuki Hayabusa V-8 engine, which is similar to the Kawasaki V-8; it utilizes two 4-cylinder top ends from a sport bike, mounted on a Hoettles'-built crankcase. The Hayabusa could turn about 11,000 rpm consistently. Greg Nelson won the Badger midget championship with this engine in 1983. Hoettels developed a V4 engine in '91 which Dan Boorse took to several victories in the Badger midget club.
In 1995, Ron developed a 2-cycle engine using four Honda 500cc water-cooled heads. The 120-c.i. engine proved unsuccessful. Hoettels built another inline 4-cylinder engine in 2001, going back somewhat to his beginnings. He cut a Mopar sprint car engine in half to make an inline four. With Tracy Hines at the controls of the Wilke-PAK midget, it won in its maiden USAC voyage at the Fall Harvest Classic at Terre Haute, Ind., in 2001. At 165-cubic inches, the Mopar-SESCO won the 2003 Badger championship. The Mopar-SESCO is the latest and last in a long line of midget racing successes for the one-time Offy slayer.