The Nuts and Bolts of Racing… Literally – with Steve Brendle

The Nuts and Bolts of Racing… Literally – with Steve Brendle

On this episode of the Racing Insiders Podcast, Kate interviewed Steve Brendle of ATC Bolts and Fasteners – an entrepreneurial wizard specializing in bolt and fastener packages for race cars. We explored the nuts and bolts (literally!) of racing performance and learn from Steve’s expertise. From securing safety to optimizing speed, this episode has it all. 

ATC Bolts has been an exhibitor at CARS Racing Show for several years. This year, they will be in Booth 501, where they will have products available to buy and take home, as well as answer any questions you may have about nuts, bolts, fasteners, and more.

Topics covered in this interview include:

  • The History Behind the Nuts and Bolts
  • ATC Bolts Involvement Trackside and in Trade Shows
  • Expansion and Transition
  • Not All Bolts are the Same – What’s the Difference?
  • Why Bolts? – The History of ATC Bolts
  • Racing and How it Led to a Bolt Company
  • Durability and Reliability
  • Counterfeit Bolts
  • You Get What You Pay For – Literally

The History Behind the Nuts and Bolts (1:01)

So I grew up racing my whole life. For the last probably seven or eight years. I started racing late models down here in Tampa, Florida, at East Bay and tracks around and I worked for I was always an auto mechanic. I worked for diesel guys. I worked for Frank Power and Caterpillar, I worked for a lot of companies and then a buddy of mine, actually the guy that’s my car behind us, the guy I had building my car and doing all this stuff. He he was like, Hey, I’m gonna start a bolt business. Cool. Well, he was up in Lake City, and I’m down here in Tampa, Florida. And I was like, Well, if you want I’ll sell bolts down here in Tampa, I know a lot of guys. And he. He said, okay, cool. So we kind of did that for a year back and forth. I sold bolts down here. He sold a few up there mostly body bolts. A few races, some stuff here and there, not much. And then about a year later, he didn’t want to do it anymore. He’s like, hey, why don’t you buy my ATC Bolts? For me? It seems like you really want to do it. I was like, Yeah, I really want to do it. I got this vision, what I think it can be. And he’s like, cool. So I ended up buying everything from him. I bought all the stock and I bought all the I bought the name and and everything that was there – wasn’t much established. But it was very small amount. But I bought it all and I kind of turned it into what it is today. We’ve been doing it solid since 2019. But I quit my job in 2021 June 2021. And I started doing it full time in July. Well, it was like right in the end of June, July, I was doing it full time. And matter of fact, I have some pictures of the very first show that I decided to go and be a vendor to and it was in the back of my pickup truck. And I went to Rural King and bought a pop up tent. And I had a buddy of mine make me a big ATC sticker that I was going to put on the back of my glass window. I didn’t use it yet. So I hung it, I put some clamps on the front of the table. And that’s when we started. And I remember we went to Waycross, Georgia, for the first show was called the Borderline Brawl. It’s pretty big event that history started that. And we went and that’s kind of how it all started. We just kept going. Your show was actually the very next show we ended up going to outside of a few races down here for Speedweeks. We did a few shows or a few races down here Speedweeks last year, or that first year, I’m sorry. And then we went to the CARS Show and that was the first time I’ve never been to PRI I’ve never been to any trade show. Never been any Expo show or nothing like that. And to go to your show and I’m like, wow, this is this is cool. And we did really good. That show we did that was actually probably to date one of the best shows we’ve ever done at the CARS Show at Hickory.

ATC Bolts Involvement Trackside and in Trade Shows (4:19)

Last year was a record year of the amount of trackside events and trade shows and whatever else we did. We did the Bristol Dirt Nationals last year, which wasn’t a success by any means. I don’t think it was a success for anybody, but it was definitely awesome. We spent a lot of money to go up there. We were able to sponsor the 602 series. The ATC Bolts 602 Late Models for Bristol Dirt Nationals and to be part of that and to see you know my name up on the Jumbotron at Bristol was was life changing for sure. We did El Dora Million. That was a long ways for us that was like 19 hour drive it was a long way. We ended up doing the Gateway National, won’t be going back to the Gateway nationals. It’s just too far and there’s some other things going on there too. But we went to PRI last year, we’re able to share a booth with Dirt Car Lift those are some good buddies of ours. This year, I think we’re gonna get a booth. We haven’t quite locked that in yet. But we do plan on being there. At PRI it’s kind of up in the air whether we decide to get a booth or we just kind of fly out there. We haven’t decided yet. But we will be there so whoever’s listening and watching come and find us if you guys need anything feel free to shoot me a text or an email saying you know asking any questions as far as are we going to be at a certain event you know, if you guys wanted to save some money in shipping, and we could probably possibly meet you at the event. We call those pre sales. So if you guys want to buy something and say hey, I’m going to the El Dora Nationals coming up you know if we decided to go or whatever, which I don’t think we’re going to it’s a little last minute but for an example you know we can we can always bring product let’s save a bunch of money on shipping and all that kind of stuff.

Expansion and Transition (8:24)

Yeah, so that’s kind of our niche. When Anthony asked me if I wanted to buy this business from him, he originally had a vision of being a supplier, more or less for the industrial and commercial side, which we do that as well. We’re actually believe it or not, we’re switching back. We’re transitioning back a little bit more into that for the offseason and whatnot to take care of the suppliers, the builders, the manufacturers in the fabricators the guys that use stuff all year round for them to restock in the summertime, or in the offseason, if you will. That’s kind of where we originally started the business in a wholesale sense. buy it in bulk, save money, get the best price, drop ship, whatever. But now we have a whole second wing to that is ATC Bolts – what everybody knows – then there is the fastener side. And the fastener side is anything that goes on racecar we take care of it. We have chassis kids from Longhorn, to Rocket, to Warrior, to Savage chassis – and we do all the main brand chassis. And actually, we can do some custom stuff as well. We’ve had a couple guys reach out say hey, I’ve got this and then if I send you a list, absolutely send me a list. I’ll make it not a problem, it’s just it’s there’s no different than making an XR1 kit to making somebody else’s homemade car or an off brand name or whatever there’s not many have sent me a list is I’ll just follow the list exactly the way you send it to me, and I’ll build it however you want it. But we do everything from body kits, that’s kind of where we started, it was easy enough to just start putting kits together for all the guys that that go through 10 bodies a year, you know, some of the super guys or the elite classes. Or if there’s just a small town guy like myself, that just races one car every now and then puts the body on at the end of the year, we have everything covered there. In comparison to prices, I mean, we’re way out front, when it comes to prices. There’s a bunch of copycats out there trying to take the idea of the kits, but at the end of the day, we’re just the best when it comes to building the kits, We’re the original, we had the original idea. We put a lot of time and a lot of effort, and quite a bit of money as far as figuring out how we’re going to work out for the kits. But we do chassis kits we do body fastener kits, there’s a little bit everything that we do do. There’s not much that we don’t do. We’re really like I said a little while ago, we’re really kind of transitioning into more of a wholesale, dealer, specific program type deal. such as yourself, you were one of our first dealers matter of fact, to jump on, I think for the first CARS Show that we went to, you had me kind of coordinated, and I brought you some stuff for that show. I’m not Am I right? Yeah I brought you a gift for that deal. That’s pretty cool. You’re one of the first dealers for us, we’re kind of thinking that if if we switch over – not switch more or less – just transition a little bit more towards the dealer side, it’d be more beneficial, because we’ll have you know, if we have 10 dealers, we have essentially 10 lines in the water, if you will, if you’re you know, as far as that metaphor.

I mean, when you compare our bolts to Motorstate, or to any big brand, such as that, where 90% of racers are buying their stuff from anyways. Like, oh, well, I’ve got a whole list of stuff from Motorstate or from whoever they’re buying it from. They might as well throw in a pack of bolts or some rivets or whatever. They’re paying an insane amount of money. I mean, I’ve done the math. It’s ridiculous. It’s, it’s absolutely absurd to know how people don’t realize that man, I spent. I spent $400 on bolts last year, and I got nothing left. And you spent $400 on bolts with us, you’ll have enough bolts for the next three years, you know, the you’ll have high quality bolts – whichever one!

Not All Bolts are the Same – What’s the Difference? (13:08)

Yeah, for sure. I mean, every application for a bolt has its own specific reason for it. Whether it’s for let’s say stainless applications, that would be more of a marine side or for any kind of outdoors, where the applications are really harsh and the elements are the harsh. Generally you want to use a stainless but on a downside, stainless will never tarnish or rust or anything like that. But on downside stainless is a lot softer of material than let’s say, a grade 8 bolt or a grade five. That’s just more or less on the stainless to the steel side or the zinc side. When as far as grades go, it’s hard to explain. But obviously everyone knows higher the grade strong of the bolt. That is 100% true. But that same the same reasoning behind that is higher the grade, less forgiveness, I guess the grade like a grade five would have over a grade eight. The grade five yeah, it’ll shear at, I don’t even know probably about 600 pounds of tensile strength or whatever. But a grade 8 won’t shear for double that, or, or several 100 pounds more. I always tell everybody a grade five is more forgiving, it bends. You don’t want anything to bend! Put a grade 8 in there. And then you’re good to go. I mean, if you’ve bend a grade 8 bolt, I mean, you must have wacked something pretty hard. But if you had a grade five, in there are other than a grade eight, it would have just sheared it right off. Yeah, it would have been farther before it did shear or break or give out or fail. But at the end of the day, you just got that peace of mind that grade eight, grade eight is where it’s at. But there’s, there’s hundreds of 1000s of applications out there. Just know that everything with a bolt is a give and take. If you want to want more of one thing or more application, you’re gonna have to give it up somewhere else at the end of the day. Just like I said, with stainless, I mean, yeah, stainless, it’s at first thought stainless is, why don’t we use stainless for everything is never rusts, and never, and never tarnishes it’s it’s good for all the the elements. Why don’t we use stainless for everything? Well, at the end of the day, stainless is a softer, softer material than a grade eight. So like a three sixteenths stainless bolt is equivalent to about a grade five to grade four bolt. Maybe some of the – depending on what application if it’s a countersunk, a countersunk, or a cap screw, a cap screw. Fun fact a cap screw, or any kind of socket cap screw is going to be much, much stronger than any hex cap screw. why that is? I’m not sure. But it’s a fact that the cap screw is stronger than a hex cap bolt. That’s what’s happening.

Why Bolts? – The History of ATC Bolts (17:25)

When I first started this, I had no knowledge about anything bolts, I just know what kind of bolts go on a racecar. And what kind of bolts go on the body. And I had those. That’s why I started the business more or less in the racing community. Because I was already a little bit further along, I already had a little bit of a following more or less. I already had people that knew me. I kind of knew how to talk to them. I didn’t know the lingo. I had people when I first started this thing three years ago, I had people calling me and emailing me, hey, I need they would say this application. I have no idea what that is buddy. Like I don’t even I’m the bolt guy. And I have no idea what you’re talking about. And it was it was kind of a I won’t say an eye opener, but it was more or less a hurdle that I had to really get over. If I’m going to do this I have to learn, I have to know what is what and what not to do, what not to say and that type of thing. Because at the end of the day, if this is that these types of bolts are holding up 10,000 pounds above people’s heads, then it needs to, it needs to be right. Yeah, at some point, safety is involved and you know, well being is involved for sure. And definitely a reputation. One bad one bad mess up, you know, of either putting the wrong bolt or getting the wrong product to somebody and they use it incorrectly. Or if they order something, I have to say, hey, you know, this application is for a specific use and specific use only if you use it for anything else. It’s incorrect. Just like stainless I mean, I have to say that some people like Hey, you can’t, you can’t bolt on your your hitch to your trailer with a stainless bolt. It might work for a minute, but if you hit the brakes real hard, they’ll shear them right off, you know, or something along really loadbearing I tell him no, it’s not meant for that. You can’t use that because at some point, you know, it’s just gonna it’s gonna fail.

Racing and How it Led to a Bolt Company (20:22)

It’s not near as much as I want to. I just started back. I just started racing earlier this year. A good friend of mine that I’ve known and raced with for a long time, his name’s Sean Smith, might even heard of him. His son is Brendan Smith. They run super late models, and they were on the series and whatnot, Lucas Oil, and they run what they can and when they can, but they do that full time. And I happen to be talking to Sean one night, and a he had a doctor’s appointment or something. And I went over there, he wasn’t able to work on the car, and they were getting ready for speed weeks this last year. And I talked to Brendon, he’s like, yeah, that can’t work. I need help. I can’t do all this work by myself. So I went over there to help them. And we were talking and hanging out and they had like, at one point they had up to nine racecars there. They had a lot of race cars, but they just accumulated they tried, they traded some with money. And they just couldn’t sell some of them. They were in the transition of going from rockets, to Longhorns. And then now they’re back at rocket and they just ended up having all these race cars. And so they had a car there, and actually the car that was there, which was Kyle Bronson’s car in 2019 It was an XR1 that Kyle Bronson took to El Dora, one of the SuperS cars. It was just sitting there. I asked him say, hey, you know, what does this car need to go racing to go crate racing. And he kind of told me a list like, man, there’s not much needed a motorand a few other things. So he’s like, we kind of struck up a deal right there. And he’s like, if you buy the motor, I’ll let you drive the car I was like done deal. So I bought a motor. I bought a motor for my customers. And they came down from Delaware for the speed weeks last year. And they brought this motor down for speed weeks. And we did some wheeling and dealing and I traded him some bolts and gave him some money. And we kind of come up to an agreement, whatever. And I got the motor from him. And, and I slapped the motor in there. And then it was I think, when I first got it done, I raced once or twice, I think trying to get the bugs out. And then we didn’t race at all for the summer. And then we just tried to race this past weekend. And I’m still trying to get the bugs worked out of it. But I don’t get the race near as much. I’m definitely not going to be racing much in the next couple of weeks. We have we already have our fall schedule, or fall event schedule scheduled for the end of October. I think our first kickoff race will be the Powell Memorial at all tech Speedway on October 19,20th, and 21st. For the USA crate race and 20,000 win. So if you’re in the South Georgia or Florida make sure you guys come we’ll be there set up. Right about that time everybody’s starting to think about rebuild season and we we do pretty good there we’ve set up and we’re more or less just convenience. You know, shipping is just it’s outrageous nowadays, you know, firsthand, you know, you ship stuff every day, and I ship stuff all day every day. It’s what we do. And I had bought a box of nuts. The large flange nuts enough from a supplier out of Atlanta. Last week. I bought a box of like 5000 Whatever. And it weighed I think 60 pounds. No 38 pounds is what it was. It cost me almost $80 to ship it from Atlanta to here. $80 for one box of bolts, or nuts. Excuse me. It’s ridiculous. We tried to we bought the trailer when we first started this thing I had no intention. I had zero intention of being trackside, being a vendor. I never even considered it. But I bought a trailer. I got a good deal on a trailer. I was originally thinking that I would sell merchandise. I still will. That’s why I bought the trailer. Like I’ll set up merchandise trailer, whatever. And then I started slapping a few bolts in there and we went to you know we go do a show whatever and it turned out to be like Oh, he got this You got that? Yeah, I got all that. Next thing you know we’re selling bolts . And so now we have a whole setup. Yeah. 10 flags and tables and a whole display to make sure everybody gets what they need when they need it at the races, you know?

Durability and Reliability (27:59)

So I can tell you firsthand, I don’t make the bolts, we don’t make the bolts, the only thing we make in house is the kits. We assemble all of our kits, we assemble all of our orders here. We have 17 suppliers all over the world. About a dozen of them are in the United States. But we have our main supplier is worldwide. So they have manufacturers in China, and Taiwan, Italy. I think there’s some in Germany as well. And then they have like three or four of them here in the United States. So as far as application goes, it all kind of varies, but as far as quality goes, it’s all part of the same spectrum of specs. So, for let’s just say it’s on the same spectrum as medicine, because you have everyone has FDA approved whatever. It’s the same thing. It’s not necessarily FDA, but it’s it’s it’s the same standards that product has to meet the same benchmark in China as it does the United States. Even though it’s United States made, the material might be a little bit more pure, and your money is going to a good cause and you know, you’re keeping your money here in the United States. There’s definitely a benefit there. As far as quality goes, I guarantee you not one person can if I hold a China Bolt in one hand, and an American bolt and the other hand, I guarantee nobody knows the difference. They wouldn’t know the difference by looking at it. It all has to meet the benchmarks and the spectate and the expectations of the standards. So the standard is grade five, that’s kind of a code word for it has to meet this many, this many pounds of tensile strength asked me this many pounds of shear strength, it has to meet this type of material, it has to meet this, this and this, and this, it’s a checklist for every application. So when you want grade five, it means you’re gonna get a bolt, that’s about medium grade, it’s gonna be about medium strength. But you might save a little bit of money as far as price goes. Or if you need something for high, high strength applications, you would have to be grade eight, or nine or grade 12, or, you know, the grades go all the way up. But, you know, as far as that’s the standard, grades are the standard, and a grade eight China bolt is the same as a grade 8 American bolt. But at the end of the day, they have to meet the same benchmarks. Not to say that out of the billions and billions of bolts, they companies make, that they might not have one or two or 10 or 100 million or whatever, malfunction or not be done, right. But at the end of the day, nobody has, you know, they don’t have a PSI tester to see how many pounds of torque it took to break that bolt. So they just say, Oh, well, that cheap boat broke. It just broke because it broke, you know, whether it was broke, because it exceeded its and obviously exceeded its its application. But you know, who’s to say that an element of the weather or something, or rust or something, or there’s an air pocket in the forge or something like that, you know, there’s a there’s a billion and a half excuses or reasons why a bolt broke. But as far as the quality goes, we are, we don’t make anything. We stand behind everything that we do sell 100%. But we’ve done all the vetting process through our suppliers to make sure that we’re not buying junk, obviously, to make sure high quality stuff to make because this at the end of the day, I keep referring back to safety. The we’re doing 100 plus miles an hour in these things that the stuff has to work, you know, has to work, it has to be strong. It has to it has to do its job, and it can’t be junk. But we have we have a bunch of suppliers. And as far as quality goes, we’re right there and next to anybody else. 

Counterfeit Bolts (32:56)

You know, yeah, there’s a ton of them that people if they buy a laith, they think they’re a bolt manufacturer, or some kind of fastener manufacturer, yes, because you can make it doesn’t mean it does not mean that it meets any requirements. And because you stamp it on, it doesn’t mean it meets the requirements, it has to be put through rigorous testing and application testing, that it has to be trialed, it just has to be trialed. That’s how these manufacturers are doing. I mean, when they when you open up a manufacturer, their budget or whatever it is a million dollars in testing to make sure that the product that they put out, they can stay behind it. They put out $5 million for the product and every bolt that they make breaks or fails in one way or another they won’t last very long.

You Get What You Pay For – Literally (33:52)

At the end of the day, you get what you pay for and anybody with common sense, and that actually cares about the race cars will not just go with the cheapest route. We are the cheapest route on all of our body stuff. Bottom line, but when you start transitioning into chassis kits, and actually suspension stuff, we are not the cheapest by any means we are a matter of fact probably one of the more expensive. Because there’s a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of good quality product that we put in there to make sure that it is top notch. Body fasteners can fall off all day long. They won’t hurt. I mean generally speaking, they won’t hurt anybody. If a bolt body bolt breaks or your fender flies off or whatever. If a suspension shock breaks, that can be devastating that could be I mean, the the options of what can happen are are endless, you know, at that point Yeah, Carnage, yeah, you’re tearing up unnecessary stuff. You’re spending money that you shouldn’t spend because a bolt broke or whatever, you know, but we’re definitely highest quality when it comes to chassis kits outside of the manufacturer, or whatever. I talked to a chassis manufacturer on the phone, I won’t say who, but I talked to a chassis manufacturer last week or whatever, two weeks ago. And they actually reached out to me, like, hey, we want to do a bolt kit for our chassis but first, we want to make sure you can beat the price. I was like, Well, if you’re looking for price, beating price, I mean if apples or apples but you know the day, you know, it’s not necessarily about the price, it’s about quality of the kit. And in the quality of the material that goes in it. And the homework that I take the hours I have a guy that works for us full time and all he does is build kits. He just builds chassis kit, chassis kit, body kits, whatever we put together. And that’s what he does. And it takes him hours, hours upon hours to build let’s say three or four XR1 kits. For one you have to make sure there’s there’s almost 36 Different applications of XR1 chassis kit you have to make sure it’s all here first and then you have to make sure you have enough for three kids. It’s a lot of math. It takes time takes a lot time and I got I did it before he did it and it was a pain in the butt when I did I tell you it was it was horrible. But now he does it and he does a good job and he makes sure everything’s tip top and done exactly like it’s supposed to because we we have, when we first start a new chassis kit we have to tear apart a whole car I do it I go to wherever cars that we did a long horn we did. We did the Stanford chassis I went to Ricky Wises shop last year right before the million we stay there for three days. Excuse me three days and I took the whole car apart from nose to tail, bumper bolts,  plates, everything – I took it all part I measured it. I said okay, well we can try. You know and that’s where a lot of the homework comes in is where what application do you want for Which bolt? Do you want a flange here? Do you want a lock nut with a washer here? Do you want a flange bolt here? Do you want to regulate hex cap grade eight bolt with a washer Do you want a washer at all? Do you want you know there’s a million and that’s where we did our homework. We did it for Longhorn we did rocket we did it for sniper we did it for double nickel chassis there. We, we do warrior. We do. Oh, we do Project X to all the all the all the bolts on on Chad Thrashers car comes from us, actually, it’s your show last year, I gave him two kits for the two new cars that he brought. And then we ended up putting our sticker up on the side of the car for him. So all the fasteners and everything that come off, and that chassis came from us. But yeah, we do the whole thing. It’s it’s a lot of homework. I mean, it’s people don’t understand. It’s not just it’s not just following a list – for one who’s got a list? I’ve asked, I don’t know anybody that’s got a list, other than the guy that builds the car, and he has to make the list. 

ATC Bolts and Fasteners is known for their custom bolt kits and bins. Their products range from racing body boxes, electrical connector boxes, and suspension boxes – plus more. They offer different sizes such as USS, Metric, Fine Thread, or Coarse Thread. They also offer custom kits to your needs. They are located in Plant City, Florida.

You can find ATC Bolts and Fasteners online at, or on Facebook and Instagram.