Jon Kaase

» See our feature on Jon Kaase's shop also in this issue

For nearly four decades now, the name “Kaase” has been synonymous with naturally aspirated big-block Ford power.

The son of a dentist, Jon Kaase, 57, got his start as an engine builder in his tender teens, growing up near Cleveland, Ohio, and hanging out with some local, weekend drag racers. After entering the NHRA and IHRA Pro Stock ranks in a privateer effort in the mid-‘70s, Kaase’s first big professional break came as crew chief to the legendary “Dyno Don” Nicholson.

What originally drew you to
working on Ford engines?

Kaase: Why it was Fords, it’s hard to say. One guy, Ron Baker, I’ve known since I was 13 and he works for me now, he worked at a gas station up the street and he had a Ford and I was always watching that, so that might be why I started with Fords.

And there was another guy, Bill Rolf, that I learned my engine stuff from up in Ohio. He was a starting-out engine builder that was just around the block from me. I was 16 and they were both 10 years older than me, but it was Bill and me and Ron. Bill, he built other stuff, but kind of centered on the Fords, too, so I just ended up knowing the Ford equipment. Most of them were MB motors, that’s kind of the old big-block Fords like 427s, 428 Cobra Jets, 352s, those are MBs. We didn’t get into 460s too much at the time.

Were you always an engine guy
or did you race the cars, too?

Kaase: I drove sometimes up until about ’74, but nothing real fast; it was a Super Stock car. The Pro Stock cars, I never drove them. I probably could have if I wanted to, but I never really cared that much, I liked building engines.

So, how did you get your start in
professional drag racing?

Kaase: Well, in ’75 and ’76 I started racing with a guy named Larry Ford and we built a Pro Stock car, a Pinto, and for just a couple of clowns who built stuff on their own we did pretty good with it. We qualified at Indy in ’76 and went to Gainesville with it. We didn’t win any races, but I think we might’ve got a runner-up at an IHRA race, so we ran well enough that people noticed us. In fact, it was during that time when I met Don Nicholson; we had two engines and he put one of my engines in his car one time in ’76 and it ran good.

By 1980, though, he had left the professional racing circuit to set up shop in his adopted Atlanta, where he continues to crank out the mountain motors that now power up to half the field at most ADRL Extreme Pro Stock races and have been responsible for countless IHRA Pro Stock wins and world championships, in addition to wins in several other classes and series, such as boat drag racing and stock cars.
Additionally, Kaase is a four-time winner of the prestigious Popular Hot Rodding Engine Masters Challenge, including last year’s competition, which dyno tests motors from professional engine builders and through a complicated equation awards points for horsepower and torque after three consecutive dyno pulls.

Kaase recently hosted DragRacingOnline.com at his Winder, Georgia, shop, where he granted an extensive face-to-face interview in which he addressed his past, present and future in the high-horsepower world of elite engine building.