When Steve Matusek, driver of the Agave Underground Tequila Pro Mod Camaro, was young, he would often hang out with his father at the drag strip, helping him work on his race cars and wondering if he’d have his own racecar one day. It made an impression on him, but his father, a former Hungarian freedom fighter, made a stern impression of his own: Steve was going to college and getting a “real job” instead of hanging around racetracks the rest of his life.
So off to college he went. Steve landed his first job as an engineer at McDonnell Douglass, and as he describes it: “I got a cubicle, wore a suit and tie to work every day. I got married and joined a bowling league.”
“And, I was bored out of my mind.”
But it would take many years and a journey that taught him more than he’d ever learn in college before he’d find himself where he really needed to be – running Aeromotive, a leading fuel systems manufacturer.
Matusek’s story is legendary in the industry, and needless to say, has more plot twists and turns than the Nürburgring.
While working at Essex Industries, he saw an opportunity to re-engineer high-tech aviation products for the performance aftermarket. Initially, the company agreed and put him in charge of the new division – until a round of Defense Department cuts sidelined the business.
“Our first press conference was in a B2 Bomber assembly facility,” Matusek said. “But the bottom fell out of the defense industry, and Essex decided to cut performance products from its portfolio.”
Despite the setback, Matusek spent the next two years trying to figure out how to buy the business from Essex. In another plot twist, after crunching the numbers with a venture capital firm, he concluded it cost less to start a new company from scratch than it would be to buy the existing company.
So in 1994, he parted ways from his employer and started Aeromotive.
“I can’t tell you how many people thought I was insane spending two-years honing a business plan to start a design and manufacturing company in the performance aftermarket,” Matusek said, “but you have to be persistent and vigilant if you’re going to be true to your passion.”
It’s been an amazing journey, and the lessons he’s learned could fill a Harvard Business School textbook, but success often boils down to basic principles, Matusek says.
“There are no shortcuts to success, especially when it comes to due diligence and understanding your goals,” he said. “You can’t cheat math and you have to educate yourself in every way possible.”
Be particular with whom you do business with and have a clear vision for where you want your business to go, understanding there’s likely to be roadblocks and detours along the way.
“I don’t like to rely on luck or hope. The only way to get where you want to go is to know your destination first,” he said. “It’s like getting in a car and driving. Before you put it in gear and step on the gas, you need to know where you want to go.”
Steve’s persistence and vision has paid off. Today, Aeromotive has more than 450 product SKUs, has grown to 17 employees, and recently received a SEMA 2013 Best New Product Award for their Phantom Fuel System.
While he’s been building his business, Steve has also built a successful Pro Mod drag racing team. For 2014, he’s teamed up with Danny Row Racing, driving a supercharged ’68 Camaro in the NHRA Pro-Mod category.
His connection to racing and his constant problem solving, both as a matter of intellectual discipline and as a matter of sourcing new opportunities, has kept Aeromotive on the cutting edge of innovation.
“We work the tracks. We build, maintain and race our own cars, and we listen to feedback from business partners like Motovicity,” he said. “Having these experiences draws us closer to our customers and provides us with an ocean of opportunities to take what we learn at the track and make better products for our customers.”
That first-hand track experience and developing products that truly solve real problems, is why Aeromotive has consistently been a strong performer among Motovicity’s customer base.
Today, Steve has long since paid back the venture capital firm that helped launch his company, and the woman he married 28 years ago, they’re still happily married. Instead of bowling, they spend their weekends with their three daughters traveling to racetracks across the country, as a third generation of Matuseks are now living their dreams in the performance business.
Children: Amanda, Jessica, Kristen
Hobbies: Drag racing
Notable: Founded Aeromotive, Inc. 1994, Veteran sportsman racer
2015 wins/runner-up nishes: 0/0
Career wins/ nal rounds: 0/1
2015 points nish: 12th
Best points nish: 6th (2014)
Career-best elapsed time: 5.849 (Englishtown 2015) Career-best speed: 251.39 mph (Englishtown 2012)
2015: Reset career-best time at Englishtown; Attended all 10 races, qualifying for eight
2014: Raced to career first runner-up finish at Bristol; Posted career best time at Atlanta
2013: Raced to a semifinal finish at Charlotte 1; Posted top speed at Charlotte 1 (250.55)
2012: Posted career-best time and speed; Raced to semis at Houston
Other employment: Founder, President of Aeromotive, Inc.