CAR CARE GUIDE: Serene wins off the race track, too

After collecting trophies on the modified-car racing circuit for more than 10 years, Bruce Serene of Hillsboro took home perhaps his most prestigious trophies yet-without driving an inch.

Almost on a lark, Serene entered one of the three cars he owns for racing at the Darryl Starbird Car Show last month in Wichita and came away with the first-place trophy in the Competitive Class.

Entering a car show, especially a Starbird show, wasn’t Serene’s idea.

“The guy that I drive for in Wichita, Roger Colbert, likes showing cars as much as he likes racing, so he talked me into doing the car show,” said Serene, who owns and operates Hillsboro Engine Service on Date Street.

“You can go to car shows throughout the state, but when you wheel a car into a Starbird show and come out with the top prize, you’ve accomplished something,” Serene said. “There are guys who try it and can’t get that pulled off.”

Serene isn’t sure how many other cars were entered in the Competitive Class. His car, like the others, were judged according to their intended function-racing.

“They break all the cars down into classes so we wouldn’t be competing against a $250,000 show car,” he said.

The cars were evaluated according to design, workmanship and appearance. For Serene, workmanship isn’t about glamour and flash. It’s about durability and performance on the track.

“We went to a lot of work on that car,” he said. “But I try to put the cars together the best I can, whatever we’re going to do with it. All the neatness and craftsmanship that goes into the car-when you do it right, the car breaks down less. So it serves two purposes: it looks good, plus it functions well.”

Serene said he spends “tons” of hours preparing his cars.

“You prepare it with the assumption of trying to foresee what can go wrong,” Serene said. “When you detail the wiring, you do it so it won’t rub in two and it’s going to be a functional, no-problem situation. When you do the plumbing situation on the car -the brakes, the fuel-you do all that so it’s not going to come back and give you a problem later.

“That neatness, the workmanship and craftsmanship goes into the show car part, too, but in the long run, it’s a preventive maintenance plan,” he added.

When it comes to preparing a car for racing, Serene operates on what he calls an “80-20 Rule.”

“You’ve got 80 percent of the stuff that can go wrong and 20 percent that can go right,” Serene said. “You want to make the preventive maintenance come out so it’s going to be in your favor. You’ve got enough problems that can happen (while racing). You don’t have to ask for them.”

He said every driver and owner wants durability, but not everyone invests the time and care it requires.

“Everybody has that goal, but they don’t exercise it,” he said. “You walk through the pit area and you can separate them out pretty quickly. The ragged wiring jobs, the sloppy workmanship-those are the guys who are having problems.”

Preventive maintenance is a good rule for the family car, too, but in a racing situation, the need is far greater.

“It’s exaggerated a 100 times over because what you’re going to do to one these cars is run it absolutely as hard as it can run,” Serene said. “It’s not like we’re just trying to get it across town. We’re going to punish this thing. From every part, nut and bolt, we’re going to give it an extreme workout.”

The meticulous craftsmanship the Starbird feted Serene for is rooted in a competitive drive that spills over into other aspects of his life.

“Whatever competition you set out to be in, whether it’s basketball or playing checkers, the result is still the same,” he said. “It gives you the same thrill.”

He found the success for showing a car almost as thrilling as racing one.

“It doesn’t have quite the adrenaline rush when you walk out of a car show with a trophy as it does when you climb out of the car at a race track with one,” he said. “But the results are still the same.”

When Serene started working on this car, it was little more than a stripped-down chassis. He assembled everything on it, including the engine.

“We have a pretty good stock of engines that I’ve built up here,” Serene said. “This car has what I call a basic engine-a good 350 Chevy that’s 30 overbore.”

Serene said the value of a car increases about five times from bare chassis to the time it’s ready to race.

Serene said he can get the money and his labor out of a car if he sells it while it is still fast.

“You can’t give away a slow race car,” Serene said.

He has not raced this car yet.

“That’s one of the reasons it did good in the show,” he said. “It’s still waiting for its maiden voyage. That’s coming real fast.”

Serene expects to be on the track by late March, weather permitting. He plans to keep racing for a while, but showing cars has an allure, too.

“Whenever I decide to quit racing, I’m probably going to taper off into showing cars,” he said. “Racing is a fun game, but it’s not as much of a family sport in my family as something else could be. That’s the part of it that can be disruptive.

“If you go racing every weekend, you can’t take everybody with you every weekend because there are so many activities that everybody wants and needs to do.”

Serene said he has been surprised how much attention his accomplishment at the Starbird show has generated.

“There is a large amount of people in this town who went through that show and saw the car,” he said. “That surprised me, really.”

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