If you race with NASA Rocky Mountain or NASA Texas, Hank Padilla should be a familiar face. He’s been a fixture in tech for the two regions for years.
By day, Padilla owns and operates Hanksville Hot Rods, a fabrication and specialty shop that focuses on racing and exhaust parts for Porsche, Audi, VW, Mazda, VW, Nissan and Maserati. Founded in 2006, Hanksville Hot Rods manufactures mandrel-bent headers and exhaust, roll cages and chassis components, and specializes in water jet and sheet metal parts, and even makes a lift for junior dragsters.
Padilla was recently named the national chief of tech for NASA. So, as the 2021 season hits full swing, and before we all pack our bags for Daytona for the 2021 Championships Presented by Toyo Tires, we caught up with Padilla to see what’s on his mind.
Q: You earned your bachelor’s degree in economics, statistics and mathematics from UNC Pembroke. How’d you get involved in racing?
A: My involvement began in the early ‘00s, when my daughters began racing in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League. I remember sitting with my oldest daughter, watching Monster Garage while she helped to rebuild the carburetor for her dragster. Later, after I began working as a tech inspector for NHRA and then NASA, my daughters would come out to the races and help wherever they could. So, racing has been a way to slow down a busy work life and to connect with my kids and with friends through a shared interest in the sport’s technical aspects.
Q: What did you do before founding Hanksville Hot Rods?
A: After serving in the Army — 82nd Airborne! — I worked in the field of risk management, first for the City of Los Angeles and then as a management consultant for a big four accounting firm. Those experiences gave me an understanding of risk and uncertainty, not as hazards to be avoided, but rather as tools that can be used to help achieve organizational objectives.
Q: So, chief of NASA National tech? That’s a pretty big hat to wear. What is your overarching philosophy for your new position?
A: Tech is a team activity, and NASA has many knowledgeable and dedicated technical specialists throughout the regions. My philosophy is that we can enhance drivers’ experiences and safety, and support regional team members, through coordination and communication from a national perspective. Many NASA drivers participate in crossover events, travel to other regions, and also come to us from other sanctioning bodies. Consistency across the NASA family is important to ensure that drivers and team members enjoy our events and don’t experience any tech surprises. It is a national responsibility to communicate technical details and rule changes, support regional tech staff, coordinate with national series directors, get ahead of emerging technologies, and leverage existing tools such as data acquisition and our SFI certification program for tech inspectors.
Q: How has being chief of tech for Rocky Mountain and Texas helped prepare you?
A: I am so thankful for the support that Dave and Revkah Balingit provided when they first hired me as chief of tech for Rocky Mountain, and for Will Faules and Dan Willams as my current Regional Directors for Texas and Rocky Mountain. I have made many friends working for these two regions, have met many drivers, inspected tons of cars, and have worked with a lot of fellow NASA staff. I also work as Race Control in Rocky Mountain. All of these experiences, along with working at Championships, have provided a global perspective of the tech challenges faced by drivers and by regional and national NASA staff.
Q: How familiar are you with the rules of all NASA classes? Are there areas where you need to study up before the NASA Championships?
A: My level of familiarity is primarily driven by the classes and number of cars that are registered for my regional events, so I always need to refresh my understanding of class rules as I prepare for Championships. This involves working with national series directors to develop an impound plan for each class, studying the applicable class rules carefully, and communicating with our Championships tech team to ensure that we are prepared to perform the needed compliance checks.
Q: How does your experience in fabrication inform you in your new position as chief of tech?
A: I began working as a tech inspector when I started my fabrication shop, with the thought that being a tech inspector and understanding the rules would make me a better fabricator. I quickly realized that being a fabricator also made me a more effective tech inspector, because I was better able to identify issues with cage welds, seat placement, harness installation, and other safety aspects during the inspection process. For me, these two occupations fit together perfectly and I use this philosophy when training new tech inspectors and new fabricators.
Q: Tech is always a big deal at the Championships. What’s your approach as we head to Daytona?
A: The objectives of our Championships tech/impound/dyno team are to support safe and fair competition with a focus on accuracy and the driver experience. We work with series directors to implement a comprehensive, detailed impound plan with many compliance checks across many run sessions, classes and cars. It’s important to perform these compliance checks efficiently, effectively, and with transparency to minimize driver wait times and to promote driver safety and fair competition. In addition to the detailed impound plan, the tech team is working on space planning, traffic flow, staffing, asset management, and a lot of communication.
Q: Did you ever race yourself? If so, what did you race?
A: I used to drag race, and have driven in autocross and DEs. Honestly though, I have raced enough to know that I am a really bad mechanic and an even worse driver! My strengths are in metal fabrication and tech inspection, so that is where my efforts are focused. Over the years I have enjoyed supporting my daughters in their racing and DE experiences, from junior dragsters to our 944, Boxster, E36 M3, and Miata, and racing vicariously through my customers.
Q: I glanced at your Facebook feed. It seems you have a fascination with bacon, and your friends know it. Why all the fuss about bacon?
A: It’s a long story that goes way back to my childhood, but suffice to say that I do love my bacon and BBQ. One last note, tech always goes easier when you bring your tech guy a breakfast burrito!