SPRINGFIELD TWP. When traveling down Pickle Road, one may every so often hear a load roaring sound. That's just the noise of The Akron Turbine Group, a business that specializes in jet powered dryers used on race car and test tracks.
The owner and creator for this unique company is Green resident Tim Arfons, who started it in 1991.
If the name Arfons rings a bell, you might recall his father was the legendary Art Arfons, who held the world land-speed record three different times in 1964 and 1965 with his series of "Green Monster" jet-powered cars.
"The cars got that nickname because of the bright green paint used on them," said Tim Arfons. "It was John Deere green, the only paint that he had. So, that was the start of the 'Green Monster' name."
Tim Arfons followed in his father's footsteps for a while, racing jet-powered dragsters and turbine powered funny cars. He also did stunts and was an exhibition driver who was well known for jumping over as many as 15 cars in his "Jet Jumper."
But that all changed when he got married.
"My wife got pregnant and I decided I needed to get into something a little safer," Arfons said. "I decided to quit the track and concentrate on track equipment."
Out of this came the "Akron Turbine Group," which Tim founded in 1991. The company started off repairing racetrack equipment. Out of that evolved the track drying equipment that is now the company's mainstay.
"A lot of the original track equipment was based on military surplus," Arfons said. "We began to standardize on commercial parts, replacing the old parts with items that could be bought off the shelf. This gave us greater flexibility and insured a steady supply of parts."
The company formely used military surplus engines, but today, the main engines are commercial, such as Lear jet engines and Auxiliary Power Units (APU's) out of Boeing 747s. While the company has gotten away from using military engines, it still has a few and Arfons has donated a number of them to the Military Aviation Preservation Society (MAPS) Museum located on the west side of Akron-Canton Airport. At the company facility, Arfons also has two early Grumman F-14 "Tomcat" engines used for testing.
"After 9/11, the military put a complete stop to selling military engines to businesses like us," Arfons said. "But with the availability of commercial jet engines, this has allowed us to get totally away from military engines and government restrictions. As an example, used Lear jet engines cost between $10-15,000 as compared to a new one for between 2-3 million dollars. So, I buy used ones and refurbish them. And with new guidelines for engines by the government, there is now a lot of surplus older ones on the market as companies upgrade with new engines."
The company has plugged into the needs of venues that need dry raceways for cars. The company's jet track dryers can dry a track out in a short time period and allow races to continue. The dryers can also remove snow and ice, blow water out of puddles, remove debris and heat pavement for paint striping.
"We have several types of units that we manufacture or rent out," Arfons said. "One blows to the left toward the infield. Another is a down draft blower which can blow up against a wall. Another can blow left or right as required. In addition, we also can do custom orders. I recently completed a unit for the Air Force in Alaska, which was really quite interesting to develop and work on."
Arfons is on call 24 hours a day. Normally, he works alone at his shop, though he does have a helper, Gene Garcia, who comes in several days during the week. Plus, there is a crew that operates the blowers at racing events. Recently, Arfons took four blowers to a race in the Pocanos. About 20 percent of the time the units are used for drying, while 80 percent of the time they were used for cleanup. Sometimes, his crew is called onto the track five or six times for cleanup while the cars are going by at up to 200 miles an hour. Occasionally, the blowers are hit by accident.
The company has seven dryers, but only takes four at the most to an event.
Arfons is constantly looking for new ideas. Currently, he is trying to develop a combination that will allow highway departments to dry a roadway and then immediately paint it during rainy weather.
"This would allow them to work year round when they needed dry, warm pavement for striping," he said. "But that will probably take several years to develop."
The company tries to be user-friendly to its neighbors.
"We are grandfathered in as long as we run at least one engine test a year," Arfons said. "We to do our tests when school is not in session, and if the engine is particularly loud we notify the local police department."
When asked what his late father thought of the business, Tim said "he approved". On occasion he even stopped by to help, but as Tim Arfons said with a smile, "Like most father and sons, we didn't always see eye to eye on things."
So, if you are ever going down Pickle Road and hear a loud roaring sound, it is just Arfons and his crew working on a new blower to help keep race tracks dry.