By Jim Sullivan
---- — Newburyport’s Will Turner has built an empire out of brake pads from an interesting place.
“People are amazed that we run a world-class professional race team out of a shop in the town of Amesbury,” said Turner. “People know about us all over the world. If you’re a sports car fan, you know of Turner Motorsport.”
Based out of South Hunt Road, Turner Motorsport employs a 50-plus team made up of R&D engineers, sales, marketing and race car professionals specializing in BMW specific auto parts, which they ship all over the world at the rate of 1,000 packages a week.
Turner and his company also put their money where their racing gloves are as the Turner Motorsport race team has competed in 275 professional races with BMW since 1998 (the second highest number in the world), raced at the 24 Hours of Daytona, and has won six professional Sports Car Racing championships, including taking first place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on June 16 in the Diamond Cellar Classic Rolex Sports Car Series race, the nation’s largest Sports Car racing series.
“Nobody locally really knows,” Turner said. “You would expect a race team to be someplace exotic like North Carolina, but not in Amesbury. The location is good because the races that we go to are located around here. They’re not close, but they are kind of in the area. We have one race in California and one in Texas, the rest are in Florida, Georgia, upstate New York, Connecticut, Ohio, Indianapolis.”
A native of Hartford, Conn., Turner, 44, has been racing since 1990.
“Racing takes all sorts of (skills),” said Turner. “It takes a strong mental concentration and cleverness angle. It’s also very physically demanding as you move up the ranks. When you do these 24 hour races, it’s 100 degrees outside. It’s humid because it just got done raining, the cockpit inside the car is 160 degrees, and you’re wearing a fireproof suit and stuck in the car for two hours, racing hard.”
A born tinkerer, Turner knew that he wanted to control his own destiny from a young age. Racing attracted him from his high school years and the business student at Roger Williams University found an interesting way to fund his passion between races by selling brake pads out of his trunk at the race track to pay for his lunch and perhaps a new tire here and there.
“I didn’t even realize at the time that it was a consumable and that if people liked them, they were going to buy them again,” Turner said. “That just happens to be a benefit of selling a brake pad that is a consumable, if they do well and people like them, they are going to buy more and that kind of started everything going.”
Eventually Turner was going to the track with a trailer of pads that soon lead to brake discs and the next thing he knew, he had started Turner Motorsport out of a Newburyport location in 1995. Financing his new two-man operation by credit cards, Turner had an idea he had a good thing going when the phone rang within minutes of plugging it in. Turner’s reputation had grown so much that his company was also making use of social networking before it technically existed.
“We were one of the first adapters of a website,” said Turner. “In 1995, 1996, there weren’t a lot of websites up and we were one of the two BMW parts sites. We weren’t at an e-commerce level, it was just that Internet (thing). “
A true web success story, the bubble burst but Turner Motorsport didn’t. In fact, the company grew exponentially, eventually outgrowing its Newburyport location and moving to a pair of Amesbury locations then onto its current South Hunt Road site where the 36-member race team roll out almost weekly and will be heading to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week for the Brickyard Grand Am.
“You get used to the speed part,” Turner said. “But what still gets your heart pumping is the competition. So when you’re going 167 miles an hour and you’re touching the guy next to you, or you’re calculating the move to pass him, or you’re waiting for him to hit you, all those things still get your heart pumping, more than just the actual speed. You’re desensitized by the speed because you do it so much. But the competition is still awesome.”