He Gives Drag Racers the Charge They Need : Hot rods: Costa Mesa’s Cirello has been supplying the top drivers with parts for the past 30 years.
Every time top fuel dragster Joe Amato makes a successful run down a quarter-mile strip, he can thank Tom Cirello. Whenever speedway motorcyclists Bobby Schwartz or Phil Collins takes a checkered flag, Cirello should get an assist.
Cirello, owner of Cirello Racing in Costa Mesa, builds and recharges magnetos for most of the top drivers competing on the National Hot Rod Assn. circuit.
A magneto is a self-contained energy source that powers the high-performance engines in drag racing. A pair of magnetos can supply enough power for a dragster to produce about 8,000 r.p.m.
“Over the years, there isn’t anybody in the drag-racing business that my father (Tony) or I haven’t worked with,” Cirello said. “Everyone thinks a magneto has to be a very complicated part, but they’re really very simple. I can take one apart and recharge it in about 10 seconds.”
Cirello has had plenty of practice. Drag racers Dick LaHaie, Lori Johns, Tom McEwan, Shirley Muldowney and Amato have been shipping magnetos to Cirello’s shop after each weekend of racing.
“Joe Amato probably owns 15 magnetos, and his crew changes them after every run,” Cirello said. “He ships them to me red-label after every event. The heart of the magneto is the strength of the magnet, and the magnets have to constantly be recharged to produce maximum power.”
A magneto weighs about 11 pounds and costs about $1,100.
It’s a simple device, yet the mechanism provided a livelihood for the Cirello family for the past 30 years. Tony Cirello began the business in Los Angeles and in 1966 moved it to Costa Mesa along with his son, Tom, Tom’s wife, Marylin, and their son, Trinon.
Seven years ago, Tom Cirello expanded his business to include speedway motorcycle racing. Speedway bikes are often called “the top fuel dragsters of motorcycle racing.” The lightweight bikes are capable of producing 500 horsepower and can reach speeds of 60 m.p.h. in less than four seconds.
When speedway was reborn in Southern California in the early 1970s, all of the riders competed on Czechoslovakian-built Jawa cycles that were powered by magnetos. Cirello built magnetos for some of the riders and sponsored Mike Curoso in 1973.
“I kind of got away from the sport when the bikes no longer required a magneto, and then got back into it when my son started racing junior speedway,” Cirello said. “Trinon learned to ride at Saddleback Park by borrowing a bike, leathers and helmet from Bill Hancock.”
Cirello met Jim Busby, a successful speedway parts distributor, and his son, Jim Jr., another junior rider learning the trade, while practicing at Saddleback. The elder Busby told Cirello he had planned to change his business interests to IMSA car racing and asked him if he would be interested in taking over the speedway business.
“I was so green, I didn’t know how to put a bike together,” Cirello said. “Someone would call for a Weslake motor part, and I would ask him to describe what the part looked like while I went through a book trying to find the part number.”
Today, Cirello is the West Coast distributor for Weslake, Godden, GM and Jawa bikes and parts. Cirello Racing services the riders at each of the four tracks in Southern California by sending a parts van to each venue every week.
Cirello sells parts such as clutch levers, plates, springs, crank pins and rods to the majority of the 97 licensed riders in Southern California. A year ago, he promoted a speedway race.
The Cirello 16-lap handicap race at San Bernardino’s Glen Helen Park was the longest event in local racing history. The race was double the number of laps for a weekly handicap race and was won by Schwartz.
Cirello has moved the race to the Orange County Fairgrounds on Sept. 6, and expanded it from 16 to 20 laps. A field of 16 riders will compete for 12 berths in the main event. Cirello will award a new, $4,000 Jawa motorcycle to the winner.
Cirello is also helping promote a new rider’s demonstration school on Sept. 15 at Glen Helen Park. Promoters and competitors are concerned with the dwindling number of competitors in Southern California and decided a school would help create interest in the sport.
Cirello will provide bikes, leathers and helmets to new riders who will get two, four-lap sessions on the track under the guidance of riders Steve Lucero, Brad Oxley, Mike Faria and Schwartz for $20.
“There are more licensed riders in Northern California than here, so we thought the school might pump some life into the sport,” Cirello said. “I wanted to do anything to help.”
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