Back in 2001, an enterprising racer by the name of Dave Zimmerman decided that he didn’t want to be a production welder anymore, and wanted to stop building racecars in the family garage – so he went out and took out a lease on a building in Michigan to start a business and christened it Team Z Motorsports.
Despite not having a shred of business expertise on day one, Zimmerman has leveraged those humble beginnings into 10,000-plus square feet of parts-manufacturing capability and 5,000 square feet of racecar-building goodness spanning two buildings in an industrial park in Taylor, Michigan.
“It took us thirteen years to build our name in the Ford industry; now we’re expanding into the Camaro and G-body markets.”- Dave Zimmerman, Team Z Motorsports
As the Team Z manufacturing space takes up the larger of the two buildings, we decided to start there on our tour. Once you enter the main building, the office space is in the front, where Zimmerman and the sales team make sure the parts their customers need get processed efficiently and quickly. Son David Jr. is the company’s production manager, handling scheduling of what parts will be built by each employee on each day, what the water jet will be cutting out on each day, and a host of other responsibilities, while Mrs. Zimmerman is the brains behind the finances – a true family business. A total of 14 employees are on staff, with the majority in the main building and two fabricators down the road in the chassis construction building.
Exiting that office space area — which doesn’t take up much room at all at the front of the facility — the building opens up into the large manufacturing area, which up until recently held both race car construction and manufacturing. Today, it’s nearly 10,000 square feet of pure manufacturing space, along with a shipping area that sees dozens of packages going out the door every day, from K-members to control arms to mini-tub kits and more.
“When we moved the race car fabrication out of the main shop, we installed a great big downdraft booth for our grinding area. I noticed when the guys were grinding on parts, that metal dust was covering the whole shop, so we got a five horsepower dust collector and built this table so that the parts can be built there. We also started building mail-order roll cage kits; the grinding booth and cage kit area takes up one whole corner of the shop. There’s a shelving system for all of the parts so that we can inventory what we have and stay on top of it,” says Zimmerman.
As with many production facilities, there are a number of stations that have been organized within the Team Z shop. One station handles all of the cutting of raw materials – from the main tube of the K-members to the correct lengths for control arms of all varieties, to the tubing for the upper shock mount that comes as part of the Mustang mini-tub kit.
Not Just Mustangs Anymore
Zimmerman and the Team Z gang started out in the business by constructing seriously-fast late-model Mustangs from the Fox to S197 chassis and even doing development work with Ford on the Cobra Jet platform. The chassis shop is one of the go-to facilities in the Michigan area and the entire Midwest. In addition, their customers are all over the country. Radial racers like Brad Edwards and Chris Tuten — both of whom travel from the Carolinas — have come to rely on Team Z’s expertise.
“It took us thirteen years to build our name for quality in the Ford industry; now we’re expanding into the Camaro market and G-Body markets. We’ve got Panhard bars, lower control arms, lower control arm brackets, and we’re working on a torque arm for the F-body. We’ve been building G-body rear suspension parts for a little while now,“ says Zimmerman.
Team Z offers a variety of Mustang K-member designs, from their standard Metal Matrix design that offers a combination of mild steel and chromoly construction to their full-on Outlaw-style K-members that are crafted from chromoly tubing and use a Stiletto-style steering rack for the utmost in weight savings. Each Team Z suspension part is TIG-welded and checked multiple times for integrity prior to powder coating.
“Our biggest seller is probably the Strip Series 1 suspension for the Mustang. And K-members for the Mustang are still one of our biggest sellers – we even sell ten to fifteen LS swap K-members per month. With nearly four-and-a-half million ’79-’04 Mustangs built, that’s a lot of potential K-members,” he says.
The company doesn’t build run-of-the-mill parts; even their street-oriented parts have geometry developed through years of testing and development on one of the many cars to come out of the Team Z shop.
Zimmerman also gained great insight into the S197 Mustang chassis through his work with Ford Racing on the company’s Cobra Jet program, where he helped to develop the race-winning suspension under that platform over dozens of hours of development.
Check out this video tour of the Team Z facilities!
The Chassis Shop
An opportunity to take over another building just down the street that was already somewhat outfitted for Team Z’s needs proved unable to pass up, and the company recently moved the chassis fabrication facility down to that building, where longtime employee and lead fabricator Justin Zombeck oversees much of the construction of the different customer cars at Zimmerman’s direction.
You may recall the exclusive article we just wrote on Brian Wolfe’s bad-to-the-bone All Motor Mustang for Milan Dragway’s Heads-Up Series; this is the type of vehicle the team is capable of putting out on a regular basis.
“Justin comes here every morning and we go over what the plan is for each day. Monday morning we have a meeting to go over the scope of what we want to get done every week, and I’ll head over there one or two times a day just to see what they have going on and if they need any assistance. Scaling and car setup is still done here at the main building because there’s more room to do it in this facility, and I do all that work myself,” he says.
The various builds going on at Team Z require attention from Zimmerman, and he spends quite a bit of time juggling all of the different balls that are in the air to ensure that things flow smoothly and all of the important tasks get handled. Building a racecar is not an overnight proposition, but the Team Z crew makes it look easy.
Automation Simplifies Innovation
The company recently purchased a water-jet cutting machine, which has proven to be incredibly valuable in the two months it’s been in the shop. Previously, when a new part was designed, it would start off as a scribble on the back of a napkin and progress through the development and fitment phase until the template was sent out to a local facility to be CNC-modeled before the prototype could be cut, and that process could take three to four weeks depending upon the workload of the contractor.
The water jet and the other machinery that has been upgraded has taken their manufacturing capability to the next level. Zimmerman has taught himself how to design new products within the CAD software, sits down at his desk to draw up his ideas, and fifteen or twenty minutes later they’re cutting out a part on the water jet and can have a physical part in their hands in a few hours to test. It’s shortened up their development time from weeks to a few days at most and is a serious investment in the company’s future growth into other markets. In the past, building a one or two-off product could cost thousands of dollars, but with the equipment now in-house it can be done much quicker and at less expense.
“Basically, what happened is that I had 1,000 square feet dedicated to building parts, and that area was producing more revenue than the fabrication area by far. So we decided to see what would happen by designating all of that space for parts manufacturing, and taking on new challenges to build new parts. We purchased a new CNC press brake, a new shear, a CNC lathe, and over the next year I plan on adding a bigger press brake so that we can start doing sheetmetal bumpers for offroad vehicles and other products to really expand the business,” Zimmerman says.
The On-Track Philosophy
Over the last few years, Team Z has been contracted by a number of big-name grudge racers who can’t be mentioned here to supply state-of-the-art chassis for their high-stakes games. As there are no rules when it comes to race cars like that, the ultimate goal is to build something safe and extremely light at the same time.
“It’s a lot harder to get them down the track since there’s no ballast to move around. Getting the light cars to work has been phenomenal in figuring out where the instant center should be, and how the car needs to be set up to work on a small tire. These guys aren’t afraid to spend a lot of money to rent the track for a few days to beat up their stuff and make it work, since it’s high-stakes gambling when they finally do make a run. A big focus for us has been to get cars extremely light and make sure they work extremely well. We’ve had some nitroused small-block, small-tire cars 60-footing in the 1.05, 1.06 range. That all translates to the heavier cars,” he says.
In the chassis game, it takes innovation, hard work, and a willingness to spend lots of time underneath a car trying new things – some of which won’t work and others that will do exactly the opposite of what you might expect. Zimmerman has taken the chance given to him by some of the top racers in the country and run with it, learning at every opportunity, and using that knowledge to build Team Z Motorsports into a powerhouse of performance.