(Words and photos by Mike Brooks and Jose Ferrer) – First, a little background. I’ve been contributing to Bangshift since 2012 along with fellow Bangshifter, Jose Ferrer. We both grew up and live in the Western NY area and are committed to highlighting the local hotrod scene. There is alot of hot rod history here and the car scene is more happening now more than ever. We’ve had the opportunity to make friends with alot of the who’s who of the WNY car scene this year through our Bangshift coverage of local events. One of those guys is promoter Joe Haniszewski Jr. We met him while covering his Buffalo Motorama show last March, and have kept in touch with him since. In a recent conversation with Joe, we learned he with handles some social media for Buffalo’s own 2 time Pro Mod world Champion and CEO of Jan-Cen Motorsports Mike Janis. We pretty much freaked, and immediately asked he he could set up at tour of the shop. Joe contacted the Janis’ and within minutes we had the green light to stop by with our cameras and snoop around a local hot rod landmark. When we arrived we were greeted by Mike and his son Mike Jr. They gave us the scoop on the past, present, and a glimpse of the future for Jan-Cen Motorsports, Jan-Cen racing engines, and the MJR racing program.
Back in the mid-50’s, Mike’s father Jim Janis and friend Tony Centra worked at a local car dealership and started building engines on the side. They began finding ways to make power and did a lot of work by hand, really gaining the kinds of knowledge that few at their time had. In an era before many machines, they would do things like hand lap 20 thousandths off the top of the block. Things like this were almost unheard of then and local racers began to take notice.. In 1958, Jim and Tony partnered up and opened a speed shop in Elma, NY and Jan-Cen Automotive was born. They were building engines for dozens of local circle track and drag racers as well as racing cars of their own. They had a couple Willys coupes and would hit national events during the years when such things were few and far between.
A local Ford dealership would eventually sponsored them and give them a new car to race every year. One of the most notable partnerships was with the ‘68 Hemi Dart driven by Dick Oldfield for two years which laid the groundwork for his pro-stock career with Chrysler in the 70’s. In circle track,racers like Maynard Troyer would also find success with Jan-Cen powered cars. In 1974 Jim would semi-retire and his sons would begin running the business. By 1978, they would become an arctic cat snowmobile dealer to help boost revenue during the winter months. Later they would pick up a Polaris franchise to round off the Powersports/ATV business. Today, Mike Janis President and CEO runs the Racing/Motorsports side of the business. John Janis is VP in charge of running daily operations. Joe Janis is the cylinder head specialist, while Rick Janis is the head of the Powersports Sled/ATV service department. How awesome is the fact that this place is truly still a family affair? Pretty incredible in today’s day and age, really.
Mike Janis racing history-
Mike’s dad would bring him to local tracks like Lancaster, and Empire Dragway when he was around 5 years old. He was immediately hooked, and by the time he was in high school, he was bracket racing at those very tracks. Mike would continue to evolve as a racer while exploding into the national spotlight in the late 90’s. In 2001, he would win his first IHRA Pro Mod championship. In 2004, he would earn his second national Pro Mod title. Today, he has the second most wins of any driver in Pro Mod history, and has finished in the top ten in points for the past 13 years. Janis is well known and respected around the sport as a hard nosed racer who won’t be stopped easily. He and his guys have battled through fires, wrecks, and other road blocks over the years and have always been a team in contention at any race they pull into the gate to compete at.
Jan-Cen racing engines/Mike Janis Superchargers-
Once Mike won his first national title in his blown Pro Mod, Jan-Cen race engines had a big surge in popularity. They would find themselves developing blower engine packages for Pro Mod, Top Sportsman as well as Marine competitors. Mike Jr., his son and Crew Chief also began modifying the blowers they used for maximum performance. Once the IHRA began cracking down and placing blower drive limits on supercharged Pro Mod applications in the mid 2000’s, the Janis’ really started digging into their research and development to make good power within the IHRA rules. “They took 150hp away from us with the overdrive limitations, so we started playing with different shapes and sizes and dynoing at a lower overdrive, and began making more power” said Janis. “And then they hit us again, so we worked even harder, and made even more power”. Mike Jr. added “They (IHRA) been hitting us since 2004, and it eventually helped us find more power in both underdriven and overdriven applications.” Mike and Mike Jr. decided it would be in there best interest to start doing all their blower R&D and manufacturing in house and Mike Janis Superchargers were born. They’ve been pushing the envelope with blower technology ever since, they’ve made big gains and continue to develop more and more ways to improve their supercharger design. Their blowers and engines are now being used by racers and competitors all over the country, as well as branching out to customers in England and Australia. One motorsport thats starting to take notice is tractor pulling. “It’s a bigger market than we ever knew it was” Janis stated, “We had to prove ourselves, we had to get that out there.” “We had to say your blowers really do matter in your tractor puller”. They recently modified an existing blower for a team and picked up about 5lbs of boost and an additional 250hp. The Janis’ look to begin working with more tractor pulling teams very soon.
MJR racing now-
The team is currently preparing for the NHRA Toyota Nationals In Las Vegas. Winning the Spring Nationals last April, and doing well in other events this year, they currently sit in the 3rd points spot going into the final event of the season. They’re in a tough spot to win the championship, but it’s not impossible if certain things go their way. The Jan-Cen Camaro will be ready to go thanks to their outstanding crew and their amazing partners:
Aeromotive Fuel Systems, B&J Racing Transmissions, Chance Converters, De Sign Art Graphics, Diamond Racing Pistons, Ferrea Racing Components, Flying Hammer Hot Rods, Goodyear Racing Tires, GRP Connecting Rods, Jan-Cen Racing Engines, Lucas Oil, Line 2 Line Coatings, Mahle/Clevite Engine Bearings, Mike Janis Superchargers, Motorsports Unlimited, NKG spark Plugs, Peter Walters Race Design, Race Car Specialties, T&D Rocker Arms, Total Seal Piston Rings, and VP Racing Fuels.
Our tour –
I pulled up to the shop and walked into the showroom filled with Snowmobiles, ATV’s, Powersports Accessories, and Automotive Speed Parts. I was impressed with the spread laid out before me. The place was busy with customers checking out the inventory and employees manning the phones and the counter. Jose arrived minutes later, still dressed in his retail business attire, as he was sneaking away from work to hang out at Jan-Cen for a few hours. We were both met by Mike and Mike Jr., and immediately starting talking about the history of the shop and how it’s evolved into it many levels of business. Then came the really good stuff, we were walked behind the counter, through a doorway which led to a room filled with ATV/Sled parts and then entered the garage where the racecar lived.
It was slightly larger than an average one car garage, but it was all the space they needed. The walls were full of race memorabilia and accolades that MJR has accumulated over the years. Posters, oversized ceremonial checks, jackets, hats, helmets along with a plethora of trophies including a couple Wally’s. In the center of all the toys and tools was the Jan-Cen racing engines Pro Mod Camaro. It was partially disassembled while being prepared for the upcoming Las Vegas event. We talked about the car, and what it’s like to race in one of the most diverse and competitive classes in drag racing. When we asked him what goes through his mind as he straps in he stated “ I just get in race mode, I don’t worry about anything else but that tree” “ I gotta race my own race and not be concerned with some of the games that are common while staging” “I don’t worry about that, all I think about is that tree” “Once I break the beam, there’s not much else that I have control over”.
Once we left the area and a crew was sent in to mop up our drool, Jose and I were escorted to the machine shop where the uncontrollable urge to smile like a kid on Christmas set back in. It was amazing, shelves filled with cylinder heads, rods,cranks, and parts. Blocks being prepped for street and race applications all over the place. They had quite the array of machinery including the CNC machine where they make their own blocks, heads, and blowers. It. Was. Glorious! This place was busy, real busy. Mike and Mike Jr. were showing us all the various engines for customers all over the globe and what applications they were being used for. In the assembly room, two race engines were being prepared including one for a tractor pulling team. Everything was so clean and organized, a far cry from my garage and home.
We checked out the area where various blowers and parts were assembled and stored. We also got to check out the shop’s “Mule” a race prepped BBC that’s sole purpose is to test out new and different blower parts and designs that get used in the race car. “We built it to be abused” said Mike Jr., “We want to test out new developments and ideas on this rather than beat up the engines we compete with.” “If we see improvements on the mule, we know will see improvements on the track”. Adjacent to the test mule, was the in-house dyno. A recently assembled big block was strapped in and being tuned for a customer. “It’s for a street car” Mike said about the twin-holley, polished blower equipped big Chevy. “The customer wanted big power for the street without being too wild”. “We were able to get 1,050 horse out of this without losing street manners”. Yikes! I thought to myself, “Is there anything they can’t do here?”
The tour continued as we entered the service area for the ATV & Snowmobiles a couple technicians were busy wrenching on some cool toys as well as preparing some of the pre-owned inventory. These guys have a huge assortment of new and used ATV’s and Sleds, it was impressive to say the least.
Throughout the tour we spent alot of time swapping stories from the road, as well as our own projects at home. We realized that Mike and Mike Jr. were just motorheads like us, with a deep passion for cars and performance. Alot of what they learned is from actual experience and testing, not from extensive formal training. Just like James Janis did back in the day. We want to wish them good luck in the upcoming race in Vegas. Every dragracer and fan will be pulling for them to bring home the Wally as well as the NHRA Pro Mod Championship. Be sure to check out and follow their facebook pages, as well as Mike’s twitter.