Chris Parker, owner and founder of Rottweiler Performance has leveraged his experience as a world class fabricator into a worldwide brand. Those who live life on two wheels know Rottweiler Performance, appreciate the quality, and understand that sometimes you just gotta let the big dog eat. Chris describes Rottweiler Performance as a design and manufacturing facility with the primary goal of creating useful products to customize motorcycles.
Chris began fabricating in the early 90’s when he was given a shot at welding by a local Orange County, CA. fab shop. He had a knack that earned him jobs throughout the southland. He hit the big time when he got a job as a fabricator at Rod Millen Motorsports. It was a baptism by fire and a crash course in brain surgery all in one. “Rod Millen Motorsports at the time was one of the top off road/rally racing teams in the world,” tells Chris. “Here I was a young welder/fabricator being part of the world record breaking Pike’s Peak hill climb team. I knew then that I wanted motorsports to be a permanent part of my life.” Racing has taken Chris from the top of the Rockies to the beaches of Baja as a racer, driver, tuner, fabricator and team owner. The day CNC West was on site interviewing him Chris was busy prepping the team for the upcoming Sonora Rally, a 5-day long endurance event that they had entered on an adventure bike.
CPR (Chris Parker Racing) came about around the turn of the century. The focus was on products like high-end exhaust and intake systems for race cars, pedal systems and anything that needed an expertise that only a fellow racer could understand. “I had talent as a welder” explains Chris. “But a fabricator is a good welder who can solve puzzles. Racing brings with it nothing but puzzles to be solved. By word of mouth I began to gather a following. All my customers came from referrals and I was able to blend fabrication in with machining to solve my customer’s particular puzzles. I had the luck to get the jobs, but the skill to keep them. I started with a small 1300 sq. ft. shop just around the corner from where we are now in Costa Mesa. We were racing everywhere, prepping cars and trucks for races like the Baja 1000. Baja is where I met my wife Mariel; she is up front and runs the day to day operations of the company.” In the early part of their relationship Chris traveled to Mexico at every chance he got to see her. The best mode of transportation to do that is on a motorcycle because it’s just plain more fun and the border waits were greatly reduced because of your ability to get to the front of the line. He rode a KTM street bike at the time and swore he was going to keep it stock. “Stock was an unrealistic goal,” laughs Chris. “I started to mod it out like everyone does. Making something uniquely your own is part of what makes motorcycles so great.” He took a perfectly good KTM orange bike and blacked it out. “I designed and built a custom intake for it like nothing else on the market,” touts Chris. “It is an open intake system that utilized a certain kind of filter that I had sourced custom made for me. I made alterations and it made a ton of horsepower. KTM can make a perfect bike, it is called a Moto GP or factory rally bike, but due to restrictions, homologations, and cost the intake on consumer bikes was an area that was ripe for improvements.” You can bolt on one of our intakes with no other modifications and instantly feel the difference. Fuel mapping and exhaust customization yields even greater results. “Word got out that I had this intake and soon I was making them on the weekends for beer money,” laughs Chris. “Then it became lunch money, then dinner money, then rent money. We started dyno tuning bikes, that eventually morphed into the company we have now.” The problem Chris had was with the name CPR (Chris Parker Racing). Though clever and worked great with intake and exhaust it just wasn’t catchy like some of the others in the industry. One day pondering what to rename it he revved the bike and a guttural bark came out of it like a large dog. He gazed at this all black motorcycle that looked and sounded like a dog. If it was a dog what kind would it be? With an aggressive stance and a throaty bark, Rottweiler Intakes was born.
The great thing about having a product vs hourly manual labor is the ability to create income while you are away from the shop. You can’t get the bills paid while you are sleeping or on vacation, but you can if everything is in place to sell and distribute while you are working on the next big thing. Rottweiler Performance started with a single intake but growing the brand with more and more products was the direction Chris and Mariel took. “Building a brand and building a product was a big transition for us,” explains Chris. “It’s literally been a nine-year journey just getting to where we’re at today. Nine years in and the business has nearly doubled every year.” Their current manufacturing, distribution, and tuning facility is 6000 sq.ft. and houses a state-of-the-art dyno system, CNC mill, CNC lathe, all the fabrication and welding gear one could need and a CNC press brake.
At Rod Millen Motorsports Chris learned machining techniques out of necessity, but he recognized that to be a great fabricator you needed to augment what you are doing with higher end tools. When he set out on his own one of the first machines he bought was a TRAK CNC mill. “I’d used an older TRAK mill before working for a race shop, so when it came time to buy something, I went with what I already knew,” tells Chris. “That first machine I used was super primitive even for back then. It was just a digital read out and no pictures, you would program it and hope that it went left and right or straight or whatever you hoped that you told it to do it. I’m not a CNC machinist, but I’ve taught myself how to machine. To double check programs I would load it with a clipboard and a sharpie pen and draw things out for confirmation. When it came time to spend my own money, I purchased a similar system, but one that did have the ability to show me previews without needing pen and paper.” After moving into their new shop Chris was at a point with the business that it was finally time to upgrade their machining capabilities and bring more of the manufacturing in house.
Southwestern Industries’ Pat Fitzsimmons, or TRAKing Pat as he is known has been trying for a decade to get Rottweiler Performance into a new TRAK machine. TRAKing Pat is one of the few salespeople even allowed in the shop. “We have a sign on the door that says no soliciting we’re only nice about this once and the sign is the first time,” jokes Chris. “That doesn’t apply to Pat. The thing about TRAKing Pat is that he never hard sold us on anything. He knew we loved our older machine and that eventually we would be in a position to get a new one.” For the longest time Rottweiler Performance was just not able to bridge the gap needed to step up into current technology. It was more of a want than a need. “It got to the point where I was able to sack away enough money and called him up and said it’s time for a new machine,” tells Chris. “Then I surprised him with also wanting a lathe. In my mind there was no point upgrading one without the other. We didn’t use our manual lathe for production runs so by adding the TRAK TRL 1630RX lathe with RLC controls I could actually do our own turned parts. Sales and service are amazing on both machines. They did us a huge solid changing out the mill I originally ordered to the newer TRAK DPM RX7 with more features and the RMX control. The TRAK DPM RX7 became available right when my original machine was being delivered. I can’t say enough about how awesome they were about getting us in the newest machine delivered and setup. I paid the difference in the cost of the machines and that was it. It says a lot about Southwestern Industries as a company to not even charge me again for shipping.”
Milling and turning is handled by James and Chris, two self-taught machinists. TRAK’s conversational programming is a key element in maximizing workflow at Rottweiler Performance. Rottweiler Performance doesn’t manufacture parts every day so having the user-friendly TRAK controls makes life way easier for Chris and James. “TRAK’s touch screen conversational programming is jam packed with features that make programing less stressful for people who may not be full time machinists,” details Chris. “Lots of companies have owners, programmers, setup guys and button pushers. That hierarchy doesn’t work for us. We need to run our own parts, when we need them, in the easiest and most productive way possible. Southwestern Industries came in and trained us on both machines and are still supporting us with any questions we have. It always takes a bit of time to recall how to run the machines, but TRAK’s conversational control minimizes the time it takes for us to remember. For us, the new controls are a big step up in technology. The language on the Trak DPM RX7 mill added an automated 3rd axis. Before we were two dimensional and I had to control Z axis. Having the additional third dimension was kind of like going from riding a bicycle to riding a motorcycle. You already feel pretty familiar, but now OK, there’s a couple new things I gotta figure out here.” The controls are designed to be as intuitive as possible. Chris used to have to trick his old machine into doing certain things. Some of that might have been him going at it in an unconventional way, but he doesn’t need to lie to the machine any more by cheating on tool size. The latest TRAK controls now have a plus +/- built in for that. “Bulk edit is another feature we have used more than we thought we would, add Chris. “You can make an edit on something like speed in real time via the virtual dial on the control and then tell it to increase throughout the entire program. It is a really handy feature.”
The Track TRL 1630RX lathe is Rottweiler Performance’s first CNC lathe and Chris admits that it is a bit scarier to run for them compared to the mill because a spinning chuck carries a lot more momentum than a tiny end mill. “Like on the mill, ease of use to get us running as fast as possible is important,” comments Chris. “Our programming experience on the lathe is way less than on the mill so we really take our time. Fortunately, one of the many great things about the TRAK machines is called TRAKing. It has hand cranks like a manual machine that allows for running through the program with the hand cranks at your own speed. You can choose CNC run, or run it via TRAKing by turning the wheels. It goes through the entire code at your pace, forwards and backwards. Some things like tool changes and tapping go in real time, but for the most part it is turn the crank and watch how it goes at your own comfort level. The touch screen controls also allow for on the fly edits and adjustments. We program on the conservative side to start but can easily make an edit and ramp things up right from the controls. These features aid in the comfort level of running the machine for non full- time machinists. Our big takeaway is the TRAK tool room machines make part time machining and one off’s possible.”
Rottweiler Performance design and manufacture a few dozen of their own branded parts on site. “Mirror mounts, blocking plates, and filter bases are a few of our biggest sellers that we now manufacturer in house,” tells Chris. Once we got our new Trak machines, we pulled more and more parts back in house. Our frustrations were wait times and price. As an example, we sell these small little plates that block off an area that is no longer being used with our intakes. We were being charged a completely reasonable price of 2 bucks each and ordering 2000 at a time. I’d write a check for 4 thousand dollars and it hurt. It isn’t a complex part, but we sell a lot of them. Our new TRAK DPM RX7 has a 24”x60” table. We made this super long fixture to maximize all the available travel. When all was said and done it saved us a lot of money and I can now run in batches as needed without having to order and store huge quantities. We see that savings across the board on most of our items that we can now machine. It isn’t always half the cost of sending it out, but 90% of the time there is enough of a savings to make it worth doing.”
Loving what you do drives Chris and his squad. “Culture is a big part of how we do things at Rottweiler Performance,” concludes Chris. “We have a group of 10 enthusiasts that make up our team. We work together, play together and all love what we are doing. That makes a big difference. We want to maximize the dopamine hit of coming to work here and enjoying it. We value our employees and customers over all else. We just hit our second booster rocket. We are either going to space or going to parachute back down to earth. All signs are pointing to us blasting higher and higher.”