Full Circle

Henninger brings GM racing experience in return to CPG

Words: Cam Benty; Photos: Brandon Flannery

Dave Henninger is a gearhead’s gearhead.

Dave Henninger

Henninger brings a vast knowledge of engine systems upon his return to the COMP Performance Group in a key role — Director of Product Development.

His recent role as Powertrain Manager for GM Racing, which included major successes at tracks including LeMans and Daytona, taught him what it takes to create a winning race car. Combining that and his personal experience building cool hot rods and muscle cars, with a focus on major power output, makes him uniquely qualified to understand what performance customers require today.

Henninger’s return to the COMP Performance Group after 10 years at GM is a welcome one. As head of the CPG Product Development team, he works closely with a team of engineers who all share his personal interest in performance. Now that he has the keys to the castle, he has a chance to make a huge mark on the performance aftermarket.

We recently caught up with Henninger for a few minutes to ask him about his days running GM Racing Powertrain, how it feels to return to CPG, and his plans for the future.

So Dave, you’re back at COMP Performance Group after a 10-year tour with General Motors Performance Group. What were you doing at GM?

Well as you now, I worked for FAST some 10 years ago, and when they told me they were moving from Brighton, Michigan, to Tennessee, I really did not want to relocate, so I took a job with GM Racing in Wixom, Michigan, not far from my home.

At GM, I was in charge of powertrain development and engineering for the Corvette Racing team.  It was an exciting position that included production and calibration of all racing engines and drivetrain components. As part of that job, I attended all of the Corvette races worldwide, including spending about a month each year in France for LeMans. During that time, we won LeMans twice, a huge accomplishment for any race team.

In addition, I worked with Robbie Gordon on the famous Dakar off-road race and actually got on the podium with him the second time out. While we don’t hear much about it here in the U.S., in Europe and Asia, that is a very prestigious accomplishment.

How did you end up coming back to COMP Performance Group?

Well once GM added the 24 Hours of Daytona race to the already packed schedule, I found myself rather overwhelmed. It was becoming non-stop racing, and many of the things I wanted to focus on were not fitting in the schedule.

About that same time, I found myself wanting to build performance products for hot rods and various performance cars. I personally have a number of hot rods, including one of my favorites, a C-10 Chevy pickup with twin turbos and extensive modifications. Before coming to CPG, I worked for a high-end Dyno company in Michigan for about six months, but when the opportunity came about to work with CPG, I jumped at it.

So what was the attraction for you to CPG?

What I remembered about working for COMP was that I enjoyed the work and the people — and I felt that if I made the [job] change, I would have more time to spend perfecting the parts and programs that I loved about CPG the first time around. I love working on hot rods, so this was a great move for me. In May of 2016, I moved to CPG and relocated the family from Michigan to Memphis.

So, has the transition from GM to CPG been good?

As I remember from my time with FAST, both Ron [Coleman, CPG President] and Scooter [Brothers, Sr. VP] take great care of their people. In the short time I have been here this time around, I really feel that I can make a difference here and develop some solid products for performance enthusiasts and engine/car builders.

The change to the Director of Product Development came about in June 2017. When I first arrived, I was assigned to create Executive Orders to certify products that would meet California Emissions Standards. My new position allows me to focus on new product development exclusively.

What personal agenda do you have for CPG components now that you are in charge of new products?

I am excited to apply my experience and enthusiasm as a racer and hot rodder to lead a group of talented engineers to continue to develop innovative products. Having been on the other side, as a consumer, I have the ability to define application issues and ensure that all of our products go through extensive real world testing before being released to the market.

As far as specifics, I really don’t want to tip my hand with regards to what we have in the works at this time. What I can guarantee is that everything we build will continue the COMP Performance Group legacy for cutting edge components that set the standard for performance.

Valve Cover Teaser

Fuel Air Spark Technology ignition components and COMP Cams LS valve covers (teased here in this engineering illustration) are among the new product projects Henninger is working on ahead of trade show season this fall.

Are there any products you can mention that we might see come SEMA time?

I don’t want to release too much, too early, but we have some simple products like high-demand LS valve covers and some new ignition products that should be in our booth come November.  Those are a lock and should receive lots of notice from the trade show audience.

Is there an area where you see room for growth in the ever-expanding CPG family of products?

The ignition market is ripe for new components, and we think we can appeal to a large number of consumers with some very cool parts. I also feel there is a need for expansion of the EZ EFI-style product line. Finally, we are also developing some new transmission controllers with improved abilities and versatility.

What’s new with regard to the COMP Cams line of camshafts?  

Our line of new Direct Injection camshafts is really exciting. For applications where aftermarket superchargers and turbo systems are to be installed, we have the ability to increase not only the cam duration and centerline specs, but also enhance the fuel pump lobes to increase fuel output.

We also are spending time working to develop some camshafts that will meet California Air Resources Board emissions standards, since there is a lot of focus on compliant valve train parts by OE manufacturers. In addition, we are always researching better camshaft material and enhancing the surface finish to take our parts to the next level.

Have you had much experience working with Direct Injection engines?

COMP is currently involved in a number of different racing engine builds, including the creation of valve train gear for the LeMans-winning Ford GT and Corvette racecars. We are not new to DI engines and have built a number of products to draw significant power gains from these engines. With Billy Godbold [Lead Camshaft Designer], we have a good handle on what it takes to make these engines perform.

What about Racing Head Service? I know the LS Race Block has been a big win. How about other products from RHS?

We are working on a number of new cylinder heads to expand the line. We are always researching cylinder head and block designs to stay on the cutting edge, especially with late model applications.

I heard some rumblings about some new TCI transmission products.

For SEMA this year, we are planning to offer some bellhousings that allow you to take 4L80E and 700R4 transmissions and bolt them directly to any of the major manufacturer’s engines, including Ford, BOP, and Chrysler. This will allow you to choose either a computerized transmission (4L80E) or mechanically overdriven transmission (700R4) and bolt them up to engines other than those made by GM. In this way, guys with street rods or muscle cars can get the overdrive gear and run the steeper rear end gear for better performance or cruising.

In terms of product development, we know that CPG has a great team of engineers and test/development equipment that allows them great latitude when working on new products.

COMP has been a leader for many years in the development of not only performance enthusiast products development, but in racing, where we have the capacity to take individual racer requirements and develop just the right part for them.

We have full dyno capabilities, our Spintron allows us to fully understand engine dynamics. We have the metallurgical science to look inside the metals of our valve springs and other parts to avoid engine and part failure.

Those are the tools that really excite me about the future of CPG and where we are going. COMP is a giant toy box for me, offering me the tools and teamwork that is required to build cutting edge components.

About Cam Benty - PPN Editor

Cam Benty’s name is instantly recognizable to those that have been around the automotive aftermarket over the last 25 years. He has built a stellar reputation as a well-rounded automotive journalist while holding positions with Popular Hot Rodding, Car Craft, National Dragster and Motor Trend.