- In 1991, HAWK was born out of the friction expertise of Wellman Friction Products, located in Medina, Ohio, whose production dates back to the 1920s.
- HAWK is an acronym of the founding members’ last names: Carl Harbert (H), Gary Worner and Ronald Weinberg (W), and Bryon Krantz (K).
If you’re unfamiliar with our prior Origins stories, we explore the past of some of the automotive aftermarket’s most admired companies and explain what makes them a trusted source today. Most of the time, a company’s About Us webpage doesn’t contain this depth of information. However, we feel that these stories help us better understand the impact of each company.
In today’s iteration of this series, we’re looking at the story of one of the world’s leaders in braking products: HAWK Performance.
We reached out to HAWK Performance’s John Butler and Taylor Allen to provide insight into the company’s Race Proven, Street Legal background. We hope you enjoy it!
THE EARLY BEGINNINGS
HAWK Performance’s John Butler and Taylor Allen: HAWK was born out of the friction expertise of Wellman Friction Products in 1991, located in Medina, Ohio. Wellman Friction Products goes all the way back to the 1920s. The loose idea of what started HAWK involves the group of guys running the base business when it still provided a lot of products for agriculture and mining. They were also local racers. There weren’t many friction options around that time, even in the ’50s when we were still making performance metallic stuff before HAWK was even a name. In the late-’80s and early-’90s, they decided, “Hey, we can easily make this stuff.” So, they leveraged their friction expertise to develop the best brake pads possible. The initial products were geared toward road racing and dirt/pavement circle track brake pads. Mid-Ohio was not too far away, and a couple of guys were circle track racers. They just decided to start selling some racing products. It worked out well enough that they decided to actually call it something, and that’s where the HAWK name came from.
WHY THE NAME HAWK?
All founding members were co-workers at the original parent company. HAWK is an acronym of the founding members’ last names: Carl Harbert (H), Gary Worner and Ronald Weinberg (W), and Bryon Krantz (K). It became the name for the entire friction company when it went public as HAWK Corporation.
THE MILESTONES EARLY ON
Once people started to use it, they started to win races. The first major race milestones were the local owners winning SCCA regional events with sports cars and local Super Stock circle track wins. HAWK’s success in the ’90s was definitely grassroots. So its success, from a business perspective, was just its sale numbers going up. It was how many people are buying the brake pads for their SCCA cars or their dirt track cars. There wasn’t any huge win but becoming the official brake partner of the SCCA and NASA was instrumental in the early stages. It was just the prominence of the product growing in those niche markets and it continued to grow down those paths. That’s still what we are. We still make up 50-percent of the usage of brake pads in SCCA and NASA. We’ve expanded on that as well, but it was a slow growth in expanding this niche market of road racing and dirt/circle track racing.
Our higher-level wins were significant for us (being on JPM’s 99th Indy 500 win, Brad Keselowski’s 2012 NASCAR Cup Championship, winning the 2012 BAJA 1000 in a Class 18 buggy, as well as all of the successful seasons in the Pirelli World Challenge with CRP Racing) because those were proof of concepts for the products. We could prove on a high level that it worked. Then everybody a couple layers down, who was racing their circle track car on a Wednesday in rural Oklahoma, could run that same type of product on their car.
HOW TO STAY ON TOP
Initially being only race-focused, HAWK shifted to provide education and technology towards the street market to help end-users understand the advantages of performance brakes on the street. We are continually working on new compounds, new applications, and new technology to stay relevant and a leader in our market segment.
Obviously, the market has changed in the past few years. The way in which we can reach our customers has changed the most. With that, we’ve had to adapt. And a larger focus is placed on the things that everyone else is doing, like social media and web-based outreach instead of print, from a marketing perspective, so there are definitely new business strategies in there.
As far as keeping competitive, we’re always trying to make sure we have modern products that rival our competitors’. We’re always trying to develop new brake pad compounds that might hit a particularly new niche or improve upon something else that we’ve done. In 2017, we re-formulated our HP+, which is one of our most popular compounds. We’ve done a couple other similar things to make sure we’re always competitive in that field. As well as constantly having the right solutions for the right applications. As new cars come out, we are always tracking those. Whether it’s the new C8 Corvette or the new Silverado, as those new cars are released, we’re working to ensure that we have a product for those cars, once their owners decide that they might want to upgrade.
At the same time, we’re also keeping track of cars that are getting to the five or six-year-old mark. Because as they reach that age, they’re getting affordable, and, frankly, they’re getting to the point where if you put it into the wall on a racetrack, it’s not going to kill you — financially. Those kinds of cars are usually prevalent on a track at that age, so we’re also watching that. That way, we know what’s becoming popular — and what’s not — and make sure that we have the product for it. Making sure that we’re able to delegate the attention that those vehicles need is essential.
Spec E46 is a great example because while it may be picking up steam, we also don’t want to forget about the Spec E30 guys. Ensuring that we’re able to keep the inventory for those guys and bring the prevalence of Spec E46 in. That we have the right compounds for it, and not only ourselves but our suppliers are stocked. Because you know racers, those guys are gonna need those brakes tomorrow. So, we’ll work with our line of distributors to explain, “This thing is blowing up, so you’re going to want your stock of these part numbers higher than in the past.” Just keeping that touch with the market has really helped.
We always want to have everything to solve the whole braking system of the car so, one of the things we want to do in the future is launch a brake caliper. We recently released racing brake fluid, we’ve had a street brake fluid for a while that we call HP520, and we now have an HP600 and HP660. Those are true racing fluids that have the higher boiling points required for those different types of environments. This translates into our attempt to be the solution in the entire corner of the vehicle.
We also work very hard to make sure that the people we have working here are enthusiasts, and we’ve done a pretty good job of that. If you call into HAWK and you talk to one of our Customer Service reps, they’re car guys, too. One of our Customer Service reps, Mitchell, runs an ST Corvette on the track every weekend he can. Another Customer Service guy, Kevin, is a huge diesel guy. He’s got a bunch of different Cummins. We all kinda live and breathe this as well. That involvement goes a long way in our company’s success and how we can support the end-users.
We’d like to thank John Butler and Taylor Allen for taking the time to explain HAWK Performance’s history to us. If you’re interested in more details on its products or any new updates, please check out the links below.