At first glance you would not suspect that this headquarters for a NASCAR racing team is a post-frame building. Even after a double take you would likely be skeptical. But this once derelict building — a former meat packing plant — is not just one but rather a blend of post-frame buildings. Equally unique is that it houses ThorSport Racing — a rare breed all its own because it exists in Sandusky, Ohio, far removed from traditional NASCAR territory.
David “Duke” Thorson, owner of ThorWorks Industries, is the man behind the project. He is perhaps best known for SealMaster, an asphalt coating used primarily for recreational surfaces. SealBest and Farm Paint are other ThorWorks brands.
It began with his dip into racing, which started by accident in the mid 1990s when he was looking for an attention-getting prop for a trade show. Buying a used race truck was cheaper than contracting with a winning NASCAR driver and his truck for the show, so he purchased a good candidate, covered it with a SealMaster paint scheme and took it to the show.
David Pepper, team manager, wasn’t there at the time but he knows the story well. “You’re at these trade shows for a couple days all day, 12 to 15 hours a day, and at some point someone came up with the idea, ‘Ya’ know, we should race this!”
The hunt was on for a driver. “They went to the Sandusky race track and found the hot shoe driver of the day, a driver who was winning a lot of races, and his name was Terry Cook,” Pepper explains. “So they got him and his crew — a couple guys — a tool box and a small trailer and hauled it to Milwaukee for the Milwaukee Mile. They showed up, qualified and finished 12th in their very first race.”
Full throttle to 2010 when one mighty SealMaster truck and its driver had morphed into a full-fledged truck racing company bursting at the seams in its location at the main company’s headquarters. Not far away was an ugly, patched-together eyesore of a building sitting on a prime piece of real estate. What others saw as a great excuse for a wrecking ball, Thorson saw as potential.
Called in for the project was the Menards’ crew out of Eau Claire, Wis.
Today, Menards is better known for its chain of builder supply stores in the Midwest, but its roots run deep in the frame building industry. It was started as a post-frame company more than 50 years ago by a young college student, John Menard, who was working his way through college.
Prominent on the list to call at Menards was Steve Olson. “Duke called me up and said ‘I want to show you some pictures. I bought this old meat packing plant and we want to figure how to put a new roof on it.’ I could tell by looking at the photos that it might not be possible,” Olson recalls.
In addition to builder supplies Menards offers engineering services, so a visit to the site with its engineer Kent Hodney was needed.
What was immediately apparent was that the building needed a lot of rehabilitation, but most of it was structurally sound. Dave Shupe, operations manager for ThorWorks, explains the cement block building, with its post and beam construction, had started life as a kosher meat packing plant. Later, part of it was a storage business and part of it a remodeled hodgepodge of areas used by various other tenants.
After the grand tour, the verdict: “We told Duke we could probably adopt this to post frame, but it’s not going to be exactly the same,” Olson remembers.
The good news was that the majority of the 100,000 square foot building, with 2-foot by 2-foot concrete beams running throughout, could be kept. Part of the building, the former loading dock, however, would have to be removed; though newer, it had been poorly built.
Because Thorson had definite ideas about how he wanted the finished building to look, it took a little time to get the finished drawings complete. What followed was “basically a collaboration between Dave, Duke, myself and Kent Hodney,” Olson says.
Three post-frame buildings were tagged to the primary section to create the new facility. One is a 65 x 138 foot post frame building that sits where the razed loading dock stood. It is now the final set-up area and features an impressive 22-foot high glass curtainwall.
A second post frame building, 64 x 124 feet, is now part of the transport garage where the ThorSport semis are housed and prepped between races.
A third, 14 x 40 feet, is incorporated into the reception area.
The main floor was finished first, but work continues in the massive basement. Walls that once contained meat lockers have been removed to make way for a drivers’ lounge, fitness area and conference room.
Work began in November 2010 and less than a year later on August 15, 2011 an open house was held. To say the community embraced the transformation of the old building is an understatement. About 5,000 people arrived that day to take the tour.
It’s unusual that a successful racing team exists north of the Mason-Dixon line, but that only brings with it greater pride. “It’s a different environment up here,” Pepper, a Tennessee native says. “We’re a unique group.”
The building is just another example of the improbable becoming possible.
“This building has done as much to put this racing team on the map as our performance on the race track,” Pepper says. Although some people knew about ThorSport Racing prior to the grand opening, now all of Sandusky knows.
“There’s been a change,” Pepper explains. “Before when we were out in the community with our ThorSport uniforms on, people would ask ‘How did you guys do at the races?’ Now they ask ‘How did we do?’ The community has taken ownership of this team, like we’re from Sandusky, Ohio, and we’re representing the northern coast.”
The building is capable of more expansion and is already on its way. ThorSport Racing is now the longest tenured team in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series. A third truck was added to the team in 2011. A fourth truck was added this year. Behind the wheel of the latest, No. 44 Ansell / Menards Chevrolet Silverado, is Frank Kimmel, a nine-time champion of the Automobile Racing Club of America series and the second highest ARCA purse-winning driver. He is ThorSport’s first full-time ARCA racer. He joins No. 88 Menards Chevrolet driven by Matt Crafton; the No. 13 Safe Auto/Curb Records Chevrolet driven by Johnny Sauter; and the No. 98 Ferrell Gas / Agrisure Chevrolet driven by Dakoda Armstrong. - written by Sharon Thatcher for Frame Building News