The heavy, 20-minute rain shower on Aug. 1 was not about to dampen the festive atmosphere at the Aeromotive open house and car show.
It was the 21st anniversary for Aeromotive, a Lenexa company that specializes in fuel systems for cars.
“We design and manufacture fuel systems so everything we sell we design,” said 53-year-old owner Steve Matusek. “We have our own drawings. That is the unique thing about our company. Everything we do is tied to the aerospace industry because that is what I learned and why our products have been successful over the years.”
The open house and car show was to let more people know about the company, at 7805 Barton St., in Lenexa, said Aeromotive marketing director Jackson Lueg.
“We brought in TV personalities,” Lueg said.
And that gave people an option when the rain hit. Inside the main Aeromotive building, car enthusiasts were able to talk and take pictures with John Andrade, Jr., a street rod racer whose exploits are showcased on the Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws on Mondays.
Andrade was one of several celebrities brought to Aeromotive’s open house and car show.
“I bought a full fuel system from Aeromotive,” said Andrade, who is from Oklahoma. “They are the best in the business.”
Andrade was pleasantly surprised by the number of cars that showed up, and so was KC Mathieu, another TV personality whose paint work is seen on the Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud. He is part of the Gas Monkey Garage crew that is featured on the show.
“It is a lot bigger turnout than I was expecting,” Mathieu said. “I am impressed.”
One of the things that Matusek likes is the contacts many of his workers have made across the country.
Andrade and Mathieu eagerly accepted the invitation to the open house, making the trip from Oklahoma and Texas to Lenexa.
“That,” Matusek said, “is attributed to the guys who work here. They are forging relationships and bringing people in.”
As Matusek scanned the parking lot and saw all the cars and people there, he said the moment was surreal.
When he was getting his aerospace engineering degree, he never envisioned owning a company. His first job out of college was at McDonnell Douglas in St. Louis.
“I had my little cubicle and program,” Matusek said. “I was bored to tears. I grew up in racing. My father raced.”
Matusek left and went to a company where he could pursue his interest a little more. He worked for a defense contracting company that was branching out in other areas, such as making parts for the type of cars Matusek enjoyed. He was happy.
But in the early 1990s, there was a downturn in defense contract work.
“They cut out all the commercial programs and that pulled me back into aerospace,” Matusek said. “I was going to school for my MBA at the time. We had two kids. My wife quit her job at the time to stay home with the kids.”
Matusek grew frustrated at his job.
“My wife said, ‘Why don’t you do it on your own?’” Matusek said. “I sat down and started writing a business plan. It took us two years to get the business plan written and funded, but we stayed diligent.”
During this time when he was pursuing his MBA, Matusek learned about venture capital.
“We managed to find Kansas City Equity Partners,” Matusek said. “My business plan caught their attention. We hit it off. We did our due diligence. They cut a check, and the business was started.”
There was one catch. Matusek had to move the company and his family to Kansas City. The Matuseks arrived in Kansas City in November, 1994.
“It was hard,” said Matusek’s wife, Lori Matusek. “He would work late nights. He would come home, eat dinner and go back to work. But we had a good balance. I handled the home, the kids, and he handled everything at work.”
Once the company started rolling, Matusek pursued his other passion and began racing in 1998. He races in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series.
“I race from Gainesville, Fla., to Pomona, Calif., and everywhere in between,” Matusek said.
And so does Bub Miller, who is director of motorsports at Aeromotive. It was his connection that brought in Andrade and Mathieu.
Actively racing, Matusek said, is one of the key reasons why their product succeeds.
“We go to race tracks and actively participate, and with us participating, we find out the problems and come up with solutions,” Matusek said. “We solve problems. It is how we are able to expand.”
Aeromotive employers 20 workers. Miller said it is a nice blend of young and older people.
“We really work well together,” Miller said. “More than anything, Steve has developed a great company. The actual product we make and the process we make them basically come from the aerospace industry. We use good materials to make good products.”
Lenexa resident David Kuntz, who brought his 1934 Ford, three-window coupe to the open house, endorses the products at Aeromotive.
“They stand behind their product,” Kuntz said.
Kuntz said these words while wiping the rain drops off his car as the sun returned and the car show resumed in earnest.
“I think it is amazing,” Lori said of Aeromotive. “I am very proud of him. He has done a great job. He has such a passion.”
Matusek gives credit to everybody who has worked at Aeromotive. He considers them part of the company.
“Everybody who works for the company has ownership,” he said. “We have a lot of enthusiasts here. Everybody chips in.
“It is really a neat environment. Everybody who works for the company is passionate and engaged. It is a real team environment.”