It is a story that is common in the performance aftermarket—an enthusiast becomes passionate about their hobby and a door opens to turn it into a full-time position. Luis De Leon is on that list, as the Brazilian saw an opportunity to make the switch from FuelTech customer to employee and now, sixteen years later, one its most valued executives. It hasn’t always been about chasing Radial vs. The World records or assisting with some of the most powerful drag race vehicles in the sport, Luis’s humble beginning was no different than most of us.
The native Brazilian has had an affinity for cars and motorsports since a young age and instantly got his driver’s license the day he turned 18, the legal age to drive in his native land. Following a four-year, mandatory stint in the Brazilian army, he would follow a path to college, chasing a mechanical engineering degree. During that time, he had a four-cylinder car with nitrous, picking up a FuelTech ECU to run it all. Back then, the company was just a handful of years old and not yet a dominant stand-alone engine management system.
“At some point I struggled,” confessed Luis as he recalled how he met Anderson Dick, the founder of FuelTech. “The tech couldn’t figure it out over the phone, so Anderson came to my house to make it run,” showing that customer service has been an integral part of FuelTech since its early years. The two car enthusiasts instantly hit it off and kept in touch over the years. Eventually, Luis began working at the Delphi automotive testing lab, but he yearned for more. His desire to chase another challenge, particularly with engines, led to some conversations with Anderson and a casual invitation to come to the FuelTech headquarters. It was a trip that would end up changing both of their lives. Anderson saw a need to have a larger FuelTech presence at race tracks around the country, and he felt Luis possessed the skills to be that representative.
It was 2007 and FuelTech had just three people in tech support, but with Luis in the field, the group would grow larger. Not only did FuelTech expand, so did Luis’ role, as he became supervisor of the developing department and eventually the coordinator of the entire customer service division. He was responsible for designing the RMA and warrantee department and it was around the time that the company expanded into the United States.
“I walked into Anderson’s office and offered to move to Georgia and get in at the beginning. At that point my department was around 11-12 people, and the new group in the United States was just Anderson and two other guys,” Luis explained. The early years were spent in rented space inside Pro Line Racing — that company had the infrastructure in place, and Luis just had to go to Walmart to buy some computers.
With Pro Line Racing’s understanding of the U.S. market, and the technical prowess of the FuelTech engineers, led by Anderson and Luis, the company grew quickly. They focused on customer support and the continual evolution of technology as they kept up with the demands of racers at all levels of motorsports. It didn’t take long for the FuelTech USA group to realize they were quickly outgrowing their small corner of the Pro Line facility. As luck would have it, the building across the parking lot went into foreclosure and FuelTech didn’t hesitate to grab it.
It is no secret that Pro Modified is a large segment of the FuelTech market — the PowerFT engine/power management systems are used to win championships at the highest levels, from the NHRA to the PDRA and beyond. They offer the strongest ignition systems for supercharged and turbocharged engines. This is where the passion for motorsports intersects with business—Luis decided to work with a prominent Pro Modified team and earn his NHRA pro driver’s license. “Anderson and I try to race here and there to get a firsthand glimpse into the customer experience,” Luis confessed. So when the opportunity to work with Brandon Pesz and get behind the wheel for PJS Racing presented itself, Luis didn’t think twice. He would rotate between three cars, letting his natural athletic ability combine with his technologically-focused mind to help elevate FuelTech products even higher.
Once he got a taste for Pro Mod competition and speed, he was hooked and continued to chase after opportunities to drive for teams. It served both his passion for speed as well as further enhancing FuelTech’s position in the market with customer support and creating better products. His love for nitrous-powered combinations came back to the surface when he strapped in behind the wheel of Brian Shaw’s OTG Racing 1969 Chevy Camaro.
FuelTech further enhanced its Pro Nitrous functions, a lot of it due to the work Luis was doing with OTG Racing and other teams. A few years ago, he shocked the world when the Radial vs. The World Camaro ran a stout 3.57, one of the quickest nitrous-powered passes at the time, using FuelTech’s new approach to fast nitrous racing. Luis was quick to comment with a smile, “drag racing follows a lot of traditions, and it is really tough to break those traditions!”
We can’t talk about FuelTech without bringing up the Mainline Hub Dyno, and Luis was more than happy to admit the story is quite fun and turned out better than they ever imagined.
Pro Line Racing had an engine dyno early on, and while that is great, FuelTech products are vehicle control units and not just engine management systems. He explained “we needed to test the car and not just the engine, so we found Mainline Hub Dyno out of Australia.” The team worked with the Aussies to determine which was the proper unit and they settled on the largest one. A representative flew to FuelTech USA’s Ball Ground, Georgia facility to help set it up and train the group.
“Mainline was amazing to work with, but I quickly realized, why are we doing pulls with just one gear,” questioned Luis. The rep thought about the comment. It was never done, but they tried it anyway, realizing the hub dyno could simulate runs down a drag strip. This proved to be a game-changer for FuelTech and its customers. He explained, “this was a revolution in testing.” According to FuelTech, one day of testing on the hub dyno with a new car is equivalent to a full week of on-track action. It not only helps dial in the powertrain combination, but also get new drivers familiar with making a run without ever moving an inch forward. Today, more than 15 FuelTech dealers utilize a hub dyno to help their customers test and tune their vehicles before ever burning rubber on the drag strip.
Supporting customers at drag strips across the country and offering a high level of customer support are hallmarks of FuelTech’s reputation. For Luis, getting his foot in the door 16 years ago led him to follow his passion to the United States, drive racecars, and become Chief Operating Officer—now overseeing five departments and 35 people with FuelTech USA. Meanwhile, FuelTech Brazil has grown to employ 160 people with a worldwide dealer network. It’s also been ten years since Anderson brought Luis into an ownership position.
There are no plans to slow down, and FuelTech recently announced its VisionFT, a next generation product line of VCUs that includes the FT700 and FT700 Plus that is scheduled to hit the market in the summer of 2023. Luis is also staying busy working with NHRA to further expand the use of FuelTech products in professional drag racing, complete with specific software to lock out certain options. They are currently allowed in Pro Modified, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Factory Showdown, and Top Alcohol Dragster/Funny Car.
Then, there is racing, which continues to be important to the brand and Luis. This season he will be behind the wheel of a new 1969 Chevy Camaro by Jerry Bickel Race Cars. The Camaro was built specifically for the Radial vs. The World eliminator and is powered by a Buck Racing Engines nitrous-injected 959 cubic inch engine. The goal is to further develop PowerFT and VisionFT functionality and chase after the title of “quickest nitrous-powered drag vehicle.” He isn’t too far off, scoring a runner-up finish and running in the 3.50s in the first outings at Lights Out 14 at South Georgia Motorsports Park and the FuelTech-sponsored Radial Outlaws Racing Series opener in Steele, Alabama.
From a young college kid looking to go quicker with his street car to Chief Operating Officer of one of the most prolific and influential companies in motorsports, Luis is living a dream and chasing his passion.