Tucked away behind the local airport in Manchester, New Hampshire, the Wicked Performance Group building may appear unassuming on the outside. But inside the shop, you will find all sorts of cars and tools that you will never see at your average mechanic’s, including a large TIG welding machine taken from an old submarine that is used for fabricating custom parts.
Jay and his business partner Tom are specialists in working on modified and performance cars, having spent their entire careers in performance-oriented shops before founding Wicked Performance Group. From lightly modded daily drivers all the way up to dedicated race cars like the shop’s two caged Honda CR-X’s, Wicked Performance Group is the type of shop that caters to automotive enthusiasts. In the words of Jay, they specialize in “all things Honda and Subaru, race car preparation, and custom fabrication.” While Jay works on unmodified cars as well, he estimates that most of his work is on modified cars.
Jay and his business partner Tom have over 30 years of combined experience in working on modified cars, and they do all the work at Wicked Performance Group themselves. Jay said he had always had an interest in cars and got his Associate’s Degree in Advanced Automotive Technology before starting out at a mom-and-pop shop that specializes in fabricating hard-to-find parts.
Today, Jay runs a business that does everything from general car mods to building full-blown race cars. Wicked Performance Group still does maintenance on regular cars, but roughly 75% of their business is modified cars. Even the regular cars they work on often have some small mods, since they are usually the daily drivers of customers who have had Wicked Performance Group build them a race car or other high-performance modified car.
Whether for performance, aesthetics, or simply to know that you own something that is one of a kind, modifications are a great way to make your vehicle better fit your personality and driving style. However, if you are new to the world of car mods, the idea of changing anything about your vehicle might make you nervous. That is why the team here at Car Life Nation took some time to sit down and discuss car mods with a professional.
For many, modifying cars is addicting; once you start, you want to keep doing it. Jay describes his work as “a career of stuff that I enjoy,” and it was clear as he spoke through the interview that he was passionate about what he did.
What Is the Appeal of Modification?
“Nobody needs to performance modify their car; it’s something that you want,” Jay stated when asked this very question. Much like any hobby out there, modifying your car is a work of passion. You don’t need to swap out your engine or alter your suspension to get to work on time, you do it because you want something faster, or better, or just more fun to drive. This is an industry full of people who are passionate about what they do and who genuinely enjoy their work.
For many drivers, the joy that comes from modification is simply the end result. The feel of having more power roaring under the hood or the pride of having a car with a custom look that no one else has. For others, the appeal of modifying cars also comes from doing the work yourself. Whatever camp you fall into, once you start modifying, you may never want to stop.
This is obvious by Jay’s customer base, which he describes as “a pretty mixed bag.” He says that his customers range from the “young guns” who are just getting into the performance scene to the retired individuals that have time on their hands to invest in this hobby.
Jay stated that “A lot of the fun of it is that you can custom tailor your car to your own specific wants, needs, and style. I think a lot of people enjoy that; it’s an extension of themselves, their personality, and what they enjoy.”
Anyone can find something to like about changing up their vehicle, which is why modifying is so much fun.
Where Should You Start?
If you are new to modifying cars, the idea of starting may seem daunting. When we asked Jay about what his advice would be for people who want to get into modifying their cars, he told us the biggest piece of advice he could give was to do your research before you start. Do a lot of research. Modifying cars is fun and can lead to some pretty spectacular results, but there are also a lot of things you need to take into account when you are doing so.
Jay says you always need to consider “maintenance before modification… safety before power.” You can have the power to make your car go really fast, but if you don’t have the brakes to quickly stop at those speeds, then you’ll never actually be able to safely use that power to its fullest.
You should always prioritize keeping your car safe and mechanically sound before changing or adding anything. After all, a modified car still needs the regular oil changes and maintenance that any car requires. If you regularly push your car, you will need to pay even more attention to maintenance––particularly if you are looking into joining the race scene.
Racing is hard on cars, and Jay pointed out that while 2/32nds of an inch on your brake pads may pass a New Hampshire state inspection, but on the track, you’ll wear through that before your third lap. Wicked Performance Group offers Track Day Inspections as one of its services, and Jay said that safety is the important part of these inspections, not performance.
There are also some legal limitations that you have to keep in mind when you modify cars. You can’t put an older engine in a newer car; it must be at least the same model year or newer. You also have to meet emissions standards, although that is easier with classic cars. The laws and regulations can change, especially if you live in a state with annual inspections like New Hampshire, so make sure you stay up to date on the latest rules as you work on your car. Still, there is a lot you can do to improve your car’s looks and performance without having to worry about legal issues.
If you are planning on doing the work yourself, you need to have a base of knowledge before you start modifying and make sure you are prioritizing safety and maintenance. However, as long as you keep those considerations in mind, there is so much you can do.
Modifying cars is as much an adventure in discovery and experimentation as it is driving something different.
How Do I Start?
Okay, so you’ve done the research, and you have an idea of what you want. How do you get started? Well, from here you have two options, more or less. You can try to do the work yourself, or you can find a performance shop like Wicked Performance Group to do it for you. However, that choice is all up to you and your comfort level.
Jay says that there are a lot of people who love to work on their cars themselves. As we said, it’s a hobby for many, and getting your hands dirty and being able to say “I built that” can be a huge part of it. Jay mentioned that he sees some immaculate customer-built cars that come through his doors for service, and he sometimes finds himself floored by their quality.
Overall, his advice is, “If you’re comfortable, go for it. If you’re not sure, it’s always best to seek professional advice.”
Doing it yourself can be fun, but it can also be a pain when you mess something up or start a project you really don’t have the skills for yet. And, when it comes to modifying a car, you want to make sure that the work is good because you will be trusting your safety (and the safety of those around you) to your handiwork.
The internet is an excellent resource for getting started with your research, and there are countless online resources to help you along your way. But, Jay reminds us that the internet is full of both good information and bad, and you need to be able to determine which is which. Many custom shops will work with you to offer you support and advice for your installation questions, particularly if you buy the parts for your build through them. Building a relationship with a local shop also means that you will have a place you trust to take your vehicle if the project turns out to be too big for you.
Like any other hobby, modifying cars requires a skill set that takes time to build. In fact, Jay says that most of his experience in modifying cars is just “a lot of research and just doing it ourselves for ourselves.” You learn, you get better, or you find someone who already knows what to do. For example, Jay discussed how they will sometimes build roll cages for customers. However, a “roll cage is hard to break into. It’s a very serious thing to get involved with. Workwise, it’s not for the faint of heart. You need a lot of skill sets to get to that point.” Sometimes, there are mods that are easy, and sometimes you really want to trust a professional.
So, How Do You Find a Professional?
While we definitely would recommend checking out Wicked Performance Group if you are in Southern New Hampshire, if you live elsewhere, we asked for a few tips to help you find the right team to work with.
Jay recommended that you stay local and check out the places in your area. Talk to them and get an idea of what the place is like to deal with before you commit to anywhere. Jay also emphasized that you need to ask questions and make sure the people are knowledgeable. Modifying cars can be complicated, so you need to work with someone who knows what they are doing.
Jay says that the goal of Wicked Performance Group is to provide a quality product that they are confident in. In order to reach that level of confidence, they do a lot of work on their own vehicles before offering the service to customers. This includes building the previously mentioned Honda CR-X race cars that Jay and Tom drive at local hill climb events.
Jay’s car, #691, boasts a built D16 engine with a turbo kit fabricated in-house at Wicked Performance Group. The stainless exhaust and six-point roll cage also serve as examples of the sort of custom fabrication work that Wicked Performance Group offers to its customers.
While not every shop will have a rolling advertisement for what they are capable of, it is important to make sure you go to a shop that can handle the work you desire. If you need a roll cage done, for example, you need to go to a place that has experience with the rules of the type of racing that you are doing.
If you have a place you trust that may not specialize in what you need, talk to them about it and make sure they are willing to step out of their comfort zone to do what is best for you, not what is best for them. Jay said that if a customer requests something he reasonably thinks he can do, he will. “Our heart and soul goes into it; our reputation goes into it.” This is the kind of willingness and passion you should look for when finding a shop to work with.
You need someone that wants to do the work because they love it, not because they love the money they make from it.
Should I Buy an Already Modified Car?
Maybe you don’t want to wait to have a modified car. Can you just buy one that was already modified by a previous owner? The answer is yes, but be cautious. Remember what we said about research being key? That applies here too.
Always exercise caution when buying a car that has already been modified because you can never be entirely sure what was done with it and whether it was done properly. Jay says that you should always have a professional inspect the car before buying it.
He said that people will often come to his shop so excited that they found a great modified car, and he has to explain to them that they actually bought a lemon. When asked about this, he responded that “some things look better than they are to an untrained eye.”
Bright and shiny parts do not always mean that it is a good purchase if the parts were improperly installed. Likewise, some rusty parts are not always something to avoid since they can usually be replaced – just make sure the shell of the car is free from rust since fixing that may prove impossible. Jay says that if the body is solid, then focus on checking the most expensive parts, like making sure that the engine is good and that the transmission shifts smoothly. Other things can be changed or adjusted from there, but how much repair work you are willing to accept will depend on your budget.
“The Work Never Ends”
As Jay said, modifying your car is like an itch that you can never scratch. His day-to-day operations may include a lot of behind-the-desk work to make sure Wicked Performance Group is running smoothly, but the passion for performance cars always remains. Jay said that he loves learning new skills, and he told us that he is currently looking to expand his services into more domestic models, particularly classic muscle cars.
Modifying cars is a hobby, a journey, and a passion for so many. Maybe it can be for you too.