The reputation for Eastern Canadian “tuning guru” Al Billes has achieved world wide recognition…..

While both the Canadian and USA drag racing scene have known it for a long time (that Al Billes provides something very special to drag racing) that notion and recognition has now expanded to a global status.

Hands down — Al Billes is one of the most respected tuner/consultants in all of drag racing….

From some rather humble beginnings within his own independent race shop located in Barrie Ontario and dating back to the early 1980’s, Al Billes’ path in drag racing has been dynamic to say the least. After first becoming a very accomplished and championship winning Pro Modified class driver in his own rite – Billes’ passion for developing new and innovative technology for the sport took over and that theme remains with him today.

The demand for ABR motor programs, supercharger and fuel systems as well as tuning expertise has in more recent seasons taken him on quite a ride. The story of Al Billes involves a long but very rewarding journey from some early days at local Ontario tracks like Cayuga and St. Thomas, through the highest levels of the North American drag racing, and now including the drag racing scenes in Europe, the Middle East and Australia.

It’s really been a situation of reputation preceding a person and the word spreading about the career for this very likeable, calculated and quietly confident innovator.

“Growing up in little old Barrie, I never thought much about drag racing as a kid,” Al reflected. “I was brought up within an engineering environment and studied that for my degree, and things just transpired. It’s been more of a life experience — I had no real long term plans to make this happen (drag racing) and doing what I do now. Who would ever have thought that I’d be travelling all over the world, flying in both private jets and first class international flights so I could go and work on race cars (?) — certainly I didn’t!”

During DragRaceCanada’s visit down to Australia mid last season we did witness some sample interaction with just one of a typical project that directly involved Al Billes. Al (accompanied by his son Dylan) was in attendance for Australian drag racing’s largest event ever (the 50th Winternationals at Willowbank – presented by 400 Thunder), where Al was a consultant for the Pro Slammer Camaro raced by fast up-and-coming Australian Tony DeFelice. For DeFelice, who is a very successful homebuilder company owner (based from Melbourne) — his comments about Al’s services, were both representative and typical.

“I had been following Al’s career in Pro Mod from afar for a while,” Tony revealed. “He had some history with my car builder Murray Anderson (Anderson built Billes’ famous Studebaker – photo below) and I connected though him. Simply put – he’s one of the best and I wanted the best. With all the math and figures involved with this sport — “he gets it” — and believe me that perfection is not easy to find.”

Al Billes’s tuning expertise has earned him a stint in Australia along side legendary car builder Murray Anderson (centre) and Pro Slammer racer Tony DeFelice

For Billes, maybe surprisingly to some, he admits that being exclusively involved with the technical side only of drag racing is — not necessarily his first choice. But that path was determined by some circumstance. During the early 00’s Al did have a couple of high speed incidents while driving Pro Mod cars during which he was concussed.

“After those accidents I did struggle to recover from concussion,” he confirmed. “In my heart I really wanted to drive again – but my Doctor strongly suggested long ago that I do not due to the risk — so taking that and the desires of my family into consideration — it won’t happen. Putting all my focus into the tech and R&D thus became my next best option.  Circumstance closed one door but then opened up another.”

Although the current reputation for Al Billes centres on his technical expertise — during his driving career he was a regular winner at both the IHRA and NHRA national event levels. One of his most historical wins came at Grand Bend Motoplex’s 2003 Mopar Canadian Nationals racing his (Murray Anderson) built ’53 Stude.

But it’s also safe to say now that Al Billes is enjoying his current roles within the sport of drag racing – while being afforded opportunities that are both unique and very rare for drag racing.

In recent times too — Al Billes was also a guiding light for the NAS (Nad Al Shiba) PDRA P/X team from Dubai

“I think within all my travels to drag strips all over — I do see the world of drag racing a bit differently,” he confided. “While there are similarities to all drag strips – I do get see some wide diversity and I think that can make a person more well rounded. I’ve been given the opportunity to be involved with a variety of built race cars and some of those are totally different to work on. So that combined with some very different race tracks can produce a lot of unknowns. I’ve been fortunate to be able to see a lot of things and have a much broader perspective for drag racing. I think that part of the sport keeps it all fresh for me.”

It’s also accurate to say that the name Al Billes is know synonymous with Pro Mod.  He has dabbled in others (i.e.: Alcohol FC) but for sure the PM class category has certainly become his forte. During his career he has touched many PM types (NHRA – IHRA – PDRA), but over time it is the supercharged breed variety that is his speciality.

“Do I have a favourite Pro Mod (?) – that’s hard to answer,” he added. “There are many different Pro Mod cars types out there and each (nitrous injected – turbocharged – supercharged) offer both advantages and challenges.  While some of them may often look the same that’s really not the truth underneath. I like to think of them as “all significantly slightly different”(!)  But in my observation, for Pro Mod type cars, maybe more than in any other class in drag racing – anything, even extremely subtle changes or adjustments can be very consequential. The class has a temperament!”

The list for Billes’ involvement with A-list Pro Mod teams within North America is a very vast one – including of course within Canada (with Kenny Lang – top) and the USA (Colorado’s Mike Knowles) – only two examples.

Al Billes was born into racing, and his DNA for sure is that of his father Dave Billes who was inducted into the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1994. Just last December, Al Billes himself also garnered some elite recognition when he was one of the new inductees into John Scotti’s Canadian Drag Racing Hall of Fame – based in Montreal.

Post and Photos by Bruce Biegler

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