A focus on cylinder heads and induction has catapulted David Localio and Headgames Motorworks to the top of the heap in their selected discipline. Localio, a graduate of the School of Automotive Machinists, is a gearhead that’s been involved in the performance industry for most of his life. Back when we first met him over 20 years ago, he was cruising the streets of Philadelphia in a sweet turbocharged Buick T-Type that caused many hurt feelings at the time. He still owns that car today and is in the process of a rebuild that’s going to shock many people – and we’ll have the details of the powerplant build here on EngineLabs.
Localio’s experience gained at the SAM school, combined with subsequent experience gained in the porting room at Pat Musi Racing Engines, helped him to develop a strategy for building cylinder heads that do one thing – perform as advertised.
Just part of the shop – the porting room and office space is off to the right, and shipping and receiving is also out of the frame.
Back in 2001, he struck out on his own to modify domestic cylinder heads, as that was his experience, but a chance encounter led him into the Sport Compact marketplace, an area where Headgames still dominates the market with various champions in all forms of competition today.
We’ve been in dozens of shops in our time in the business; one thing that immediately struck us upon entering Headgames Motorworks was the cleanliness of the facility – there are no piles of junk parts laying around, or dirty floors. It’s like an operating room, and that’s perhaps exactly as it should be. The level of precision Localio and his team build into their parts is best described as ‘surgical’.
In The Shop
In order to achieve success, Localio feels that an investment in both equipment and people is paramount to performance. He’s assembled a staff that’s unique within the industry; it consists mostly of gearheads of the female persuasion. That’s right – there are three women and two dudes to be found in the building other than the head man himself. Tiffani Habel, Amy Stires, Sara Brothers, and Rich Dembowski have all been trained by Localio; he feels that they’ve come to the business with fewer ingrained work habits and other preconceptions about how to do things. During our visit the ladies were all business.
An example of the finish on all heads tuned up by Headgames Motorworks.
Ed Turnier has also worked with the company since its inception, and went to school with Localio at SAM. He worked for Pro Stock standout Mike’s Racing Heads before landing at HeadGames in 2004.
Buford standing guard.
‘The bigger the dream, the more important the team. I am blessed to have such an awesome group of tenacious, hard working, loyal, interested, no-ego visionary employees. We have created an environment that breeds quality, cleanliness and organization. An environment that makes you happy to go to work. Our turn over rate is nearly zero – this is really unheard of not only at a machine shop but any type of business,” says Localio.
“We train like there is a championship on the line, because in reality it is. Our reputation is our title bout, and we are committed to becoming the undisputed heavyweight champion of our craft.”
As each one of the ladies has learned their craft at his direction, they have defined duties within the organization that play to their strengths. Tiffani Habel is the machinist – she does all of the valve guide and seat work, shipping, and runs the daily workings of the business, while Sara Brothers is responsible for disassembly, head cleaning, and flow testing.
Amy Stires is responsible for machining the heads for lash (import heads often use buckets or other shims where you have to tip the valve to achieve desired lash) . Localio and Edward Turnier are the main head porters– each and every race-winning cylinder head that comes out of the Headgames facility has been massaged by their capable hands. In addition, Localio is teaching Rich Dembowski his way around the grinder.
Tiffani (left) and Sara (right) hard at work in their respective areas.
Along with the investment in his people, Localio has also invested heavily into the proper equipment so that each of the employees can perform their duties consistently and quickly.
There’s a Superflow SF600 flowbench, multiple Bridgeport mills and lathes, a Sunnen DCM surfacer, Sunnen SGM1500 seat and guide machine, and numerous other tools of the trade spread out around the facility. There are no machines jammed in on top of one another; each workstation has plenty of room for the operator to perform the machining processes with room to spare.
Just some of the shop machinery.
Unlike some porting facilities that specialize in particular engine platforms, Localio’s experience lends itself well to the traditional small and big-block pushrod V8, but also to the newer generation of overhead cam engines that have been the foundation of the company’s major successes to date – an arena that has the company well-positioned to stay at the top of the heap in the future as engine technologies advance and multi-valve cylinder head arrangements become more popular at the OE level.
Headgames is known as one of the kings of the Toyota 2JZ engine, having performed work for numerous well-known competitors in that marketplace. In addition, that expertise has led him to work on the following platforms with great success – Honda B/D/H/K , Hyundai GK4F, Mitsubishi 4G63, Nissan’s VQ35/GTR and VR38, along with the Porsche 996/997TT and Subaru EJ 20 and EJ25.
“Thankfully a cylinder head does not know what genre it is, so we can apply our principles any way we see fit. However, coming from the domestic side, learning all the engine codes and how to properly address the multi-valve platforms and what they like was a challenge at first. Thankfully, we got to work with some of the biggest names in import racing and learned quickly what works and what doesn’t, along with what survives and what doesn’t in demanding racing applications,” says Localio.
“I think it will be interesting to see on the domestic side of things as the heads are now leaning towards the multi-valve platforms, how the guys that adhered to the traditional two valve cylinder head adjust to it. I think coming from both sides of the fence and being super-successful on every genre we have touched gives us a leg up on the competition.”
Localio hard at work on a customer’s GTR cylinder head – you can see the process in the video above.
One thing to note about the work performed at Headgames – there are no CNC machines here to port heads; as the best CNC machines are only able to replicate designs created by the human hand, Localio believes that his porting packages are best tailored to the goals of the individual competitor.
Localio’s meticulous nature has led him into the burgeoning Ford EcoBoost and Coyote market, as he is currently working with one of the leading race shops to develop cylinder head profiles that will help the new EcoBoost to hurt plenty of feelings.
In fact, we briefly touched on those here and will be back to the shop soon to build a dedicated article on the castings as Headgames’ EcoBoost program moves further along. We’re in the process of determining a proper course of action for a project car on one of our sister magazines (StangTV) that will focus on EcoBoost performance, and Headgames’ reputation for multi-valve small engine performance speaks for itself.
Intake and exhaust ports on the aforementioned EcoBoost project, along with a shot of it on the Headgames flowbench. 'The bowl area of the head’s really choked up from the factory. We took .170-inch of material out to maximize performance. We picked up 70 cfm of flow on the intake and 60 cfm on the exhaust side without even doing a valvejob. The exhaust is still 86 percent of the intake, which is where we want to be,' says Headgames’ Localio.
Headgames also does plenty of development work for the aforementioned V8 engines, as his cylinder heads in all forms can be found in organized competition engines all over the world. As an up-and-coming provider of cylinder head services from repairs to full-on port development, Localio has Headgames Motorworks positioned to be a name at the forefront of the cylinder head industry for years to come.