Bruce Serene started racing cars when he was 13-years-old in Herington. That interest developed over the years into a successful business of rebuilding engines, and he depends on skills learned on the job to stay on top of the workload at his Hillsboro shop.
“To be good at racing you have to be a great multi-tasker,” Serene said. “Racers make split second decisions and they have to be good ones, or it’s over.”
Serene used to specialize in racing sprint cars, and at one time was considered the best in the business.
“When I used to race, it wasn’t unusual to drive 500 miles to a track,” he said. “But if I’m not competing, I probably wouldn’t walk across the street to watch.”
Serene curtailed his race activities when he realized he wanted to spend more time with his family.
“It used to be a lot of fun,” he said. “But I got to the point where I wanted to be with my family more and not always wondering what they might be doing.”
Serene and his wife, Deidre, have three older children, two in college, and one a student at Hillsboro High School. Instead of racing cars every weekend, they spend time together watching their children compete in athletic events, or pulling a trailer of snowmobiles to Colorado three or four times a year for some fun on the slopes.
Even though he no longer drives go-carts, modified cars, or sprint cars around a track, Serene stays very busy rebuilding all types of engines for dealers, other engine shops, individuals, and race-track enthusiasts.
“I am the king of multi-tasking,” he said. “This is an emergency room for engines.
Serene rebuilds engines from modified racers to cruisers, family mini-vans, farm trucks and tractors, and everything in between.
“I work on whatever comes through the door,” he said. “They are all of the same importance to me. You have to keep a good mixture of work to survive in this business.”
It is his ability and experience in the field that keep customers coming to his door at 404 Floral Drive, even in a down economy.
“When I stopped racing, we had the best equipment in the business,” he said. “I work on some of the best and people see my name on those cars and call.”
Just last week, Serene sent three rebuilt race engines out the door to a top racing client in Wichita who knew him from his track days.
Serene said many of his customers spend Friday and Saturday at the race track, punishing their engines, or out in the back yard, dreaming up rebuilding dreams, so that by Monday they need to call and talk to someone about what they want to do.
“The best calls are those people who start out saying ‘I don’t really want anything but I have a question.’ I enjoy those,” he said.
He works on vehicles for customers from Marion County as well as from Kansas City, Wichita, and Topeka.
“I’ve worked on a lot of engines,” he said. “I guess if it needs to be done, I am about the only person around that has punished, pushed, and tested enough motors to know what works and what doesn’t.”
In addition to rebuilding engines for others, Serene owns and maintains two vintage cars. He occasionally participates in car shows with a 1966 Shelby Mustang and a 1965 Mustang Fastback.