Racer Spotlight: Mike Janis and Jan-Cen Motorsports

June 29, 2018 / by Bradley Iger

After a few low-key seasons, the Janis team has been firing on all cylinders this year, taking over the points lead in Pro Mod in June after a win in Virginia.

In the Janis family, high performance has been a way of life for generations. “My grandfather started back in 1958 with his business partner, Tony Centra,” explains Mike Janis Jr. “That’s where the name came from. It started out as more or less your typical local engine shop, but these days we’re building engines for drag racing, circle track, tractor pulling, hot rods, drifting, marine, and other high performance applications for people all over the world.” Along with their custom engine building services – where supercharged mills are their specialty – Jan-Cen has also expanded into power sports, offering ATVs, side by sides, snowmobiles and the like, as well the hardware to upgrade them.

Mike Janis Jr. has been at the helm of the team’s crew efforts since he was 16. In 2015, he received the Crew Chief of the Year award at the NHRA J&A Service Pro Mod Series championship awards banquet. 34 years old at the time, Janis Jr. was the youngest recipient of the award to date.

Considering their long-standing penchant for horsepower, it likely comes as little surprise that the Janis crew also has a long history of mixing it up at the track with their own cars as well. “My dad got started really young, going to the races with my grandfather when he was about six years old,” he says. “He started on mini bikes and just worked his way up through the ranks. Eventually he ended up in Top Sportsman before later moving into Pro Mod. We’ve been racing for over forty years.”

The apple, as they say, doesn’t fall far from the tree, and Mike Jr’s early immersion into racing would solidify his passion for the sport. “Since I was little I’ve been going on the road with my dad, traveling to different races around the country,” he says. “And I’ve been the full-time crew chief for the team since I was 16 years old.”

Underpinning the Al-Anabi Performance/Mike Janis Superchargers ’69 Chevrolet Camaro is a Jerry Bickel-built tubular chassis and a 526-cube mill that cranks out roughly 3,000 horsepower.

The team’s first Pro Mod car was a ’96 Camaro, Mike says. “It actually had a 706ci nitrous engine in it. We didn’t have too great of luck with it – nitrous was tricky to work with back then. Our big change happened back in 2000, when we switched to a supercharged combination with our ’63 split-window Corvette. We ended up winning the championship the very next year.”

Earlier this year the team spent some time in Qatar, where they not only secured the title in the Arabian Drag Racing League championship but also managed to get in about 70 passes, track time which Janis Jr. says helped the team dial in the car for a strong showing in the NHRA series this season.

These days the Janis team campaigns a 1969 Camaro with a Jerry Bickel-built tubular chassis in the NHRA Pro Mod series. They’re currently sitting in the top spot in the championship points race going into the next race at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio. “We were over in Qatar in the Middle East for about forty days during the winter time earlier this year and won the Arabian Drag Racing League championship with the car as well,” Mike notes. “So we’ve been pretty busy so far this year, and we’re hoping to have a strong finish as well.”

Pro Mod’s rule set yields a fairly diverse field, not only in terms of car bodies but the hardware motivating them, as turbocharged, supercharged, and nitrous power adders are all fair game. “Everybody has different rules they have to conform to because of their setup, though – like for us, we have to weigh 2,600 pounds and we’re limited on our blower overdrive, which is only 16.5%,” he tells us.

In business since 1958, Jan-Cen Motorsports specializes in supercharged engine builds for drag racing, drifting, tractor pulling, and other high performance applications where big power is required.

Although team prefers to leave most of the ’69 Camaro’s specs under wraps, we do know that the Chevy gets its motivation from a 526 cubic-inch power plant per class rules, which makes roughly 3,000 horsepower. “We build all of our own engines and superchargers in-house,” Mike Jr. notes. “And we’re tied in tight with Trend Performance – we have been running their wrist pins and pushrods for quite a few years now, and through testing and a close relationship with the company, we’ve seen a lot of gains and improvements. And – knock on wood – we’ve got parts that are three years old that we still cycle in and out of the car. Trend does a really good job with their quality control and their customer service, which is hugely important for us as engine builders. And turnaround is impeccable; I’ve never waited longer than three or four days for parts.”

Simply put, Mike Janis Sr. is the winningest driver in Pro Mod history.

While Mike Janis Sr. handles the driving duties for the team and Mike Jr. serves as crew chief, they’re quick to point out that’s far from a two-man operation. “We have a great group of volunteer guys who have been helping us for many years,” Janis explains. “Kevin Peters has been working in the shop for over twenty years and helps us on the team, along with Dave, Ernie, John, and Jimmy. Just a bunch of major gearheads that want to see us succeed.”

Mike Janis Jr. tells us that Jan-Cen Motorsports has been running Trend wrist pins and pushrods for a number of years. “Through testing and a close relationship with the company, we’ve seen a lot of gains and improvements. Trend also does a really good job with their quality control and their customer service, which is hugely important for us as engine builders.”

Janis says last season was more of an extended test and tune session more than anything else. “We were really building up to this year,” he notes. “Even though we didn’t finish very high in the points, we still had a good run at and we got a lot of testing done in the process, which I think helped put us in a better position for this season.”

The team’s experience contending with sanctioning body supercharger limitations has made Mike Janis Superchargers one of the go-to outfits for competitors in Pro Mod, Top Sportsman, and other motorsport disciplines who’re looking for potent blower packages.

The time the team spent overseas was also a significant factor, he adds. “We spent forty days in Qatar and we made 65 to 70 runs over there, which is as many runs as you might make in an entire season over here. Being able to have that many runs with the car and attain that much data really helped us when we showed up at Gainesville, and it was a key contributor to where we’re at right now.”

As for the rest of this season, Janis says their prospects are looking good, but they’re not about to rest on their laurels. “Our main goal right now is to win the NHRA Pro Mod championship this year. It’s more competitive than it’s ever been – there’s 32 to 36 cars at every event competing for 16 spots. If we can pull it off despite the fact that we’re doing it on one of the lowest budgets out there, it’ll make it that much sweeter.”

Mike Janis Sr. won his first IHRA Pro Mod championship in 2001, and three years later he would earn his second national Pro Mod title. Going strong into this season, the team is looking to make it happen again in 2018.

In the meantime, the team plans to spend some more time honing the setup. “After the Norwalk event, the Pro Mod tour doesn’t run again until September at Indy,” he points out. “So we have a lot of time off, and that means a lot of R&D with superchargers and motors so we can put together a program that’ll catapult us through the rest of 2018 and come out even harder in ’19.”

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Written by Bradley Iger

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