Back to the Future: Custom car builder revs up auto industry

Betty Dillard It’s easy to spot Wes White’s custom car shop northwest of downtown Fort Worth. Just look for the back-to-showroom-new baby blue ’59 Edsel Ranger out front. White is the driving force behind Injected Customs LLC, a performance shop that specializes in building, fabricating, tuning, repairing and servicing classic cars, from pony and muscle street machines to modern exotics. A masterly designer who knows exactly what customers want – White drives a 551-hp Corvette – he creates cars that deliver, cars that perfectly combine design, of-the-moment technology and thrilling performance. A recent inventory of the shop turned up a few restored and rebuilt rockets: a 1948 Lincoln with a V12 engine and 2,215 original miles; a ’57 Chevy outfitted with the latest technology for its 18-year-old owner; and a ’69 LSR Camaro with a 2014 ZL1 Camaro drivetrain and suspension, its LSA engine modified to make 800 hp on pump gas, with Viper 6 speed, twin disc clutch and carbon fiber driveshaft.

“The best way to describe us is we engineer modern drivetrains in classic bodies to create radical custom builds and handmade super cars,” White said. “We manage private collections. We also do maintenance, service and modifications for new speed Ferraris, Lamborghinis, Porches, Audis, Corvettes, Camaros. We do rare restorations and we do full engine builds. There’s not anyone in Texas that does what we do.” White recently celebrated his 32nd birthday but is already well known throughout the performance car community, having more than a decade of experience building super cars and customs and working on exotic and classic restorations. He seems to have been born to understand automotive engineering and design. His father was an aircraft mechanic and Vietnam veteran who lost an arm when he was hit by a drunk driver. He owned a small collection of cars and Corvettes that he raced, and chartered several Corvette clubs, including the Longhorn Corvette Club in Austin, now one of the largest in Texas.

“He’s what inspired me,” White said. “I grew up every weekend going to a road race, auto cross or car show. He would drag me and my mom and the race car with him. That’s where it started. I’ve wanted my own shop since I was 8. When I was 14, I made my parents buy me a welder. I taught myself how to weld and starting cutting stuff apart all over the place.” White was also 14 when he competitively raced his own 1962 Corvette on the weekends. In high school, he played football and attended night school, earning college credits through the University of Texas Society of Automotive Engineers program. The team built Formula One D cars, which they competed with locally. That program led to a part-time gig with an exclusive race shop where White, then 17, built dragsters. After high school, he attended Baylor University on a football scholarship. But the budding engineer played only a year and a half. “I just wanted to build cars and get an engineering degree,” he said. He enrolled in Baylor’s engineering program, which was at Texas State Technical College, and graduated with a degree in applied science and engineering and automotive engineering technology.

Two months after graduation, White was hired at Shelby American Inc., Carroll Shelby’s Las Vegas-based performance car company. “I had the privilege to work with a legend. I was his engineer along with a small five-man team for over two years,” White said. White also had the distinction of working with another master builder, Chip Foose, in California. White and the team created “Eleanor,” a customized Ford Mustang stunt car, for the 2000 remake of Gone in 60 Seconds. “We created 14 of the Eleanors and other movie cars,” said White, who also took part in the television shows Overhaulin, Rides and Extreme Home Makeover. All that exposure led him to creating cars for movie stars, celebrities and professional athletes. “It was life changing at 23 to be dealing with all of those celebrities. It was super flattering,” White said. One day three New Zealanders walked in the shop and asked to see how the cars were being built. Liking what they saw, the men offered White the opportunity to move to New Zealand and build an all hand-fabricated steel version of Eleanor, a 1967 Mustang called the “Steel Stallion.” It took 6,000 hours to create the super car, which included White’s patented suspension. “I’m all about form and function,” White said. “We pride ourselves on making a car absolutely perfect. I won’t deliver until the car is perfect. It has to be good enough for me.” White won an award for the Steel Stallion at the 2006 SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Association) show in Las Vegas. “It really took me to another level and that’s what made me come to Fort Worth,” White said. “Fort Worth was the best, most stable place with the best economy, the best place to raise a family and lots of car fanatics. I had no idea there were this many car fanatics here. So I just gambled. I had $64 in my bank account when I started this company.”

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A game changer Injected Customs was launched in early 2010 and in less than two years, White built the business internationally along with his street cred to top speed. Then something unexpected almost stopped him in his tracks. In April 2012, White and his girlfriend, Tamara Drilling, were on their way to Austin for the Lone Star Round Up Car Show when he fell ill. “We thought Wesley was invincible. He runs circles around most people. He is a car-building freak of nature, never gets sick and heals like Superman,” Drilling said. “He rides his bike for 15 to 30 miles at a time without getting winded. He has broken horses, trained a pet pig and has neutered his own goats. He can curl up inside a car and weld all day long. His welds are perfect. He’s a perfectionist – and everything he does must match that philosophy.” “Mr. Horsepower” and “Mr. Healthy,” as Drilling calls White, wasn’t invincible. He was admitted to the hospital with a perforated colon. Two days later he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, rare for someone his age. The doctors also discovered he carried a FLT3 gene mutation. White immediately started chemotherapy and spent 55 days in the hospital. After five rounds of chemo, he needed a stem cell/marrow transplant if he were to survive. He joined the Be The Match Registry but when no donor matches were found in the database, his best option was to receive a haploid transplant from his mother. “It came down to the last minute. No one was a match, not my sister or my father,” said White. “Then they checked my mother who happened to be a match. It was a gamble.”

He celebrated his one-year anniversary free from cancer on Oct. 4 by skydiving. “Yeah, 2013 was a crappy year. But it made me a better person,” he said. “It’s completely changed my life. Now I’m obsessed with building cars to help cancer patients or to mentor to others in my situation. I learned a lot of things trial and error I can pass on to other people undergoing treatment or have no one to turn to like I did. “I had a lot of doubt,” he added. “The worst thing you can do is give up. Cancer is a lot about mental gain and feeding your body what it needs. I continued to ride my bike in the hospital and just never gave up. I want to pass that on to people in my situation. I just want to do for others what people have done for me. I want to help and motivate them.” White is active with the annual Cowtown Cruisin’ for a Cure car show, which raises money and awareness for prostate cancer. He and Drilling also are planning a Be The Match awareness event.

“There’s more that we can do. We want to make a difference,” Drilling said. In addition to helping cancer patients, White is actively searching for a larger facility to rent or buy in which he’ll combine custom builds and restoration work with his automotive painter and interior specialist all under one roof but as separate companies. “I’m excited about the expansion,” he said. “I’ve got to find the right place and once we move we can really grow the business.” For the past three years, White’s been working on the next big thing – a revolutionary, fully independent drive, 2300 hp prototype ’67 Camaro dubbed the “Sinister Kid.” He plans to enter the Kid next year for the Detroit Autorama Ridler Award and the Goodguys Street Machine of the Year Award, the top two competitions in the performance car world. “We hope to win,” White said. “Nobody’s ever won both awards and I would be the youngest person in 15 years to win the Ridler at 32. That’s my personal goal.”