For Doug @ ESP, his love for two stroke engines started at the young age of 8 years old, when he received a “COX Chopper Trike” in 1971 for Christmas. With Caster oil stained shirts for the next two summers in Waterford Michigan, the little nitro toy became the first building block for the life of a young, inquisitive, American Industrialist boy.


 Around the same time, My Mom and Dad bought 70 acres and a home in rural Northern Michigan (LP) in Freesoil Michigan, and we moved there when I was 10 years old. We visited the new place for a year or two every weekend we could make the trip, before we moved there in 1974. All the local kids lived at least ½ mile from me and further, and they all had mini bikes, horses, snowmobiles and home made go-carts to get around on. Two or three of them had the all famous Yamaha mini-enduro 60cc two stroke trail bikes, and my love for dirt bikes was born.

    When we finally moved up North, my dad bought my older brother and myself a Honda 4 stroke street bike of 100cc (1972 CL100) to get around in the woods of Northern Michigan. Needless to say, the street bike had a bullet proof engine, but in the woods, as a young inexperienced rider, I learned how to remove things like blinkers, head lights, speedometers, and tail lights that were not really designed for the rigors of a “free as a bird” 10 year old going 45mph through the woods. 

    My Dad bought a little gas station/store when we moved up North. I worked for my dad from the age of 10 to 15 in the store (called “The Road Runner Market”) for 1 dollar/hour. During school, I was just a lazy part timer, but during the summer time I put in 50 hours or more a week, so I could save money for dirt bikes and snowmobiles. I was able to save enough money to buy a new dirt bike about every two years, and by the time I was out of High School, I had the trails and dunes in my area mastered and learned about every part of my bikes.     

    After HS (and a metal shop in HS that no longer exists), things were getting harder to earn, so I decided to go to the local community college to learn how to do something (Machining/Welding) while I worked in restaurants, so I could make more money and pay for racing motocross. I was already sure of what I wanted to get into---manufacturing, because I greatly admired the perfect parts Japan put out for their dirt bikes.

    At that time and earlier, I would work on my own bikes because I could not afford a shop to do the work. I also started modifying them, searching in vain for any modification information I could get my hands on (pre internet). During the motocross racing years (starting in 1984), I won a few races, but I started finding myself more interested in making parts and playing with suspension and engine modification. Donny Emler (Of “FMF“--a motocross engine mod shop in So. Cal.) was becoming more of a roll model for me than Rick Johnson (then, king of the world in pro motocross/supercross racing). I modified my own engines (most were reed valve engines by that time), and engines for friends for several years. I built up a good name quickly in my local area, but I never thought I would do it for a living, probably because it was not “the grown up thing to do“.

    “Time to grow up!”, My dad kept telling me. And he seemed to have a point. I lived for racing and working on my stuff, and that just seemed like a fad by University standards, not a way of life. After I flipped burgers through a associates degree in machine tool technology, I worked for a few machine shops in Ludington and Manistee Michigan, but it still seemed like I need to make more money if I ever wanted to drop having roommates. So I moved to Grand Rapids Michigan at the age of 29, still raced a bit, but concentrated on new jobs and more education in manufacturing. The MX racing was turning into recreational trail riding, but that was fine, because I wasn’t bouncing off the ground as well as I could when younger (getting hurt almost every crash) and Michigan has some excellent trails. I must have worked at 20 different machine shops in Grand Rapids and gained skill at each one of them, while I almost earned 2 bachelors degrees in manufacturing engineering, and quality engineering over about a 10 year period. 

    By the time I was real close to graduating--China was sucking up all the manufacturing engineering jobs, so I had to stick with machining. I bought a little Meyer Boxer scooter from a guy at a die shop that I worked at in 2001. I just bought it because It had a two stroke engine on it, and I wanted to tinker with it for old times sake. I did not know kids raced scooters like them (the Go-Ped mostly), and I was surprised to see a pretty healthy after market for parts and performance services for them. I found a exhaust pipe for my “not so popular 40cc engine”, and because the pipe did not work very well, ESP was born. I found the biggest problem was the manifold that attached the pipe to the cylinder. It was too small, so I made my own at the shop I worked at. In fact, I made two of them. It worked great on my engine, so I e-mailed 5 people in the Go-Ped industry, not knowing any of them, to see if they might be interested in a potential new product. Only one person answered my e-mail. 

    Mark Hull from “Team Gonads” contacted me, and wanted to see it. When he saw the first manifold, I had no idea a new engine just came out (the air cooled Zen G230/G260), and was getting very popular for the scooters. So Mark gave me a few dimensions over the phone, and I redesigned the ESP ProFlow manifold twice before Mark started selling them for me. I sold those for about 6 months, while working full time in machine shops, and I needed a way to come up with about $1000.00 for a new product to add. Most of the kids with pipes were ticking off their neighbors (because they are loud), so I thought a nice carbon fiber silencer would go well with the pipe manifold. The kids on go-ped nation were getting to know me, and I still had my porting tools from the 80’ and 90’s, so I offered a Christmas special for 10 engines for $100.00/pc, so I could raise a grand for the silencer. It took me about 2 months to fill ten orders, and of course--the money went to my utility bills. Gone was the new silencer, but the kids loved the engines, which opened up a opportunity with DDM.

    I was talking with Dave at DDM on the phone around 2002 (who sold a lot of Pro-Flow manifolds for me through TGN), and somehow, we agreed for me to start building the higher performance engines for them to sell. My girl friend moved out, and that allowed me to start porting RC engines on my kitchen table in my last apartment. I got involved with the go-ped racing soon after that, about the same time the reed cases came out from Trevor Simpson. I love the piston port also, but I knew, from the evolution of reed engines in motocross, that these engines would be tough to beat if built correctly. With mostly un proven, up and coming racers, we started winning right away, and quickly attracted other racers.

    Unfortunately, the go-ped racing series fell through around after 2007, but at about the same time, the HPI Baja buggy came out using the same RC engines I had gained good experience with. Since then, because of my new venture into RC models with the RC gas engines and their growing popularity, and the excellent marketing of DDM, I was able to quit my last machine shop job, have been able to build up a shop for production and prototypes, where much of my 2 stroke modification exp, vast machining exp, and manufacturing engineering and quality courses come into play to give my customers the best quality and performance for the money. Because “off the shelf” ESP engines (Sold through DDM) win major championships around the world, including a EFRA F1 world championship in 2009, against higher dollar engines, and have the quality, dependability and service that every racer has to trust, you can’t go wrong with ESP if you desire to use some of the best stuff out there.

    My dad is gone now, and never got a chance to see my business materialize. As a kid, I used to spend all my money on dirt bikes, he used to yell at me “Buying you that first motorcycle was the worst mistake I ever made!” But I am glad I was able to take all of my life experience and turn it into a business for myself. The satisfaction I get from offering top quality, high performance products makes my life’s play and work all worth it to me. Dad, I tried growing up, but I wasn‘t making any money---so I went back. :)

RIP Dad.

Thank you for considering my stuff.

  Doug Johns @ ESP

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