The Tyler Shipman Memorial Car Show is located in Frazee, MN. If you’d like to learn more about this car show and hear the story of Tyler Shipman, visit their Facebook page and website.
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Today’s Sponsor Spotlight is focusing on a “small” town in the North Central region of Minnesota. Some of you may have heard of it in a movie called Fargo, talking about “that guy from up there near Bermidji-way”… But we’re not talking high performance wood chipper mods, no. We’re talking car mods, from LED headlights to aesthetic tweaks to performance parts, Black Top Racing has it all.
Owned by Chris Nelson of Bemidji, BTR started life as an idea to improve Chris’ own cars, and blossomed from there. To dig deeper, we need to go back in time to when Chris was growing up in Superior, WI. His father owned an engine machine shop for many years, sparking Chris’ love for anything automotive. When his father received a job offer from Northwest Technical College teaching in the High-Performance Engine Rebuilding program, the family packed up and made the move up to Bemidji.
Chris’ wealth of knowledge for anything automotive as he learned at his father’s side served him well when he discovered that pressing the right pedal with the right foot led to thrills beyond imagination. Not content with stock anything, he set to work tweaking cars and making them go faster, corner better, and in general do more than they were originally designed to do.
His first professional gig helped expand his knowledge of vehicle electrical systems, converting civilian vehicles into emergency vehicles for the local Police and Sherriff Departments, the FBI, Fire Departments and many other industries requiring specialty vehicles. Using his automotive knowledge and skills, he helped the companies he worked with streamline and expand their capabilities to make installations more efficient, allow easier and better customization, and raise the standards for the process as a whole. Still, he wasn’t satisfied working for someone else. He knew he could put something together on his own that would allow him to run things his way, and cater to his original passions… Performance and aesthetics.
Chris is a fellow Fiero-nut, and his first Fiero went through numerous engines as he worked to bolt a turbo onto the stock 90 horse 2.5l 4 cylinder. Needless to say, the results were… Spectacular. (Editor’s note: We remember watching the build threads on Pennock’s Fiero Forum as Chris went through all of the various iterations. It was definitely a fun time to watch!)
Chris started his company as Top Line Group (TLG) Auto back in 2009 in a 12×12 room in his basement at home. The lighting in the room wasn’t very good, and neither were the videos of the products he was working with, but his attention to detail and quality put the original products a notch above the rest.
Discovering aftermarket LED and HID lighting for cars, he immediately purchased products to test and install in his own cars to drastically increase the visibility and customize the looks by simply swapping a light bulb. Removing the old incandescent bulbs from the interior, he installed bright white LED dome and floor lights, new LED marker lights around the perimeter, and LED brake lights. Around this time, he was working on Fiero number five, and once he was pleased with the way it looked he realized he could offer the same to others.
The Fiero shares the same headlight design as the C4 Corvette, the Toyota Celica Supra, MR2, and many other 80’s cars. Finding lights that worked across multiple brands, Chris was able to expand the product offering with one item. When he discovered LED headlight replacements that bolt in, he immediately ordered several up to test and list on the company website. Shortly after this, he found himself inundated with orders from the Jeep 4×4 community. Jeep owners wanted these headlights, and couldn’t find them anywhere at the price and quality Chris was offering. Soon, the Jeep specific products were outperforming all of his other sales by a large margin.
Chris’ original love is performance and sports cars, so in order to keep his 4×4 and performance enthusiasts happy, he split the TLG-Auto business into two separate entities; Black Top Racing, and Headlight Revolution. This allowed him to cater to both communities while keeping his business identities focused on their customers.
TLG wasn’t Chris’ only venture. He also had a computer repair and consulting business on the side, web design and more. He couldn’t do just one thing. He had an overwhelming desire to make the fledgling business grow, and grow it did. Chris is very much an entrepreneur, and his willpower and passion for quality products and great customer experiences helped him succeed.
Originally, Chris and his wife referred to the business as “the experiment”, not bringing in a paycheck in two years. All of the money they received was immediately invested back into the business for research, new products, and driving the aftermarket lighting industry forward. Six months after Chris started TLG, he was so busy he was working full time for the business as his wife worked her job at the local hospital as an RN to help keep the bills paid.
Today, Chris’ businesses ship hundreds of different products globally every day. They serve over 200 wholesale customers that in turn sell his products to their own customers. Chris has been so successful, that he regularly sponsors various car club and charity related events, from car shows to cruises, funding drives, and our very own Tyler Shipman Memorial Car Show.
Check out BTR at http://blacktop.racing
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