The father-and-son tuner-car shop bridging the generation gap

Tim Stevens

It’s easy to fall into the “back in my day” trap—the belief that things were easier or better when you were younger. That trap exists for those of us who love cars and especially for those who love modifying them.

One glance under the hood of a modern machine can be a strong deterrent to would-be modders. Navigating that maze of wires and sensors without making a control computer mad seems like an impossible proposition, the world’s worst game of Operation. Layer on the increasingly punishing gauntlet of state and federal laws regarding vehicle modification, you might think tuning is a dying art.

But that is far from the truth. Despite a predicted shrinkage of the overall auto market over the next decade, the tuning industry is growing. A 2021 study by Future Market Insights found that the performance-tuning industry is set to grow at a rate of six percent per year through the next decade, a figure echoed by SEMA’s most recent Market Report. To see that growth in action, you need only look at the surge of supporting businesses springing up in response, large and small.

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop lobby supra rear
Tim Stevens

Round Lake Auto is a small and unassuming shop out in the country, about 30 minutes northwest of Albany, New York. What started 21 years ago as a two-bay repair operation on the side of a gas station has swelled over the past few years to a dedicated location with eight bays and a separate showroom. Much of that growth is in response to the increasing demand for engine fettling and performance modifications.

What makes this shop particularly interesting is the fact that it’s run by two generations of tuners, David and Razick Razai, father and son. Each has been tuning cars his entire life, just in very different ways.

I knew I had arrived at Round Lake Auto when I saw the parking lot full of late-model WRX and STIs. Subarus are popular among enthusiasts up here, one of the few sports cars you can truly enjoy year-round. Stepping inside, however, I was greeted by a different generation of tuner toys: a Mk II Toyota MR2 Turbo in lovely condition, and not one but two Mk IV Toyota Supras, the latter surrounded by boxes of parts.

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop lobby toyota rear badge
Tim Stevens

These are David Razai’s cars. The 51-year-old has been a mechanic for 35 years, opening his own business back in 2002. “I started with regular service maintenance,” David says. “My goal was, when I started the business, honesty. Honesty is the business.”

David’s son, Razick, 23, is largely responsible for the business’s shift in focus from needed repair to performance upgrades.

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop Razai father son
David Razai, left, with his son Razick. Tim Stevens

“He was always into the performance stuff,” Razick says of his dad, “but we never really got majorly into it.” Ten years ago, Round Lake Auto’s business was 99-percent general repairs. Today, performance tuning makes up 60 percent of the business, and that figure is still growing.

The shift started largely thanks to word of mouth and social media. In 2020, the Razais purchased a Mustang dynamometer to handle the increasing demand for more advanced tuning. “Once we got that,” Razick says, “that’s when we started seeing a huge, huge change. Like, within a week after posting that we had the dyno, I started getting a ton of phone calls, emails.”

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop Acura wheels on dyno
Tim Stevens

Any car that comes in for tuning gets strapped on the dyno. When possible, Razick connects to the car’s ECU directly via the OBD-II port to pull data, but the Razais also install an external air-fuel meter. They’ll then put the car through a number of runs, often 10 or more, seeking the perfect air-fuel ratio at every rpm.

It’s a radically different process than when David was tuning his brother’s car as a kid. “Back in the ’80s, we didn’t have tunes and dynos. My generation, I didn’t know much about them. It was, you know, ‘Okay, let’s put in an exhaust system. Let’s take the cats out and straighten things up and put a pipe in it,'” he says. “But now, you can’t.”

Ignoring the legal ramifications, which we’ll get into in a moment, even minor intake or exhaust modifications today are ill-advised without massaging a car’s ECU.

“In a Subaru, if you do an intake and you don’t tune it, it’s gonna run lean,” Razick says. “If you do a downpipe change, without tuning it, it’s gonna overboost.


What about tuning on carburetors? Yes, they do that too, but rarely these days. One customer, local Citroën restorer and racer Dave Burnham, brought his heavily modified 1984 Maserati Biturbo in for work. With no electronic fuel-injection (EFI) to fettle, Razick says, the dyno process was more manual: “I’d tell him, ‘At this rpm we’re not getting enough fuel. Is there any way you can get more out of it?'”

I spoke with Burnham, who said he brought along a whole array of jets for the occasion. “If we wanted the top end to be richer or leaner, I’d change the air-corrector jet. If I wanted the whole range to be richer or leaner, I’d change the main jet.” The same basic concept as with a software tune, then, but slower, more manual, and less precise. “It takes a whole lot longer than pushing a couple of buttons.”

For Burnham, the days of swapping jets on his Biturbo are nearly over; he’s going modern. “I’ve got a Haltech [engine-management] computer and all their sensors, and I ended up buying an intake manifold on eBay from a fuel-injected car, which bolts right on.”

Ease of tuning is Burnham’s main reason for making the swap, but EFI adds some other major advantages: “If your temperature gets too hot, it’ll start pulling timing out, or it’ll turn your cooling fans on earlier. With my carburetor, if I’m not looking at the damn gauges, I’ll blow the thing up, you know? I do a lot of time-trial stuff in the summer and it’s wicked hot. And I’ll look down and the engine’s at 250 degrees and I’m like, ‘Holy crap, I gotta back off!'”

For Burnham, more tech means easier tuning and safer running, but in some new cars, tech is becoming a roadblock. The current, eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette is the most frequently cited example. “There isn’t much you can do with a factory ECU on those,” Razick says. “Basically, since the car has Wi-Fi, it updates itself on its own. If you were to try and tune the factory ECU, whenever it updated itself, it would basically overwrite it.”

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop Razai son tuning graph
Tim Stevens

But, Razick says, there’s always a way, even for those who want to stay legal. “I feel like this has turned in the last few years. A lot of Audi R8s and Lamborghinis, people are twin-turboing them. MoTeC makes a plug-and-play system for those. It’s actually [California Air Research Board] compliant. These cars are making around 1000, 1200 hp, but they’re still completely compliant because the turbos are added after the factory cats. So they keep the factory manifold.”

Compliance is important, especially with the steeper penalties demanded by anti-modification legislation, like California’s (since-repealed) A.B. 1824 and New York’s new SLEEP Act. New York has not only quadrupled violation fines for illegal exhausts but added the threat of revoked licenses for any business caught performing the work.

Razick says many of their customers actually get better fuel economy after a tune, which means lower carbon emissions.

Round Lake Auto small business tuning shop dyno machine
Tim Stevens

Looking over the landscape of an emissions-free future, there are options for that, too. The Nissan Leaf, the first real mainstream EV, has multiple tuning options available in the aftermarket, and an impressively large cadre of tuners exist to optimize every flavor of Tesla. With the Model S putting down 1020 hp and even Kia’s recent EV6 GT making 576, it’s hard to imagine what more you could possibly want—other than what everyone wants when modifying their cars: more.

Today’s tuning scene is radically different from that of a few decades ago, but the passion and the drive are still the same. Using a laptop instead of a vacuum gauge doesn’t make you any less of an enthusiast, and caring about the environment is no longer a dealbreaker.


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    I know very little about the types of tuning they’re doing (I’m the vacuum gauge guy), but I’m encouraged and impressed that the two generations are learning and progressing together. That they can find ways to improve performance and stay within ever-stricter regulations is in true automotive enthusiast traditions. Also, from the pictures, I’d say “very nice shop”!

    I’ve tried to use a vacuum gauge to tune my ‘71 VW Bus but I couldn’t find a “T” connector that is metric. After a bit of modification I got the line going to the gauge to fit and one side of the “T” but couldn’t find anything metric to fit the other end of the vacuum line!
    I put everything away until I can figure out what to do!

    And even if you can find some metric hose adapters, you then have to deal with the fact that most likely your vacuum gauge is reading In. Hg. Of course the reading will be wrong as with the metric hose adapter(s) only readings in kPa (kilo Pascals) or mbar (milli bar which is kPaX10) or Torr (mm Hg) can be correct. By the way, the Torr is so named because of the Italian physicist Andrea Torricelli who is credited with inventing the barometer. By the way the Pascal is so named for Blaise Pascal, a French physicist who laid the foundation for the modern theory of probabilities, which provides us a vernacular to discuss the probability that your vacuum reading may vary in the time domain due to the the high probability that you have a leak in your metric hose adapter.
    And don’t get me started on the adjustable metric spanner that you’ll need to make adjustments based on your vacuum readings once you get all the above sorted.
    Good luck and hope to see you at the next Hagerty Drive At Dawn event.

    Very cool to see the father/son duo taking on the old and the new. I love Supra’s and MR2’s so the pictures were definitely my style.

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