This is What’s In Your Toolbox?, an occasional post series where we showcase tools and tips from our favorite fixers. Today we’re featuring Stephan Papadakis, team owner of Papadakis Racing. Papadakis Racing’s YouTube channel is a wonderland of car tinkering, alternating between teardowns, tools comparisons, day by day race car build explainers, and … stop motion paper car races, sometimes.
First off, explain to our community who you are and what you do!
My name is Stephan Papadakis and I own and manage Papadakis Racing. We are a professional competition drift team. We compete in the Formula DRIFT series. Not only do we compete at a professional level, but we build the cars and engines we use. Lately we have been creating content for our YouTube page showing engine builds and general racing technology.
How did you get started fixing and working on cars?
Even before having a driver’s license, I was really into radio-controlled cars. I learned a lot about tools, maintenance and reliability from racing these model cars. At the age of 16, I got my driver’s license and first car and already wanted to lower the car and change parts for more power. A few friends were a bit older, had tools, and showed me how to work on the suspension, change the exhaust, and add a performance air filter.
What’s in your toolbox?
We have several toolboxes at the shop. One for building engines, which has a lot of the standard tools you would be use to like sockets and wrenches but also specialty tools: torque wenches, high precision measuring tools, and engine-specific tools like piston ring compressors and ring filers. The box we use for general maintenance on the drift cars has impact tools, general sockets, wrenches, and a drill with drill bits.
How do you organize your tools?
Sockets are in the top drawer, wrenches the next down, then screwdrivers below that. The lower the drawer will be, the less-used the tools (that go in).
What are your most-used tools?
3/8” flex ratchet and 3/8” electric impact. These are my speed secrets.
What’s your most-coveted, yet least-used tool?
Set of Sunnen dial bore gauges. They cost thousands of dollars, measure to the 0.0001 inch, and are critical for measuring engine bearing and piston-to-wall clearance.
Is there a certain tool you use often, but seems unorthodox for your particular field?
I really like my dial torque wrench. Instead of setting the torque wrench to each bolt’s torque, the dial torque wrench allows me to move from bolt to bolt without changing settings and just tighten the bolt until the needle reads the desired torque. I feel it’s a time saver.
Every fixer has a gruesome tool injury story. What’s yours?
No story about getting injured, but do have one about helping an injury. I jammed my finger taking off a wheel and blacked one of my fingernails. After a few days, it started throbbing in pain. I decided to drill the nail to release the blood pressure. We used a Dremel with a 0.015” drill bit to drill through the nail. Not recommended, but worked well.
What’s your advice for people who want to start fixing and working on cars (or just anything in general)?
Read the instructions. I learned a lot from the service manual for my first car. Often service manuals are available online or used on Ebay. So much valuable information about what order to disassemble and reassemble, and torque values.
Anything else you want our community of fixers to know? Feel free to pitch any new projects or content you’re working on or have recently published!
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