Go faster, turn tighter and stop on a dime. Shawn Rizzo turns basic automobiles — especially Subarus — into performance machines.
Inside Kraken Motorsports, which specializes in making performance modifications to Japanese cars, you’ll find more than auto lifts and tricked-out Subarus. There’s a waiting room with ’80s pop art, and the shop’s walls are emblazoned with larger-than-life graffiti and comic-book-style art by noted Deep Ellum muralist Preston Pannek. You’re likely to get a friendly greeting from shop dog Lexi, a miniature Australian shepherd.
Shawn and Alicia Rizzo started the business out of their home garage a decade ago. Business grew so briskly that Shawn, a certified master technician who specializes in Subarus, left his longtime automotive technology teaching job to focus on Kraken Motorsports full time. In January 2019, the couple moved the shop into its current home in the Fort Worth business park.
Alicia continues to run the business side of things and also hopes to return to racing, a passion for her and Shawn, this year. They named the business for a legendary sea monster with a squidlike form, a nod to Shawn’s longtime nickname, “The Squid,” which he earned in college by wearing a rubber glove on his head.
While the shop’s specialty is all things Subaru, Kraken works on other Japanese imports as well — Hondas, Nissans and Toyotas. Shawn and his technician Phillip MacPherson handle their share of repairs and maintenance, but they’re mainly sought out for performance modifications, with some customers coming in from as far as West Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas. “Most people are wanting to shoot flames out of their exhaust,” Shawn says with a laugh. “It’s a request we get from a lot of people — and yeah, we can do that.”
About 25 percent of their business comes from modifying race cars, while the majority of the shop’s customers are interested in souping up a street-legal ride — making it go faster, turn better, stop quicker. “Some guys drive them to work and take them to the track on weekends,” says Shawn. And women do, too; they make up about one-tenth of Kraken’s customers.
The Rizzos currently own four Subarus: A 2003 Subaru Impreza WRX, amped up to 600-horsepower; a Crosstrek that’s lifted and has big tires for off-roading; Alicia’s 500-horsepower 2011 Impreza STI; and, the most unusual, a Subaru Sambar, a tiny van imported in early 2019.
“It’s a big trend in Japan to have these little cars; you get a credit from the government because of the super low emissions,” says Shawn, adding that the Sambar is the dog’s favorite. “We have a tether leash so she can move back and forth but is still attached and safe,” he says. “It’s a bench seat, so she can go between the giant side windows.”
Project cars include an 800 WHP (wheel horsepower) drag car with a custom front-mount turbo setup. “It’s a prototype turbocharging system that we developed,” he says. And then there’s the 1,000-plus WHP land speed car that they’ve run on the Bonneville Salt Flats.
With more and more clients wanting modified cars, Kraken Motorsports saw the need for growth later in 2019, adding 2,600 square feet of adjacent warehouse space. They now partner with Calvin Dotson, of
next-door business Dotsun Tuning.
Around the same time as the expansion, Kraken Motorsports won the 2019 Fort Worth Business Plan Competition grand prize for building not just a thriving business but also a community of Japanese-car enthusiasts.
“I want to make sure the customers are part of the build,” says Shawn, adding that clients often stop in to check on the progress of their project and hang out.
“I’ve had people decide on appointments over whether Lexi will be there or not, and they bring their kids to play with her.”
Subaru people tend to be dog people, and car people are often the same sort of “nerds” whom Shawn and Alicia self-identify with — as reflected in the shop’s mural, which has nods to Where’s Waldo?, The Simpsons, G.I. Joe and more, worked into stretches of bold graphics and graffiti-style art.
“We’re into comic books and superheroes and anime,” he says. “The two cultures work really well together.”