Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

The need for speed

Jeffrey Luehring is all about parts—weapons parts for his job in materials management and boat parts for the jet boat he drag races.
March 1, 2019
A man sits at the helm of his boat.

Jeffrey Luehring and his boat, Sucker Punch.CREDIT: Mike Pierce


“When you’re on the water, moving along at 20 miles per hour feels like 50 miles per hour—imagine what it feels like in excess of 100 miles per hour.” - Jeffrey Luehring

By Octavio Ramos

Jeffrey Luehring of the Laboratory’s Material Management and Business Services group can’t help but embrace the need for speed. On any given weekend, Luehring takes to a lake or a river, not to fish, water ski, or casually drive around in a motorboat but rather to experience an adrenaline rush and test his nerves. Drag racing against a competitor, he eases his hydro boat Sucker Punch into a short rolling start, checking the stillness of the water while watching for the green “start” light to illuminate. Once the light signals “go,” Luehring slams down the boat’s throttle. In six or so seconds, Luehring and his jet boat attain speeds in excess of 150 miles per hour.

“I’ve always enjoyed speed,” Luehring explains. “I started racing bicycle motocross—BMX—at an early age while growing up in White Rock, New Mexico. From there, I progressed to racing dirt bikes, which I still do occasionally. But jet-boat drag racing—there’s nothing quite like it in all of racing.”

The Mechanical Gene

Luehring’s father worked as a mechanical engineer for the Laboratory’s Weapons Experimental Division for 18 years. “I definitely picked up his mechanical gene,” Luehring says. “I’ve been a ‘gearhead’ my whole life—I was always out in the garage messing around and helping him work on my older brother’s car when I was younger.”

Luehring’s interest in all things mechanical led him to machining, which he practiced in industry for 16 years before he came to the Laboratory, where for the first eight years he built hydro assemblies. These assemblies are used for hydrotesting, a special type of testing in which materials flow like water (“hydro”) under high temperatures and pressures. He then spent time as an explosives assembly technician before taking on his current position as a production control specialist.

“My background in machining has proved essential in my current job,” Luehring says. “Basically, I am responsible for materials management, receiving high-profile and, often, classified parts used by weapons designers and production agencies. It’s a challenging and rewarding job—I get to see the other side, tracking where materials and parts come from, how they move through the processing system, and how finished parts are moved and tracked to their end users. These parts play a huge role in the Laboratory’s number one national security mission, and I’m a big part of that.”
Close up of goggles over a man's eyes; water is dripping down the goggles.

Jeff Luehring.

The Speed Gene

Luehring’s machining background has also served to feed his need for speed. “What I learned from precision machining enables me to build and modify my own race engines at home,” Luehring says. “At work, I’m always looking for ways to improve and streamline materials management. The techniques I come up with while doing my job emphasize precision and efficiency. It’s the same when I work on my jet boat—I’m always refining engines so that they can achieve 2,000 horsepower, which translates to speeds of 150 miles per hour across a water track of only 1,000 feet.”

Luehring says that he inherited his need for speed from his mother’s side of the family. “On my mother’s side, I have a cousin who races sprint cars and another cousin who races flat-track motorcycles. It’s obvious I got my mother’s speed gene when it comes to racing.”

In late 2018, Luehring earned season wins in both the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Division 1 Quick Eliminator Class Championship and the Arizona Drag Boat Association Division 1 Quick Eliminator Championship. He previously earned back-to-back championships in 2017.

“It’s funny, but I’ve found that the organization skills I’ve acquired in my job at the Lab have really helped me when I’m working on my jet boat,” Luehring says. “I handle all kinds of classified parts that you simply cannot misplace or lose. The same is true when it comes to building and modifying motors, as some of the components are customized and difficult to replace quickly. At work or on the water, successful organization is what lets you bring home the big win.”