Holley, the Bowling Green-based designer, marketer and manufacturer of high-performance automotive parts, has given a boost to countless race-car drivers and hot-rod hobbyists over the years.

Now the company is itself getting a fuel injection, one that Holley President and CEO Tom Tomlinson believes will help the maker of after-market products hit a higher gear.

Holley and Empower Ltd., a publicly-traded special purpose acquisition company, announced that they have entered into a merger agreement that will result in Holley becoming a publicly listed company on the New York Stock Exchange under the new ticker symbol HLLY.

The deal ends a century-long tenure as a private company for Holley and begins what Tomlinson sees as a natural next step for a company that has been cruising in the fast lane in recent years from its corporate headquarters on Russellville Road.

“We’ve grown over the last 10 years and have had to go out and find capital to support that growth,” Tomlinson said. “As a public company, we’ll have access to capital more quickly.”

Called Holley Carburetor when it first set up shop in Bowling Green in 1952, the company hit a speed bump called the Great Recession that landed it in Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009. It has since ridden a turbocharged growth curve in the performance automotive after-market business.

“When you look at our financial history, we’re seven times larger than we were in 2010,” Tomlinson said.

Holley’s net sales for the 2020 calendar year are estimated at $583 million, representing year-over-year growth of more than 25%.

And that has translated into profitability. According to a news release from Holley and Empower, the Bowling Green-based company’s earnings for 2021 are estimated at $159 million.

Tomlinson said Holley – with its headquarters on Russellville Road, two manufacturing facilities in the South Central Kentucky Industrial Park and a distribution center in Franklin – has about 1,500 total employees now.

That number could grow as Holley becomes a public company valued at more than $1.5 billion.

Tomlinson will continue as CEO while Empower CEO Matt Rubel will serve as chairman of the board of directors.

“We set out on this road to find a growing and forward-thinking consumer company to help bring public, and we found it in Holley,” Rubel said in a news release. “Tom and his team have built a true powerhouse of innovation, designed to serve their enthusiast customers.

“The performance automotive after-market is vibrant and growing, and enthusiasts of performance vehicles are amazingly engaged.”

That’s evident by the huge crowds that turn out for the Holley LS Fest at Beech Bend Park and other events sponsored by the company.

“All three of our Kentucky events went forward in 2020, even during the pandemic,” Tomlinson said. “We had a plan to keep spectators safe.

“The events were very successful, so we expect them to continue. We expect over time to add even more events.”

Tomlinson expects the merger to allow Holley to continue its history of diversifying beyond its original mission of making carburetors.

“With our flexible capital structure, we expect to accelerate growth across existing products and channels, as well as continue to pursue attractive opportunities in adjacent categories, both organically through developing innovative new products and making strategic acquisitions,” Tomlinson said.

The CEO said that Holley, which has made its name in the world of gasoline-powered automobiles, can even thrive as the electric vehicle market grows.

“The performance automotive market is a $34 billion market,” Tomlinson said. “We’re continuing to add product categories, and we’re charged up about the electric-vehicle opportunities. We’re already developing products for (EV-maker) Tesla.”

The boards of directors of both Empower and Holley have approved the merger. The transaction will require the approval of the stockholders of Empower and Holley and is subject to certain regulatory approvals. The transaction is expected to close by mid-year.

“We’re just very excited,” Tomlinson said. “This is the next phase in the evolution of our business. It will provide the capital needed for growth that will spell good things for Bowling Green.”

– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.

​– Follow business reporter Don Sergent on Twitter @BGDNbusiness or visit bgdailynews.com.