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Today’s Super Stock Drag Racing Class is Just as Cool as Yesterday’s Pro Stock Class

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Today’s Super Stock Drag Racing Class is Just as Cool as Yesterday’s Pro Stock Class

Old 03-22-2016, 10:04 AM
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Today’s Super Stock Drag Racing Class is Just as Cool as Yesterday’s Pro Stock Class

Written by Nick Licata on March 21, 2016Contributors: Bruce BieglerFiring Up

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I’ll never forget my first drag race. It was the 1971 NHRA Winternationals. I lived a block away from the south entrance of the Fairplex in Pomona, where the season-opening event took place, so it was a big influence on my formative years. While most of the kids in my neighborhood were trading baseball cards, I was building models of my favorite drag cars.
Back then, many of the Dragsters and Funny Cars were being towed on open trailers behind C10 and F-100 pickup trucks. Yes, there were a few ramp trucks back then, but that kind of luxury was reserved for the likes of Don “The Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “Mongoo$e” McEwen—the “rock stars” of drag racing. It would be quite a few more years before Top Fuelers and Funny Cars rolled into town with an army of 18-wheelers carrying multiple cars, a pit crew of 12 gearheads, mobile hospitality area, PR person, and a high-tech computer station for the crew chief.

Those early days of seeing open trailers and car haulers carrying door-slammers hold nostalgic memories for me as the coolest days of drag racing. So when I attended the Winternationals this past February, I made it a point to get there early enough on Friday morning to catch the Stock and Super Stock qualifying rounds. Of all the NHRA drag racing classes, those two seem to be the closest to what drag racing was like back in the late ’60s and early ’70s. Although there are some late-model cars competing within these classes, there are still a good number of classic Chevys going rounds. There’s nothing better than a first-gen Camaro or a 1968 Chevelle pulling up to the line against a vintage Ford Mustang or Dodge Coronet and then watching them battle their way down the quarter-mile.

With that said, the modern Funny Cars and Top Fuel Dragsters are still fairly exciting to watch—especially when they launch—as nothing in the world compares to the heart-stopping concussion generated by a pair of 10,000hp blown, nitro-fed engines. Unfortunately, the modern Pro Stock class lacks the same excitement, or any excitement, for that matter. But that wasn’t the case back when the class was introduced in 1970. Pro Stocks were incredibly exciting to watch back then. They launched hard with their front wheels reaching skyward, only to touch down for just an instant until the driver slammed the manual four-speed into Second gear for a bit more air time.
Out of that class came door-slammer legends like “Dyno” Don Nicholson, Ronnie Sox, Bill “Grumpy” Jenkins, Bob Glidden, Gapp & Roush, Dick Landy, Bill Bagshaw, Arlen Vanke, Butch Leal, Roy Hill, and Don Carlton. There were plenty more, but these are the ones who stood out most to me. These guys were hard-core competitors that would do whatever it took to win. I recall hearing a story about Bill Jenkins bolting a piece on top of his engine that did absolutely nothing to enhance performance, yet the following weekend a few other Pro Stock racers had adopted the same item on their engines, hoping to be able to keep up with “da Grump.” It was Grumpy’s unique way of finding out who’s been stalking his ride. No doubt there are more great stories like this one from the good ol days of drag racing, but with today’s tight rules and regulations in place, those stories are few and far between.

Although the Pro Stock drag racers of yesteryear have since passed or retired from the sport, Stock and Super Stock racing is about as close as you’ll be able to get to what I consider drag racing in its purest form. So when the NHRA tour hits your town this year, make it a point to catch these very cool door-slammer classes. The wheels-up action is far out!
You in?

Last edited by BeachBumMike; 03-22-2016 at 12:43 PM.
Old 03-22-2016, 10:14 AM
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This Big-Block-Powered 1972 Chevrolet Vega is One of the Baddest You’ll Ever Come Across

Written by Chris Shelton on March 21, 2016Written by Chris Shelton on March 21, 2016It’s Not Easy Being Green: How Evan Mathieson made a frog prince from one of GM’s toads
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Woe betide the Chevy Vega. A handsome car cast in the likeness of its big brother Camaro, it suffered about the worst domestic engine in modern automotive history. They were cheap on the lot but pretty much worthless the moment the ink hit on the sales sheet.
But not even the Vega would trade spots with Evan Mathieson. His Vega is one of the coolest built, but its story is as troublesome as GM’s open-deck aluminum block. And we couldn’t tell it half as well as he can.

“When I was 12, my dad (Tim) and I tried to buy an orange 1971 V-8 Vega,” he begins. The deal fell through so they bought a ’73 to build a race car. “Then, as a dumb kid, I sold my half to my dad for a pair of roller blades.”

At 18, he swapped an engine in a Nova in exchange for the orange ’71 he and his dad tried to buy six years earlier. But, “I ran into money trouble and had to sell it.”
“About two years after that, my dad bought a full-race 1980 Monza and gave me the 1973 Vega that we bought together when I was 12. I had plans of building the ’73 into a race car but had to sell it because of running into financial issues once again.”

See where this is going?
“In the meantime, my friend Bill Spurgin had a 1973 Vega that we worked on. One day I went over to Bill’s garage and he had a gutted, purple 1972 Vega sitting there.” He bought it the next day. Though a roller, the only things good were the fenders, roof, doorjambs, one quarter-panel, the front control arms, and the rear axle.
“I bought a Jegster front clip, a Checkered Racing ladder-bar back-half, a Jegs cage kit, and several chunks of 2x3 steel tubing,” he says. He assembled it in the driveway at Spurgin’s house. It was November. All he had was a couple of tape measures, a square, a protractor, and a level. “It definitely was more of your back-to-basics hot rod-type build,” he says.
It took about 2 1/2 weeks to get the chassis rolling again and another few months to mount various parts of the car. “And at this point, I pretty much ran out of money, but rather than selling the car as I had with (the) other Vegas, it went into storage for a couple of months.”
Mathieson took the opportunity to finish the car in his dad’s newly expanded garage. Around that same time the local track went NHRA. “I knew my rollcage would not pass, so I cut out the ’cage and ordered a Funny Car kit,” he says. He fit the ’cage—this time notching the joints rather than piling beads in the corners—and took it back to Spurgin’s shop for welding.
“Over the next three years, I built the firewall, floors, and mocked up every component you need to make a car work, which sometimes took two or three tries,” he admits. Then things took another turn. “While I was painting the chassis, a friend was building a really nice show car. I kept thinking, ‘Maybe I should try to make my car a little nicer and not just a race car.’ Plus, I had just gotten a new set of rear Aerospace Engineering brakes that seemed too nice to just half-*** the car.”
“I ended up painting the rearend body color because for the last four years we had all tossed around so many color ideas,” he says. He kept coming back to the factory Oasis Green Poly. “But I couldn’t just paint it a factory color,” he notes. Inspiration turned up in an unlikely place: a Jeep. He bought some and shot the rear axle, thereby locking himself in. “(I) was stuck with it because I didn’t want to pull it back out from under the car to repaint it.”
The gutted doors and hatch didn’t fit the car’s new direction. “It took about a year of looking and three other Vegas to get all the body parts and interior pieces I needed,” he says. He prepped the body at his parents’ place but took it to Spurgin’s place for color. “(This) would never have turned out as good as it did without Bill’s help,” he praises. Mathieson took the car back to his folks’ place where his friend Tony Evans wired the car.
And that was just the body. His dad runs a nasty 12.5:1 468 in that Monza—a car that runs 9.49-9.60 e.t.’s at 140-145 mph. Though a great template, it isn’t an inexpensive engine. “I collected engine parts for five-ish years,” he recalls. Friend Mike Cofini helped him assemble it but something happened during tuning. “I had about 50 to 60 miles on it when it started to squeak really loud.” The squeak turned out to be a roller tappet that stuck in the block and broadcast its needle bearings through the rest of the engine.
Bear something in mind. Still in his 20s, Mathieson is a kid. And when he started down the path with this particular car, he made only $10 an hour. His folks also pushed him out of the nest at one point during the build. “(They) had enough of me living there and spending on the car rather than moving out, which was understandable,” he admits. But he’s no dummy; he invested in a house of his own, even though it put off finishing the car a little longer. Case in point, “It took me about 2 1/2 years to put the engine back together.”
He’s also wise enough to understand that he’s not the only one who sacrificed. “Without the help of friends and family and a really understanding girlfriend, I probably wouldn’t have the dream car I always wanted,” he says. “I tried to build most of it (but) I understood when I needed help and I’m glad I have a group of great friends to help when I needed it.
“Even though there are things that I sometimes want to change, the car turned out exactly how I wanted it to,” he notes. “So to be blunt, I wouldn’t do anything different because I wouldn’t have ended up with the car that I now have.”
Old 03-22-2016, 10:19 AM
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Here is One Awesome Big-Block-Powered 1972 Chevrolet Chevelle

Written by Steven Rupp on March 18, 2016Contributors: Nick LicataGetting Schooled: This 540ci big-block–powered 1972 Chevelle isn’t just another pretty face
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Many of us remember the first car we built, and it will always hold a special place in our heart. Generally, it isn’t because the car was all that great but because it was our first shot at turning a collection of parts into a fire-breathing muscle car. Sometimes, however, a builder tries to go for the “brass ring” on his first build. Such was the case with Chris Gordziel and his father, Steven’s, 1972 Chevelle. Chris recalls, “I’ve always wanted to build a car with my dad, but I never thought it would be something this involved. I was attending Wyotech in Wyoming with a focus on collision and paint refinishing. I really wanted a project car to work on at school so I called up my dad and pitched him the idea. To my surprise he actually said OK. After a quick search on eBay we found a starter car near San Diego, where my parents were living.”
Chris had seen pictures of the car but had no idea of the condition it was in. The ’72 was shipped to Chris at Wyotech and immediately realized he was in for a huge challenge. “On the Friday it came off the truck I drove the car for about an hour, and by Sunday afternoon my buddies and I had the car stripped down to the last nut and bolt,” remarked Chris. The more they disassembled, the more problems they uncovered. With all-new sheetmetal ordered, Chris and his friends Tyler Ewing and Andrew Hurvey hung new quarters, doorskins, tailpanel, and outer wheelhouses, and patched the typical rust found in the lower cowl area. All of this was done with a small compressor, basic cutting tools, and a MIG welder in a 30x30-foot storage unit. While the trio was doing the bodywork, the bent and cracked frame was sent over to Frontier Rod in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where Kim Kollar massaged it back to its original specs. For extra strength, he boxed the ’rails. For looks, he made the frame smooth as glass.

After graduation, Chris moved to San Diego and brought the unfinished Chevelle along. While working on the car in his parents’ garage, Chris made great strides in finishing up the bodywork. Eventually he landed a gig at Best of Show Coach Works (BOS) in San Marcos, California. Chris told us, “I never knew how nice paint could be until seeing what they had accomplished at BOS. I decided to make this car a statement for the shop—and myself—and to prove the quality of work we were capable. We spent a lot of time paying attention to details on the car: panel fitment; smooth, tight lines and gaps. It was all especially important.”

To save his dad some cash, Chris spent a lot of time doing work off the clock. He put in over two weeks of labor getting the rear bumper just right. While it would have been easier to just narrow the bumper, Chris thought it would look better to widen the back of the car. Dick Kvamme and Jon Lindstrom gave Chris guidance but allowed him make the big decisions and do the lion’s share of the work. Once the body was prepped just right, Chris again took over and sprayed the car himself. After going over paint chips with his dad, the pair decided on PPG Cabernet. “I had painted a couple of cars prior to this one, but nothing as nice, and I had never used paint this expensive. I was nervous because I had zero experience with three-stage paint and have heard horror stories about how difficult it can be to apply. I spent a Saturday in the booth for about 12 hours. Before locking up to go home, I took one more look at the car and knew it was going to be killer.”

Going that extra mile, Chris added rally stripes. They were created by laying down two fewer coats of the mid-tone paint in the stripe area. At first glance many people don’t even notice they’re there, but once they do Chris gets bombarded with questions about how it was done.
While the body was getting picture-perfect, Chris was also working on the drivetrain for the heavy Chevy. His dad knew that a big car like the Chevelle needed an equally massive mill under the hood. Soon, a 540ci big-block was sitting in the shop. Unfortunately, Chris found that the big-block was full of metal fragments and his warranty was worth only a bit more than the paper it was written on. Rather than waste time fighting that battle, he sent the engine over to Don Lee Auto in Rancho Cucamonga, California, where Tim Lee tore it down and replaced the scarred crank along with all the bearings. Tim also found that the cylinder walls were damaged, so the block was bored and new forged Mahle pistons were added. They also decided to move from a hydraulic flat tappet to a full roller valvetrain. The 9.5:1 pump-gas friendly mill consists of Merlin 345 iron heads, a Comp valvetrain, and a Holley 870-cfm carb sitting on a Merlin single-plane intake. Spark from the MSD lights the fire while a Ron Davis cooling system keeps the temps in check. The headers are 2-inch Doug’s units modified by Jimmy Warner of Warner’s Performance in Oceanside, California. Jimmy also fabricated the coated 3-inch exhaust system and made the mufflers tuck up neatly under the body.
It’s a torque monster that chassis dyno’d at 469 rear-wheel horsepower and a stump-pulling 550 lb-ft of twist. Backing up the big-cube engine is a TKO 600 five-speed and a bulletproof 12-bolt posi rearend.
Both Chris and his dad agreed that stance was key to the Chevelle having the right look, so an order was placed to RideTech for one of their complete ShockWave kits. To counteract the forward momentum of the Chevelle, Chris added massive Wilwood six-piston brakes to the front of the car and matching four-piston binders to the rear. Rolling around these big brakes are Bonspeed Huntington billet wheels in 18x9 front and 18x10 rear with Michelin Pilot Sport rubber in 275/35 and 315/30, respectively.
The interior is decked out in factory flair with just the right amount of modifications. Autos International in Escondido, California, re-covered the stock seats in black leather for a richer look. With the seats installed, Chris then moved forward with new door panels, a smoked glass kit from Prodigy Customs in Orlando, Florida, and a new set of Stewart-Warner gauges housed in a Covan’s dash.
Since Chris had wired the whole car, including the air system, he decided to tackle the audio system as well. An Eclipse CD5000 head unit controls the Rockford Fosgate amp and the four-pack of Focal speakers. It’s a combination loud enough to be heard over the raucous big-block under the hood—not an easy task.
As far as we can tell, the only problem for Chris and this build is that he’s going to have a hard time topping it. After all, it’s rare that anyone’s first attempt at anything turns out this sweet.


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