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Danny's Corner

Chevys on Nitro!

by Danny White (8/10/98)

The Chevrolet race car on nitro was thought to be a thing of the past due to size of the combustion chambers. The last couple of years, though have seen a return to the wedge head fueler in nostalgia fuel racing with various amounts of success. The wedge head design problem has been its inability to burn the amount of nitro needed to compete with the larger Chrysler-designed head. The racers would try to add fuel, only to drop cylinders or lean the engine out. Detonation would be side effect. The Chevy came back in force after the nostalgia associations okayed the use of all aluminum blocks. The successful Chevys before that were the small blocks, though they had a rough time of it themselves. DragList.com currently lists nine cars using Chevrolet-based blocks across the country, though most are based in California. Racers who race Chevys race them for various reasons: number one - allegiance, number two - familiarity, and number three - variety.

The quickest and the fastest of the Chevys is a wild longtime Chevy bunch  --  the Champion Speed Sport/Juxtapox team out of the Bay area of Northern California. The McClennan's history with the small block Chevy on nitro goes back to NHRA's ill-advised nitro ban of the late fifties and early sixties. The team lead by Jim McClennan used to haunt tracks track like Half Moon Bay and other long gone tracks of that era. Sammy Hale was one of the early team drivers and was coaxed back out of retirement in the late eighties to drive again. The team was the most successful car on the coast for rest of the decade and into the early nineties. Sammy decided to retire again after running a best of 6.50 seconds with the early style dragster. Hard times and bad luck beset the team for over five years and most had counted the team as has-beens. Last year the team built a new car and got Sammy Hale back in the driver's seat where he belongs. The first couple of races were trying for the team, but then something happened and the tune up came back. The 400 cubic inch small block has thundered to super 6.05 second, 239 mph bests while reaching two final rounds.

The second fastest Chevrolet is the Jennings & Zeller team out of California. Lee Jennings is a longtime alcohol racer with his California Trucker dragster. Ray Zeller is an expert Chevrolet tuner who formerly co-owned the Lidtke & Zeller fueler that won the 1977 Fallnationals with Stan Shiroma driving. The team apparently chose the wedge head design because they had raced it in their previous cars. The team has been plagued by consistency problems but they won in Indianapolis with a best clocking of 6.10 seconds. The car is high tech and has the latest trick stuff built by Rob Stirling.

The Birky Bunch is a fuel team that has been around forever and a day. Although possibly more known for their misfortunes than their successes, they are still there. The team is led by Arnold Birky and with longtime Birky pilot Bobby Neal at the wheel. The team has a new Stirling chassis and a 440 Rodeck engine to compete with. The team has run best times of 6.49 seconds at 211 mph with tuning help from Ronnie Cochrum. They have qualified for several races.

Kent Terry is a newcomer is to the fuel wars with Palo Robes GMC fueler but he brought along some heavy artillery  --  Larry Dixon, Sr. Although known to most race fans these days most as Larry Dixon, Jr's, dad, Dixon ran his ZL-1 Chevy fueler into the five second club back in the seventies. The beautiful car that Terry and Dixon currently field is a full bodied masterpiece, also built by Stirling. The engine they run is punched out to 461 cubic inches and they have gone a best of 6.50 at 222 mph. The team has yet to reach its potential, but hopefully they will keep trying.

The unknown in the Chevrolet army is Lance Osborne and a team that debuted earlier this year. The team has the trick Stirling chassis with multiple canard wings and an all-aluminum engine. They have had their share of growing pains, but have run a best of 6.42 seconds with more to come.

Claudie Meador is an old time racer who ran a blown gasser and funny cars in the sixties. He came out of retirement to run his "real" nostalgia fueler. The car he runs is a vintage Tony Casarez chassis with a cast iron small block. The car has none of the trick bells and whistles, but the Hico, Texas, team has run a solid 6.90 second, 198 mph run. The team races for fun and thus calls their team "Serious Fun."

Mike Padur is a vintage nostalgia racer from the great northwest who has partnered with Jim Brown. The car is a 427 cast iron block in a '68 RCS chassis. The team runs real-style nostalgia races and has runs decent numbers of 7.30 at 205 mph on low doses of nitro.

The newest Chevrolet team is a really a returning team with a new driver. The car is owned by Rob Stirling and is driven by rookie Alicia Stirling. Rob was a Chevrolet fuel racer in the early eighties who enjoyed limited success. The 1990's found Stirling the premier chassis builder for nostalgia fuelers. The car he built for himself and his daughter is most likely the most advanced car ever prepared for the nostalgia classes. The chassis is built in two pieces with multiple canard wings to provide down force. The two-piece design allows the car to be transported on a rack on a compact truck, allowing the budget-minded Stirling to race again. The team has yet to flex its muscles but has shown promising ability.

The last of Chevy racers is Arnold Badgett from Missouri. Arnold has run the small block fueler for the last few years in match races and infrequent open races. The car has a chassis built by doorslammer ace Jerry Bickel and a cast iron 355 inch Chevrolet small block to get it down the track. The team's best run was a 6.92 second, 207 mph pass from a couple of years ago. This team may have switched to Chrysler recently, but I have not been able to confirm that.

Chevrolet is the most popular engine in racing and on the street, and the above racers have confirmed its rightful place in the nitro classes. While it may never become the fuel motor king like the Chrysler 392, best times of 6.05 seconds for the Champion Speed Sport/Juxtapox team cannot be denied when the best-ever front engined hemi run is a 5.97! Long live Chevys on nitro!

Danny White
ddgw@valornet.com

 

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