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Danny's Corner

Small Blocks on Nitrous

Pro Stock Racing on a Budget

by Danny White (7/97)

One of our favorite types of cars from the DragList.com files is the nitrous-assisted small block Pro Stockers that ran from 1981 to 1985. The N20 Pro Stockers were welcomed openly by the now defunct American Hot Rod Association in 1981. The AHRA went to the unlimited program in an effort to save their ailing Pro Stock class. The cars also ran in the United Drag Racing Association, the Mid America Pro Stock Association, and at backwoods races where anything went and often did. It was the pre-Pro Modified era, and Pro Stockers were the undisputed doorslammer kings. 

The first small block that admitted to running nitrous was UDRA racer Gordy Frank. Frank unsuccessfully ran the combination for a couple of years before switching to the Boss 429 in 1981, making for an even scarier Pro Stock ride. Jerry Haas was the first to have major success, winning the 1981 AHRA Championship in his Monza. The car ran 7.84 at 178 mph with a 388 cubic inch Chevy stroker in 1982. Jerry's last nitrous car was a 1983 Camaro driven by Rick Thomas to 8.38 at 160 clockings, but was replaced with a 615 inch engine in 1984.

The other racers to have success in a major way were Dave and Karen Smith, who with Tom Chelbana driving, dominated the AHRA circuit in 1982. Dave Smith was an engine builder by trade and walked to the beat of a different drummer. After being a partner in the 'Chevy West' big block Pro Stock Vega, he built a 403 inch Oldsmobile diesel block-powered Trans Am and added the nitrous in 1981. 

Tom Chelbana drove the car to a 7.67 with the highly brittle Olds block, and this wasn't one of those 'corporate blocks,' either. Smith had Willie Rells build a new 1983 Cutlass to match the Oldsmobile block. The Cutlass had no success with new drivers Rick Rader and Chuck Smithfield during 1983. It last was raced in 1985 with the 'corporate' Olds block. 

Animal Jim Feurer ran his legendary Zephyr on the bottle from 1981 to 1983 with an ultra-rare, all-aluminum Can-Am Cleveland Ford 427 stroked small block. Feurer got a 7.83 before frustration with blown engines and the growing gap between him and the big blocks prompted a switch to the Boss 429, and the Mammoth Mercury was born.

Omaha, Nebraska, was home to the B.I.D. Pro Stock team, who ran two nitrous cars before retiring in 1983. Dan Bruckner was the driver, Terry Iselin built the 396 Cleveland Fords, and Ed Drees built the chassis. They raced a wild, unpredictable Maverick until 1982. The car managed an 8.41 clocking, winning Bruckner an unofficial "big ones" award. The team built a beautiful new Fairmont for 1983 to race on the AHRA circuit and with Haas' Mid America Pro Stock Association. We haven't yet found an elapsed time representative of that car's true potential.

Brian Rodekopf had the long shot of the nitrous small blocks, a car that also was the last AMC Pro Stocker. In a fruitless effort to keep racing in Pro Stock, Rodekopf added the juice to his 390 cubic inch '77 AMX Javelin, a car that was outdated both chassis-wise and age-wise. Brian got an 8.25 second time at 170 mph plus before switching back to 9.90 index racing in 1983. 

California-based Lee Hunter stopped running the western NHRA races to concentrate on the AHRA tour, adding nitrous to his Zephyr for 1981 and 1982. Lee's car ran 7.98 at 170.80, good times for the era and for the tracks on which he ran. Lee did build a Boss 429 for NHRA races in 1982. We believe he ran only the Winternationals and retired afterward.

Possibly the ultimate nitrous small block car was Ray Acklin's '82 Mustang, driven by Rod Urish. The team of Acklin, Urish, and crew member Chris Eckert ran the bottle strictly because of economics. The car was built for 15 grand with a Powerglide behind the homebuilt 393 inch Australian Cleveland engine. The Fran's chassis, along with the paint, was finished in Acklin's shop. The interior was spray painted instead of powder coated or instead of the anodizing that was so well loved during the early 1980s.

The team's best of 8.19 at 172 was run with a clutch and Lenco transmission; that combination brought the car's cost to $19,000. The average new car of that era was going for 60 grand, making the team's runs even more amazing.

Bob Bailey ran match races in his Camaro during 1983 and 1984, mainly during Maryland International Raceway's unlimited Pro Stock shows. Bailey's aptly named 'Missile Mouse' recorded a best time of 8.18 at 166 at MIR during the 1984 Mountain Motor Nationals. Bailey usually ran the car in Competition eliminator and would add the N2O only when match racing. 

The 1985 season brought the end of nitrous small block Pro Stock. The last one running was the Thunderbird of Dave Shafer. With a 418 inch Cleveland Ford, Shafer ran 7.78 at 175.78 on the American Drag Racing Association circuit. Shafer's last known appearance was a match race at Cedar Falls Raceway against the equally antiquated Hemi Volare of Charlie Malyuke.

Several factors killed the nitrous small blocks, including being out-powered by the big blocks, and the death of the AHRA, the ADRA, and Haas' Mid America Pro Stock Circuit. The nitrous small blocks were run by those who could not afford big blocks and who already had their money invested in the small motors. The cars were breakage-prone and very inconsistent, reasons Animal Jim cited for his switch in 1983. 

The cars listed above are known runners of the bottle as documented in DragList.com. There were probably others we don't know about, including some runs in the late 1970s on which the racers didn't admit to running nitrous. The best example we've found of this was Don Nicholson during 1976. He ran an 8.08 with an aluminum Holman-Moody Cleveland Ford punched out to 408 cubic inches in a car weighing only 1,900 pounds. 

Still, the math and the technology of the day don't seem to add up to a run that good. If the clocks were right, all we can figure is that Dyno had a big block or a bottle -- he got the former in 1977 to run 7.99 during a match race with Bill Jenkins. Only Dyno knows for sure. 

If you know of any other cars that ran a small block with nitrous, drop us an email and we will get it in The Drag Racing List. 

Danny ddgw@valornet.com


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