My pick for Racer of the Week is Don Phillips. Don is a longtime friend and as well as being the admin of the huge Maritime Drag Racing website, he has also handled all of the updates for the Pee Wee Bowen Band’s website.
Don lives in Sydney, Cape Breton Island - a part of Nova Scotia that's been at odds with the Mainland since they were annexed in 1763. He’s a retired Millwright/Stationary Engineer, born on the same day in 1949 as Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. Don was raised on a farm about 30 miles away and all his toys are stored there plus his brother Spencer and he do all their work in the garage. He worked at the family woodlot and sawmill until he started his apprenticeship for the Millwright trade in 1970 (Stationary Engineering in 1974). Don spent most of his working life in coal mines and boiler rooms and tinkering with cars and trucks. He couldn't leave anything stock at all so everything always got more power. He never really cared how anything looked as long as it was safe and fast and when something broke due to abuse it got beefed up. For a long time he had a reputation for "Overkill Engineering" because he was always making sure broken stuff couldn't break in the same place again… witness all the square feet of steel plate and miles of welding rods the loader on his tractor got over the years.
Like most of us Baby Boomers, Don got hooked on drag racing back in the early 60s and when he was 16 the first actual race he had was in a ’59 Ford ragtop with a 352 when he whipped a 327 1962 Chevy Impala on the "official" street racing stretch of road between their farm and the local fishing village. His first race track only vehicle was a 1965 Chevy II wagon 327/250 they built for H/SA back around 1973. Don retired from drag racing in 1979, then around 2001 he started working at Cape Breton Dragway as Tech Inspector. That was fun until 2009 when he got the itch again and decided to give the Sportsman class a shot in his daily driver Chev truck and actually had some luck. Switching between the truck and his Mom's Cavalier, they got the "Rookie of the Year" award, went rounds, won an event and wound up in 4th place in track points for the year. After that came a VW Golf, then for several years they ran a 1996 Saturn and couldn't seem to do anything wrong with it. They won multiple Gamblers races against dragsters and quick door cars, finished in the top half dozen spots or so in track points every single year, nabbed one Sport Compact championship and one Sportsman class championship at Cape Breton Dragway, top 5 a few times in ADRA points, and a second place in an ADRA inter-track "team race". That little green car wound up with 25 trophies and a pile of cash in the 7 years they ran it but it finally died and got parked when the Ranger came along. Don’s best memory of the Saturn was at Miramichi Dragway in New Brunswick when he faced a Top Sportsman Cougar in a Gamblers Race. He was dialed at 18.10 and the Cougar was dialed at 7.10 and when the announcer said it was the biggest handicap he had ever seen, everyone in the place rushed for the fence. Don red-lit and threw it away but when the Cougar passed him at the finish line Don was at 75 mph and the Cougar was at 186!
They bought the Ranger as a roller in the fall of 2017, then gathered up all the race parts Don had kicking around for up to 30 years or more and they got it on the track late in 2018 with a lot of new car bugs to work out that continued into the first event of 2019. They have OLD and tired 350 Chev power because the "good" short block didn't get finished due to lack of funds. Right now it's got a 1984 GMC 3500 tow truck short block with a zillion miles on it, crank, rods and pistons all original but rings and bearings renewed, angle plug Bowtie heads that came off an 8 second Comp car, big solid lifter Crane cam, a Holley single plane intake, a 750 DP Holley, crank trigger, MSD ignition, TH350 trans, a 4500 API convertor, an 8.8 rear end with 4.30s and 9X30 "NHRA Stocker" slicks. The "good" short block didn't get finished in time for the 2019 season so they stuck the old wrecker's engine in there that was under the bench in the garage for 20 years LOL. In spite of all that they muddled through the season, won a few rounds, got one 3rd place and finished in 7th in track points for Pro ET.
Getting injured back in April put the brakes on all the improvements they had planned, so they did nothing to the truck other than put fuel in it all the 2019 season.The "good" short block will have forged internals around 11.5:1, gears will change from 4.30s to 4.88s and they now have a transbrake and roll cage to add to the "to do list". That all means that Don will finally be able to use the 4000-7500 RPM range the camshaft needs for max power. He decided that their old worn out tow truck engine with cast pistons and cast crank required a 6000 chip in the MSD so it wouldn't go "KABOOM" so that lets them run 8.0s @ 85 MPH in the 1/8 mile
Being on the "disabled list" with his detached bicep also means nothing got done to Don’s daily driver: a1994 Silverado 2500, the garage is a mess, the house needs work, the yard is returning to the wild and worst of all this time of year is not being able to use a snow shovel without a lot of pain. They just had 3 major storms in 10 days and Don’s arm now feels worse than it did when he first hurt it back in April. Surgery is scheduled for Feb 13th and the surgeon says Don should be good as new by May. Now if he can get the gears changed, rollcage in and the transbrake installed they will see if they can get another season out of their old tow truck engine. Don’s even considering changing that MSD chip from 6000 to 6500. The "good" shortblock only needs a steel 3.48 stroke crankshaft now to be finished and they’re hoping for a late 2020 or early 2021 debut for that one.
Don, good luck with your upcoming surgery. You need that arm to do all your stuff with it and it all sounds like fun! Thank you for 10 years of outstanding work on the Pee Wee Bowen Band website. We wish you good luck, safe racing and the best of times in the future!
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