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Drag Racing Story of the Day!

East Coast Drag Memories

By Bill Drevo, Jr.

Bill Drevo's '68 Z-28 was a regular in the car mags back in the '70s and '80s. Photo thanks to Bill Drevo
Bill Drevo's '68 Z-28 was a regular in the car mags back in the '70s and '80s.
Photo thanks to Bill Drevo

Unfortunately, I go a long 'ways back to where I grew up in Chevy Chase, DC and was one of the 11 guys who started the hot rodding craze in the Washington area. As a matter of fact, one of our "group" was none other than Bill Marriott, now CEO of Marriott Corp.! I made my first pass down a drag strip in 1954 at the only one around at that time - the Manassas 1/5-mile strip on dirt! When you finished a day's racing there your car looked like it had been on the roundy-round track next door! My parents would come look at my "full-race flathead-powered '37 Ford "opera" coupe (originally came a V8-60 "flatty" which meant that it had a tube front axle and a 4.44:1 rear end ratio - do think Henry knew something?!) and wondered where in the world I had been. 

Anyhooo, I got involved with the Propcopios who owned Aquasco Speedway (as it was called back then) there on MD Rte. 381 just to keep the racers from killing themselves on that awfully rough drag strip. Al Procopio was more interested in building a new hamburger stand than he was fixing up the racing surface. The Fosdick Timing equipment I "inherited" when I became Track Manager was battery-powered. I had a set of batteries for time trials and then I changed them to a freshly charged set for eliminations! The early winter of '60 was when Myself, Bruce Wheeler and a guy named Mario (a "marry-in" to the Procopio family) re-wired the whole timing system and put up those telephone poles on either side of the starting line and the finish line so that the timers could be AC-powered.

I could go on and on about all the things that happened there but it was interesting. 1960 was the last year I worked there but that year I was also the Announcer at the very best drag strip in the country - York-US 30 Dragway in Thomasville, PA. After York opened, you never had to ask your friends where they would be on Saturday night - everyone was at York! That's where I met Bill Jenkins, Dave Strickler, Bruce Larson, Darwin Doll, Greg Xakellis, Chub Lorah, George Weiler and became friends with Don Garlits, Connie Swingle (his driver), Art Malone, Connie Kalitta, Don Prudhomme (he was SO YOUNG when I met him that you didn't know whether to "burp" him or " spank" him!.......he was driving the '57 Cadillac Eldorado that was the tow car for the "open trailer" that carried Tommy Ivo's twin-engined Buick powered dragster), Tommy Ivo, Jim Wanger - of Royal Oak Pontiac fame, Harold Ramsey.......the list just goes on and on!

I have always felt that I was blessed to have been a part of the growth of drag racing in the Washington area. I raced a lot later after college and I think made my mark. I wonder if you may remember my silver-and -black '68 Z/28 Camaro (the only one Chevy ever produced on their assembly line in Lordstown, OH) that I raced with AHRA and IHRA setting 104 World Class Records in the process. I won 8 National events and a larger number of Points meets with that car over the years I campaigned it. I sold it in 1982 and it had only 1,439.4 miles on it! Terry Bell, of La Plata, MD fame, did all of my cylinder head prep on that car and others I raced.

Speaking of "Super Stock & Drag Illustrated" Magazine they did two feature articles on my '68 Z\28.......the first feature was done in the January 1973 issue and the second one was done in the January 1982 issue. They told me, at the time, that my car was the only one they had done two feature articles on that many years apart with the car running in the same class! I'll "attach" two pics here - one of the car running at the IHRA track at Elk Creek, VA in 1981 and then an engine compartment shot. The alternator in that engine shot was the original alternator case that came on the Z/28 and was hand-polished by yours truly....that took 3 weeks to complete. That's the level of detail I put into that car.

I have run at Dragway 42 back in the '70's with the Z/28 when it was an AHRA track and they held their "Summernats" there.......very nice facility with the green grass pits and the air compressors scattered throughout. As a matter of fact, Shirley Muldowney had her "bad" accident there that was depicted in her movie "Heart Like A Wheel." I had just made my first pass in eliminations on Sunday and was stopped on the return road behind my good friend Scott Shafiroff ( he was running a Camaro in AHRA's "GT-2" class) and we watched Shirley come off the starting line and then had a pan explosion. Her funny car got in it's own oil, and got all crossed up, went into the grass and rolled a few times coming to a stop about 75 feet from me and was on fire. 

I grabbed my 5 lb. fire extinguisher that we had to carry in our race cars and ran over to the funny car and broke out the lexan window on the left side so that I could aim the extinguisher at Shirley's face to try to keep her from getting burned until either the track's safety team or Connie Kalitta (that's when they were an "item"!) got there with the bigger bottles. She was cussing like a trooper and I told her to shut up and close her eyes so that I could try to keep the fire, which was getting more intense, from around her face with my little fire extinguisher. I "blipped" it on and off trying to extend it's life while also trying to keep her from getting burned until, as I said earlier, the real fire fighters showed up. 

Just as my fire extinguisher went "dry" Connie Kalitta showed up with the big fire bottles and he got the fire put out. That hospital scene in the movie where she is sitting up in bed and her face red from some minor burns is because of that accident. The movie was actually filmed in California for convenience but most of the historical events in the movie (like this one at Dragway 42) are accurate. Just thought you'd like to know about this little bit of info.

Bill's '58 Chevy Biscayne was hot right out of the factory. Photo thanks to Bill Drevo
Bill's '58 Chevy Biscayne was hot right out of the factory. Photo thanks to Bill Drevo

I've also included a pic of my '58 Chevy Biscayne (3800 lbs.) that I raced from 1958 to 1966 when I sold it. It had a number of small-block configurations in it over the years. In '58 I built a 301 cu. in. small-block for it and with a couple of custom-machined aluminum adapters used on '57 Corvette 270 hp (2 four-barrel carbs) aluminum intake manifold I believe I was the first in the US to use two Carter AFB carbs that came on the 350 cu. in./305 hp Mopar "B" block that was introduced that year. But the most successful engine I had in that car was a '61 283 cu. in. 315 hp 'Vette engine that I bought new. This Chevy small-block engine had 11.0-1 compression, it was the first Chevy small-block using cylinder heads with the 1 15/16" intake valves. 

This engine, until April 1,1961, was only available in the Corvette - you could not purchase it "across the parts counter" at your local Chevy dealer. I had placed an order for a short-block, two complete cylinder head assembles, a 6 qt. "truck" oil pan, new oil pump etc. long before April 1 and when this stuff arrived I was the first person in the Washington, DC area to have one. I put a Rochester FI unit on it and went racing. At this time I also installed a new aluminum case "close-ratio" T-10 4-speed trans in it. The car ran in the "gas/coupe and sedan" category because it had this '61 engine in a '58 car body. 

The car's racing history is pretty good - I won 80 trophies (that's about all you "won" back in those days!) in 10 different states, set the AHRA E/G National Record (13.73 sec @ 104.88 mph - this was with all Chevy parts, including the Duntov camshaft!) in 1963 and won an NHRA Points Meet at the Phoenix City, AL drag strip in 1962. The pic you see here was taken in 1965 after I finished my 4-year stint in the US Air Force and had secured an aerospace engineering job in Maryland and moved back to the DC area. 

Before I left the US Air Force in Manchester, NH ( I was a Tracking and Range Control Officer at a classified military satellite tracking station there), I completely re-did that car's exterior and applied a '60 Pontiac "Newport Blue" lacquer which you see in the photo......the car's original factory color was the popular "silver-blue". While I was stationed in NH I also removed the heavy front bench seat and installed a pair of '64 Corvair metallic blue bucket seats (if you look closely at the pic you can see the top of the bucket seats). 

Of course, this was my "daily driver" because back then just about everyone raced on the weekends what they drove on the street during the week. I used the Atlas "Bucron" tires (8.00X14) and 4.88 gears on the street. I don't know if you may remember those tires but they were really "sticky" and because all the racing slicks back then were "re-caps", these things worked very well for traction, although because of that you didn't get any mileage out of them! 

I don't have any pics of the injected motor in the '59 but I had polished the Rochester FI and cast-aluminum Corvette valve covers, polished the top brass radiator tank and had chromed the fan blades, pulleys and other parts on the engine. The car looked as good as it ran! 13.70's at 104 + was pretty awesome performance for a "3800 lb barge" back then AND it got 16-17 mpg on the highway with the 4.88s in the back too!! That car was a lot of fun to drive and I never thought that I'd be lucky enough to own another car that was would be even more dominant like the '68 Z/28 ended up being! 

Anyhoooo, that's the "short of the long of it" on the '58. The car I had before I decided to switch over to the small-block Chevy was a bored and stroked 341 cu. in. (to 366 cu. in.) '57 Hemi DeSoto-powered '48 "Canadian" Ford coupe - six Stromberg 48's on a Crower "U-Fab" manifold, Vertex magneto, Harmon-Collins "140-140" roller camshaft, 12.5:1 JE pistons, ported and polished hemi cylinder heads, and this thing, with all six carbs working together (no progressive linkage), I toured around getting 15 mpg!! using 2nd and high gears only - first gear in the Ford tranny was totally useless because of all torque that Hemi had! 

I apologize for all the words here but those are some of the cars that I owned and built over the years. I haven't said anything about the '82 X-11 4-speed Citation I raced after I sold the '68 Z/28 but that's another story. Talk with you soon.

Bill Drevo, Jr.
wld38@flash.net

 

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