NOBODY PANICS WHEN THINGS GO ACCORDING TO PLAN, EVEN IF THE PLAN IS HORRIFYING
— DRAG RACING GOES A LITTLE BIT CRAZY
If you replaced the word ‘criminal’ with ‘drag racer’ in the statement “This city deserves a better class of criminal, and I’m going to give it to them”, you’d pretty much sum up Ryan Sheldon’s goal. It wasn’t Ryan who said this imposing quote, however, but Batman’s arch nemesis, the Joker.
Ryan’s not twisted like the Joker … well, not as twisted, perhaps, but is all for having a laugh and making drag racing fun again. Besides kicking some supercharged arse with a naturally aspirated engine combination, bringing back the glory days of showmanship and sportsmanship is what it’s all about for the Auckland-based furnace operator. He’s been winding up the competition in Top Street and generally having a laugh doing it for the last few seasons behind the wheel of his ‘Joker’ Camaro. The ’58 Plymouth Fury you see here is that same car. Well, kinda. This is ‘Joker 2.0’ — a rebodied version of that same chassis that’s powered him to national championships and race wins at both ends of the country and a PB of 7.89 seconds at 174.55mph. While Ryan’s been on the strip with the car for just two years, his story with it goes back a whole lot further — right back, in fact, to those good old days he’s now emulating. The goal at the time was to join the hugely popular Wild Bunch ranks with a steel-bodied second-gen Camaro powered by a blown and injected big block Chev. For this, he and a racing partner purchased a former Super Stock car and sent it off to Chris Tynan at Tynan Race Cars in Matamata to gut it and create a tube chassis for what he affectionately describes as “the overweight pig”. Not long into the chassis build, for whatever reason, the partnership dissolved and the car disappeared. That didn’t sour his tastes for racing though, and Ryan went on to be involved in many other successful racing partnerships and built a bunch of street cars in the years that followed.
Some 25 years after the Camaro dream began, a very similar Camaro appeared on Trade Me in nothing more than very bare rolling form. On closer inspection, it was found to be indeed the same chassis that Chris had created, but the steel body had gone, replaced with a fibreglass version — albeit a less-than-perfect one. Before he knew it, his racing dreams were reignited,
even if by now he’d decided that natural aspiration was better than supercharging, or so he claims. Six months after purchasing it, and finally with a shed to work on it in, he got stuck in to the build. Fellow drag racer Doron Anderson and GSS partsslinger / fabricator extraordinaire Trevor Kitney were roped in to help, as was Ryan’s dad Des — a long-time car guy himself — to make it all happen. The 598-cube big block Chev, previously campaigned by Stu Stanners in his sevensecond altered, was sourced and mated to a BTE Powerglide transmission, and, before long, he was sitting at the staging lights ready to mash the accelerator pedal. Ryan explains: “In a season and a half with the Camaro, we won 10 of 15 races with a couple runners-up, set an NZDRA record, and won the National Series at our first attempt. Running high sevens like clockwork was fun, but the ageing body was slowly falling apart.” While he could have got stuck in to the fibreglass body, instead he decided to direct his efforts into another shape that he’d always loved — a shape you’d not generally find near a drag strip, and certainly not on this side of the planet. Of course, to keep the competition guessing, and to have a little fun with everyone, he’s kept that body shape quiet, until this very article.
The ’58 Plymouth Fury — or, more correctly, a fibreglass version of one — was sourced from Suncoast Race Cars in Florida and, to date, is one of just a handful ever produced.
Plans to get it here were delayed a bit by Hurricane Irma, which struck the area in August 2017, so, once it arrived, the build needed to happen in a ridiculously brief time frame if he were to make it to the start of the season, some two weeks after this magazine goes on sale. Normally, a chassis would be built to fit a body, but, in this instance, that worldly order would be disrupted, and both needed a small amount of tweaking before they’d sit happily together. Dad Des is the one who’s still extracting fibreglass splinters from his fingers, being given the task of widening the body to suit the Camaro’s broader frame.
Even then, the new body wasn’t a simple change, as it affected many other parts of the build, such as all the internal tin work, and the glazing, which Ryan created replacements for.
Once mounted, the car was sent on a trip under the radar to Wellington where WelTec paint tutor Dean Riches and his students would lay down the gloss white supplied by the team at Linkup Paints.
Under the cover of darkness once again, the car was dropped to Kurt Goodin Artworks where he was given three weeks to work his magic on it before it could be sent back to WelTec for a coat of clear to protect it all. Essentially, the mechanicals remain as they were when Ryan terrorized Top Street last season — the 600-ish-cube big block is good enough to run clockwork seven-second passes with minimal fuss. The new body’s a touch lighter than the old, so, all going to plan, those consistent seven-second slips will be a touch more impressive too. That said, having crewed on or co-owned over a dozen Group 1 cars over the years, he’s well aware of the fact that going faster means more maintenance, and, with the current combo, there’s a good balance of performance without the need for it to lose its enjoyment.
“We have created this car to be fun for everyone — no stress, and something people can relate to and identify with and get back to what has been lacking in our sport for years — fun for family and friends and spectators alike,” Ryan says. “We may not have the fastest or best-looking car out there, but everyone knows who the Joker is … ”
ArtworkDropped as a blank canvas to Kurt Goodin and with a three-week deadline, Kurt created the masterpiece you see today, and Ryan couldn’t be happier with how Kurt transferred the vision in his head into reality. All up, there’s around 80 hours of airbrush and design work in the design, with many hidden touches. Now it’s just up to Ryan to make sure he keeps it off the wall!