Drag Racer - - Contents - Text and Pho­tos by Brian Los­ness

Don Ku­ramoto is a Quick Study

DON KU­RAMOTO WAS DES­TINED TO BE A TEACHER. In 1976, Don be­gan his ca­reer as an au­to­mo­tive tech­ni­cian. Af­ter nearly 20 years of work­ing on cars, he made the first of many life-chang­ing de­ci­sions. In 1994, he moved from San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, to Phoenix, feel­ing like Jimmy Buf­fet: “Changes in lat­i­tudes, changes in at­ti­tudes.” Ac­cord­ing to Don, “I just like the weather in Phoenix.”

Then in 2011, Don made an­other ma­jor de­ci­sion and be­came an in­struc­tor at Glen­dale Com­mu­nity Col­lege’s Au­to­mo­tive Re­pair Pro­gram.

Coin­ci­den­tally, about this same time,

Don de­cided to get back into drag rac­ing. He’d raced in his younger days, but “re­tired” in or­der to fo­cus on his ca­reer. He blames this de­ci­sion on his friend, Joe Lan­davazo. “Joe had a car he was rac­ing and asked if I wanted to come out to Firebird and watch one Satur­day. I did, and the rest is his­tory.

“I al­ways wanted to have fast door cars,” Don said, so he bought an F-Body Mus­tang, with a long-range plan to com­pete in Pro Mod. Although the Mus­tang was more of a Top Sports­man car, Don needed a place to start. A string of cars fol­lowed, in­clud­ing a

Dodge Dart, a dragster, a Ca­maro and his lat­est, a McCoy-built ’63 splitwin­dow Corvette mod­i­fied by Jerry Bickel.

“The Corvette was built as a Top Sports­man car, then it was sent to Bickel for up­dates so it could run in Pro Mod,” Don told Drag Racer. Don was also drawn to the McCoy-built Corvette be­cause of its re­mov­able body. “It takes us about 10 min­utes to take the body com­pletely off the car, which makes work­ing on it so much more ef­fi­cient.” Ob­serv­ing Don and driver Joe Lan­davazo quickly and ef­fi­ciently re­move the body from the chas­sis, it’s a won­der other car builders don’t ap­ply the same de­sign con­cept.

Don also had a plan to run Pro Mod with a dif­fer­ent slant to his pro­gram. He reached out to Sonny’s Rac­ing En­gines and pur­chased the K-2 of moun­tain mo­tors, 959-ci of Sonny Leonard art­work.

The plan was to run the car “all mo­tor” with a Pow­er­glide trans.

Af­ter ini­tial test­ing and con­sul­ta­tion with crew chief Mike Dever and Pro Mod stand­out Den­nis Rad­ford, a six-stage Speedtech ni­trous sys­tem was added to the com­bi­na­tion. This was done with great care be­cause the amount of power pro­duced by Sonny’s en­gine is not al­ways kind to Pow­er­glide trans­mis­sions. If this en­gine/trans­mis­sion com­bi­na­tion doesn’t per­form as an­tic­i­pated, Don will switch to a Lenco trans and a Bruno drive unit.

Learn­ing is not at­tained by chance, it must be sought for with ar­dor, and at­tended to with dili­gence. —Abi­gail Adams

The silent force be­hind Don’s rac­ing ca­reer is his wife of more than two decades, Sharon. She is sup­port­ive, and as is true of many rac­ers’ wives, she’s the voice of rea­son. Sharon has the abil­ity to see things both from the 30,000-foot level and from the hand-to­hand fight­ing per­spec­tive. She is also the one who gave the car its very catchy name, The Mistress.

This Mistress has many suit­ors vy­ing for her af­fec­tion. Be­sides Lan­davazo, Dave Arm­strong and Den­nis Rad­ford are sched­uled to drive the car for the Ku­ramo­tos at var­i­ous events in 2018.

Don is also plan­ning to suc­ceed in le­gal Pro Mod com­pe­ti­tion, start­ing with in­vest­ing in one of Sonny’s 903 cu­bic inch­ers. The

959 will see ac­tion on the Out­law cir­cuit.

Safety al­ways comes first, so the Corvette fea­tures

ISP pads and a poured seat, along with RJS safety belts and Simp­son Race Prod­uct ’chutes. Ra­cepak equip­ment is in­stalled through­out. A Water­man Rac­ing Com­po­nents fuel pump feeds the 959, and Rac­ing Elec­tron­ics ra­dios keep the team in con­tact on the track.

The Sonny’s power passes through a Pow­er­glide trans­mis­sion (Reid case, Geker in­ter­nals), con­nect­ing to a Mark Wil­liams rearend. Amer­i­can Rac­ing wheels hold on to Hoosier rear tires, and steer­ing is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of MT front-run­ners.

Don is now a will­ing pupil, The Mistress his teacher—and class is def­i­nitely in ses­sion.

The McCoy/Bickel ’Vette in its de­con­structed mode. It makes main­te­nance so much sim­pler.

The jus­ti­fi­ably proud trio (L to R): Don and Sharon Ku­ramoto and Joe Lan­davazo.

In spite of its take-apart prop­er­ties, the ’63 ’Vette’s body lines re­main straight and true.

Sonny Leonard’s finest 959-ci alu­minum fea­tures a six-stage Speedtech ni­trous sys­tem and Water­man fuel pump.

The well-en­gi­neered in­te­rior fea­tures an ISP poured seat and pads, Ra­cepak gauges and a Reid/Geker Pow­er­glide.

A Mark Wil­liams rearend eas­ily han­dles the am­ple Sonny power.

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