FREAK OF NA­TURE

The Case of the Wild and Crazy Nitro Chevy

Drag Racer - - Contents -

FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, THE LATE JIM BUCHER SET THE NHRA TOP FUEL RECORD AT 6.07 SEC­ONDS (AT 231.31 MPH). TWO YEARS LATER, BUCHER WON THE NHRA SUMMERNATIONALS IN HIS TOP FUEL DRAG­STER.

No big deal, you say? Yes, it was. Jim ac­com­plished these feats with a big-block Chevy. Keep in mind that in 1975, there were pre­cious few na­tional events in com­par­i­son to to­day's hec­tic sched­ule. Com­pe­ti­tion was fierce, and win­ning one was big news. In ad­di­tion to Bucher, Larry Dixon Sr. in the Howard Cams "Rat" was hav­ing suc­cess with the Chevy rat mo­tor in T/F. Dixon ac­tu­ally eclipsed the 6-sec­ond bar­rier with sev­eral passes in the 5.90 range. For the most part, though, Hemis ruled the nitro cat­e­gories.

Fast for­ward to to­day. Chuck Ex­ton, owner and builder of our fea­ture car, is suc­cess­fully cam­paign­ing a Nos­tal­gia Funny Car pow­ered by a big-block Chevy, and he's been do­ing it for sev­eral sea­sons. Even more con­found­ing is the fact that Chuck uses a block out of an old, medium-duty Chevy truck as the ba­sis for his fuel mo­tor. Es­sen­tially, he fills the 10.2-inch-tall deck truck block with con­crete.

The main caps are stock, and, for a while, Chuck even used the stock truck crank dur­ing early de­vel­op­ment. Ev­ery­thing on the en­gine is reg­u­larly in­spected af­ter two passes. On 85% pop, the stock crank would start to de­velop stress cracks. As a re­sult, Chuck and crew would swap out the crank ev­ery eight passes. To­day, the team has up­graded to a bil­let crank, but there is still a ton of low-buck hard­ware in­side the rat mo­tor. For ex­am­ple, the oil pump is a stock­style, high-vol­ume Melling. The rods are off-the-shelf alu­minum jobs from Veno­lia. Ditto with the pis­tons. How­ever, they're cus­tom forg­ings with a com­pres­sion ra­tio of less than 6:1.

Up­stairs, the Dart

360 heads used in the com­bi­na­tion are likely more than 30 years old— and they're still tick­ing.

The heads are ob­vi­ously main­tained re­li­giously and pro­vided with reg­u­lar up­grades (for ex­am­ple, the in­take valves are ti­ta­nium). Given the Nos­tal­gia rules, the rat mo­tor runs an it­sy­bitsy 6-71 blower. This one is from Mooney­ham, while the bird-catcher is from En­derle Fuel In­jec­tion. The fuel pump is a Nos­tal­gia rule­scom­pli­ant 21 gpm En­derle.

The fuel pump is crit­i­cal. As the story goes, the big­gest lim­it­ing fac­tor in the Nos­tal­gia fuel ranks is the pump. In con­trast, a typ­i­cal NHRA pro fuel car will be equipped with a pump that pro­duces 110–120 gpm. That small pump, along with the lit­tle blower man­dated by the rules, is what keeps these things rel­a­tively safe and af­ford­able.

But we di­gress ... back to the en­gine. All the ma­chin­ing is han­dled in house by

Chuck and his crew. Chuck owns and op­er­ates Ex­ton Au­to­mo­tive Ma­chine in Canaden­sis, Penn­syl­va­nia. It's es­sen­tially a full-ser­vice, one-man ma­chine shop. The cam is a cus­tom grind from Bul­let, and the head­ers are from S&W Race Cars.

Back­ing the nitro BBC is a three-disc, 10-inch­di­am­e­ter East/West clutch setup. Chuck works an air-shifted two-speed

Lenco. Out back, the fuel coupe still in­cor­po­rates a good,old-fash­ioned, 9inch Ford rearend.

You might be sur­prised by how quick and re­li­able a shoestring­bud­get big-block Chevy can be on nitro, es­pe­cially when it’s prop­erly ma­chined, some­thing Bucher and Dixon Sr. un­der­stood al­most five decades ago.

S&W also han­dled all of the up­grades on the chas­sis. It be­gan as a vin­tage Hal Can­ode Race Cars-built piece orig­i­nally de­signed to run on al­co­hol. Rolling stock con­sists of Weld Rac­ing wheels (bead locks on the back) wrapped with Goodyear slicks and front run­ners. Through­out the years, the body mor­phed from a mid-'80s Dodge Day­tona F/C shell to what you see here. Yes, it's had its fair share of dings, dents and en­coun­ters with the wall. It's also been mod­i­fied more than once; so of­ten, in fact, the team is now call­ing it an '80 "Mus­tang."

We all know that parts alone won't win races— the right peo­ple do.

From the top, the team is spear­headed by team owner/team ma­chin­ist/ driver Chuck Ex­ton. Chuck has more than 30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence ma­chin­ing en­gine parts and driv­ing race cars. Decades ago, he be­gan as a bracket racer with his street car. He pro­gressed to front-en­gine drag­sters and even­tu­ally ended up deep in­side the Nos­tal­gia Funny Car ranks.

In be­tween, Chuck worked on Terry Had­dock's Funny

Car and Rit Pus­tari's Top Fuel op­er­a­tion. At Pus­tari's, he was charged with work­ing on the cylin­der heads. He has crewed on sev­eral other teams as well, in­clud­ing work on Paul Smith's many cars.

Jimmy Gif­ford is the crew chief and en­gine tuner. He started out with Chuck at the ma­chine shop and was charged with clean­ing and blast­ing parts in the ma­chine shop dirty room. Even­tu­ally, Jimmy joined Chuck on the Had­dock F/C team. To­day, along with crew­ing for Chuck, Jimmy has his own suc­cess­ful al­co­hol-al­tered op­er­a­tion.

Roy Nie­mann also started out in the dirty room at Chuck's ma­chine shop. Af­ter a short ten­ure with the small teams shad­ow­ing Chuck, Roy joined him on the Paul Smith op­er­a­tion. Here, his role grew from parts washer to cylin­der head or clutch me­chanic (de­pend­ing on the team). To­day, Roy is the go-to clutch man on Chuck's funny car. He also han­dles PR and toils with data-log­ging.

Long­time pal Glenn Reish drives the trans­port truck and works as the as­sis­tant en­gine builder. Ja­son Her­ring is the team's jack-of-all-trades. He can help with pretty much any­thing and is also (along with Sam Cas­ti­more) the chief cook.

Casey Pirro, Greg Reish and Austin

Her­ring are long­time friends, and they're also Chuck's cus­tomers. Each brings his own level of ex­per­tise to the team. Their du­ties range from wip­ing tires to clean­ing parts to com­pletely strip­ping the car af­ter a match race.

Fi­nally, the team makes use of Gary “Skippy” Kennedy's ex­per­tise as a long- dis­tance team con­sul­tant. As most know, Gary is a well-re­spected fuel car tuner with cre­den­tials that go back to Jerry To­liver's WWF-spon­sored op­er­a­tion, Tim Wilk­er­son and other nitro stal­warts.

What's in store for this nitro-guz­zling freak of na­ture? More of the same.

The team is out to run ad­di­tional match races this year. Ex­pect per­for­mances to im­prove even more. You might be sur­prised by how quick and re­li­able a shoe­string-bud­get big-block Chevy can be on nitro, es­pe­cially when it's prop­erly ma­chined—some­thing Bucher and Dixon Sr. un­der­stood al­most five decades ago.

Chuck is more than happy to dis­play the rather un­so­phis­ti­cated bot­tom end of his nitro Chevy. The magic lies in the ma­chin­ing and main­te­nance, not the high-dol­lar parts.

It’s the real steel deal—not an HD alu­minum block cam­ou­flaged in Chevy Orange. These cast­ing num­bers tell the tale.

Roy Nie­mann, Ja­son Her­ring, Chuck Ex­ton, Jimmy Gif­ford, Glenn Reish, Austin Her­ring. Not pic­tured: Joel Hil­fig­ure, pain­ter/spon­sor, and Casey Pirro

S&W Race Cars has per­formed se­ri­ous up­grades to the vin­tage Hal Can­ode chas­sis.

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