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The Reher-Morrison Era

The Rat That Roared

By Rick Voegelin, Photography by Rick Voegelin

"We didn't start out with the plate idea; we hashed that out later," he revealed. "We knew we couldn't run the heads dry, so we had to figure out how to get water in them. I decided to cut off the exhaust side of the head and machine pockets between the ports. Then, we drilled holes from the deck, we drilled holes behind the exhaust ports, and we drilled holes around the spark plugs. We'd blow air through the holes and fish wire through them to make sure they all connected. Then, we bolted on the port plates and sealed them with silicone.

"That was a very rewarding project," Reher reported. "We felt like we finally had something that was an advantage. We never let out that they were solid heads. And they fit the rules 100 percent, which just said we had to run a GM-produced head.

"We won two NHRA championships with these heads and one IHRA championship. We used the same heads on the 500ci NHRA motor and the 615ci IHRA engine. We'd be out on the road, I'd switch the heads between the two short-blocks, and then we'd go on to the next race."

In 1985, Bruce Allen was an engine builder and dyno operator at McLaren Engines in Livonia, Michigan, working on Buick's turbocharged V6 program for the Indianapolis 500. After Shepherd's tragic death, Allen answered the call to join Reher and Morrison as the team's new driver. Allen's life changed overnight as he became a professional drag racer.

Like his new teammates, Allen had paid his dues in sportsman racing. He'd constructed a very trick Corvette for Competition Eliminator, and later campaigned the 1981 Pro Stock Camaro that he'd purchased from RMS Racing on a shoestring budget. Allen's cool disposition and analytical approach were a good match for the team's personality. Reher and Morrison had found an intelligent, articulate, and level-headed driver who shared their passion for drag racing.

"We carried all of the parts to change over the Camaro in an old Chaparral trailer," Bruce recalled. "We'd come back to our shop in Arlington, if we could, or just stop somewhere and change the motor, the transmission, and the rearend to our IHRA setup. We had an IHRA transmission and an NHRA transmission with different ratios. We had a generic NHRA chassis setup, and for IHRA races, we would shorten the upper four-link bars to get more bite. We ran the same tires in both series. That was about it.

"Driving the different combinations was the biggest challenge at first," Allen continued. "All we had back then was a high-speed rpm limiter. One week, I'd leave the starting line at 8,500 with a 500ci engine, and the next week I'd leave at 4,000 rpm with a 615. The IHRA tracks at the time weren't quite as good as NHRA, so it took a little bit of skill to adjust to the conditions."

During his time at RMS Racing, Lee Shepherd became the most feared driver in Pro Stock. From 1980 to 1984, he drove RMRE Camaros to the final round in 44 of 56 NHRA national events, scoring 26 victories. He compiled a 173-47 win-loss record in NHRA competition and a 55-8 record in IHRA, where he added another 10 victories. He won every race on the NHRA tour at least once—and he won the respect of his rivals.

"Reher and Morrison just dial Shepherd into the starting line lights and punch the buttons," said 10-time NHRA Champion Bob Glidden. "He's not afraid of anything."

Allen revealed the secret of Shepherd's remarkable success: "Buddy and Dave explained to me how Lee drove the car," he said. "He always staged at the rpm that he was going to leave at. He would pre-stage, get the motor to 4,000 rpm, if it was a big motor, and then he would bump into the stage light with the clutch. Then, he'd just leave the motor there and never push the clutch all the way back down. The car would just be sitting there with the engine at a constant rpm, he'd let the clutch out on the green, and go. In NHRA competition he did the same thing, but obviously at much higher rpm.

"The clutches were centrifugal, and it took a while for me to get the hang of how to get a reaction time. After we'd agreed to get together, Buddy, Dave and I went out to Kennedale [Texas Raceway] for driver training. One of them ran the other side of the Christmas Tree with their foot, while I practiced launches and learned how to get good lights.

"There were no computers or data recorders back then, but David and Buddy were really good at observing the car and watching the tires. I would tell them what I felt in the car, whether it spun the tires down track or we needed a different Second gear, and we'd make the adjustments. You were really aware of those things, and driving was much more than getting a good reaction time.

"I was never under the illusion that I could replace Lee Shepherd," Allen said. "All I could hope to do was to help Buddy and Dave keep winning races and keep the legacy going."

Allen accomplished that. He added a third IHRA championship to the team's record in 1985 and won 16 NHRA national events in 39 final-round appearances. Allen finished Third in the NHRA standings three consecutive seasons (1985–87) and was runner-up in the 1989 NHRA championship. He walked away from driving after a harrowing high-speed crash at the Texas Motorplex on October 7, 2005.

Along with the top-secret cylinder heads, an arsenal of cast-iron Chevrolet blocks formed the foundation of Reher-Morrison's NHRA and IHRA engine programs. Chevrolet initially produced big-blocks with siamesed cylinder walls to accommodate the larger bore diameters that racers needed. The first castings were based on tall-deck marine blocks, but Reher and Morrison knew that a short-deck block with a lightweight rotating assembly was the answer for a 500ci Pro Stock engine.

"Our first 500ci Pro Stock engine was in a tall-deck block, because that's all that was available," Reher said. "The second was a short-deck, 9.800-inch block. It was basically a production block with siamesed bores, and the rear main bearing and bulkhead were weak. One day, we fired up the race engine and it was leaking oil badly. We found that the rear of the block had completely broken off—the only thing holding it in place was the oil pan. So we epoxied up a block where it needed more material to support the rear main bearing and sent it to Chevy. The company made that modification in the castings, and we got better blocks pretty quick."

By Rick Voegelin
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