The first time we saw the Wheelstanding Championships at Byron Dragway in 2004, we just stared when Brian Ambrosini came out of a 150-foot wheelstand on his oil pan and silenced the crowd. In the years since, rumors of a backflip and the reality of a $20,000 purse for the winner have cranked the event to a soccer-riot fervor.
The rules are simple: pass tech, take off the wheelie bars, and stand the car on the bumper as long as you can. This year, a panel of judges that included Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen picked the winners for the Highest, Longest, Most Photogenic, and Most Violent wheelies. The huge purse guaranteed the destruction of drivetrains, and you can actually see the fender gaps change as the cars slap the asphalt. You get as many shots at the title as you can until you are kicked off the track by jeering fans or track promoter Ron Leek calls the cops. The routine includes 8-second race cars performing U-turns at half track to take another swing.
Ron came up with the wheelie idea while thinking about a fun event that would pull in the crowds and help with track costs. "You could tell this event was instantly going to work," Ron said. "It is about some entertainment value, the more the better." This year, he announced that the cars competing for the big prize must be stock configuration in terms of engine and suspension placement, so it doesn't become about purpose-built wheelie cars, which still get to run, but only in the Modified class.
So are you going to sit there and watch or are you going to join the action? Visit byrondragway.com to get the details on how to attend this year as a gaper or be the hero you always wanted to be and have your grim visage burned into history by winning the whole thing. Your call.
First Place Steve Blue Roann, In '69 Chevrolet Camaro
Steve Blue has no fear. He put his '69 Camaro on the bumper for 480 feet and locked the win for Longest Wheelie and First Place points for holding the car in the sky forever. This is an all-motor deal for Steve; his 632-inch big-block has a nitrous kit, but he left the bottle in the pits for the wheelie show. After the first wheelie, he just wasn't satisfied, so he turned around at half track and restaged for another try. Instead of stabbing the gas like he would in a drag race, he changed his style and stayed in the air a lot longer.
"The second time, I just rolled up on the throttle. After a while, I felt the car moving left, so I lifted and brought it down. I know that there was more in it, and I wanted to make it an eighth-mile wheelie. I was in High gear when it started going left, I was scared the car was going to roll over at over 100 mph." Just to add to the chaos, Steve had a small heart attack on the way from the pits to the tower to pick up the cash. "I just thought it was indigestion," he recalled. "The paramedics gave me some oxygen and I felt better."
Is he coming back? "I am going to try to be the only back-to-back winner. Someone said it will be worth 50 grand next time, and that is going to bring out the crazy ones."
Engine: The Camaro uses a Bow Tie tall-deck big-block with a 4.750 stroke and 4.600 bore for 632 inches with Dart 360 heads.
Transmission: The TH400 has a 5,000-stall, and Steve leaves on the foot brake from a dead idle.
What did you break? "The front fender came loose at the end of the run, and the electric fan was hanging."
What do you always break? "I don't break anything, but I have crushed two pairs of headers. That's worth it. Doesn't hurt the suspension, and I've learned to take the bars off if it's a wheelie contest."
Tires: "The tires are three-year-old, 14.5-inch Goodyear Eagles."
Power: Steve estimates about 1,000.
Quarter-mile: His best e.t is 9.13 at 147 mph.
What do you do to prep for a wheelie? "I take timing and jet out of it, otherwise it will be up on the bumper before the Christmas Tree."
Changes from last year: None
Was it worth it? "Yes, I've made more money wheelstanding that car than I ever had bracket racing."
Second Place Brian Ambrosini Kenosha, Wi '74 Amc Gremlin
Brian is a regular at the wheelie contest with his Big Bad Orange Gremmie. He told us he hadn't intended to compete this year. "The contest is hard on the car and hard on me," he said. "When I heard the announcement about the $20,000, I decided to compete."
Brian came down hard on the transmission pan and pushed the car into the pits before the end of the final round. He was told he had five minutes to repair the car and get it back on the track, so Brian's friends helped with the thrash in the pits. "At four minutes, the Speed TV guys told me the race was all over," Brian said. At that point, the car was repaired, so Brian drove it to the starting line, where the crowd got involved and began to chant "let him go" at the same time the track announcer was on the loudspeaker trying to yell over the crowd and get him not to go. Brian backed down when the police told him he was in control of the situation and the charges would be inciting a riot.
Engine: The block is from Indy Cylinder Head with a 4.00-inch bore and a 4.38-inch stroked Moldex crank and Venolia rods and pistons.
Power-adder: Brian uses a nitrous Fogger with a 0.42 jet to add about 400 horses
Transmission: It's a one-two-shifted Powerglide with a transbrake and a 5,000-rpm stall.
What did you break? "I split the transmission pan wide open this year."
What do you always break? "I always break the trans pan, but I only cracked it last year."
Tires: Those are 31x10.5W-15 M/T tires, so Brian can run in the NMCA 10.5 tire class.
Weight: With the 'glass and most of an interior, it weighs 3,010 pounds.
Power: He guesstimates about 1,250 hp on the bottle.
Quarter-mile: His best this year is 7.89 at 175 mph.
Big Bad Orange: Brian sprays his own and beats panels at his shop, Precise Auto Body in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Changes from last year: "Only the guy working on the chassis; he is Bryan Metzenheim from Metz Performance."
Coming back next year? "If there are enough people who like my car, then I will keep doing it."
Third Place Jerry Sipe Herbert, Il '67 Pontiac FirebirdThis is Jerry Sipe's fourth wheelie contest driving the family car. He was made famous in 2003 when he raised the launch rpm up for the killer wheelstand. The Firebird bounced off the rear bumper, landed on the driver-side door, and slid down the track at about 70 mph before flipping back onto its wheels, careening to the other side of the track, and hitting the wall. He won it that year. He told us, "It wasn't worth it that year moneywise, but it was cool to do one time."
Despite the damage, Jerry comes back every year for the fan approval and "because that car always did good wheelstands." The '06 event was the first with a double-plate nitrous system. "It went up onto the parachute bracket and came down straight and tore a hole through the parachute bag." He recalled. "I was just staring at the sky and waiting for the shift light. During the run, I don't know if I am going straight. In 2003, it was leaning over, so I knew what was happening. If it doesn't do that, you don't know where it is going when you are straight up."
Engine: It's all Indian with a 455 Pontiac bored to 473 inches, Edelbrock heads, and 12.0:1 compression sprayed with 325 horses of nitrous using twin plates on the homemade tunnel ram. It makes 700-750 on the motor.
Power-adder: He sprays Cold Fusion nitrous plates under twin Holley 850s.
Transmission: He runs a TH400 with a 3,400-rpm stall and a 4.10 Dana 60 rear.
What did you break? "I have broken the motor mounts, front motor plates, rims, rack-and-pinions, oil pans, and license plates-and a set of wheelie bars in 2003."
What do you always break? "The oil pan."
Quarter-mile: The Firebird is faster than ours with an 8.73 at 152 mph.
What do you do to prep for a wheelie? He told us he just takes the wheelie bars off.
On the line: He puts it on the limiter and releases the transbrake. A throttle switch activates the nitrous, and then he sits and waits for the shift light.
Fourth Place Robert Gale Astoria, Il '67 Chevrolet Camaro
This is the first time at the contest for Robert Gale, but wheelies are a routine part of racing for him, so he figured he'd go to the Byron playground and give it a shot. On the first pass, Robert shifted the Jeffco into Third before coming down. On the second pass, the Camaro barfed a wheelie bar and came down hard. After pulling to the side and checking the gauges, he figured everything was OK and went back for more. The last try got a little out of hand, so he called it a day. "I realized I was on one tire before I crossed the centerline."
Engine: This is really close to an old-time Pro Stocker. It's an iron 468 big-block Chevy with Dart 355 CNC heads. "It's a small engine with a good cam and a good head, so we are getting good power. If it worked for Pro Stock, it should work for us."
Transmission: The Jeffco four-speed has multiple shift levers, so there is a lot going on in the car. To get Third gear in the air, Robert has to let go of the Second gear rod and grab Third.
What did you break? "We bent a wheelie bar then straightened it and went to another contest and won Longest Wheelie."
Quarter-mile: The Camaro has seen 9.20 at 150 mph.
What do you do to prep for a wheelie? "Didn't change a thing."
Was it worth it? "Oh yes, we had a cookout that weekend, and I made $1,000 for making two passes."