The Byron Dragway World Power Wheelstand Contest is the best show on a dragstrip anywhere. On the first weekend of October, masses of like-minded people invade Byron, Illinois, looking for excitement and carnage. Just like in the 14 previous years, you really never know what you're going to see.
In the early years, sparks from a bumper-dragging wheelstand made you The Man. Then it was getting all four wheels off the ground and sliding on the bumper. When backflipping Chevettes started showing up, the bar was raised, and some wondered if this was a wheelie contest or a crashing contest. Then came Jason Carr's wheelstand last year that ended with his Mustang trying to take flight. This year, we might have seen the ultimate wheelstands as Rod LaCroix's '06 Pontiac Sunfire leaped completely into the air before skidding sideways across the finish line and Greg Broshous' '63 Chevy sliced off a wheel on his landing.
The biggest wheelstands at your local track would hardly get a look from the jaded crowd at Byron. They've come to see the lunatics run the asylum. When you factor in the totally unpredictable promoter, Ron Leek, announcing in the tower and more than 30 crazy wheelstand contestants, you get a show like nothing else in drag racing. You need to put this on your list of must-attend events for 2010.
Most Violent/Highest Wheelie
Rob LaCroix, '06 Pontiac Sunfire
Last year, Rob LaCroix (Canada's coolest export) stunned the crowd at Byron with the violence of his backflip in his nitrous-injected, small-block, Chevy-powered '76 Pontiac Acadian (think Chevette, eh!). "It felt like a roller coaster ride. The last thing I remembered was sliding on my roof, shutting off the switches on my panel, and then it was lights out," Rob says
For 2009, Rob changed the Acadian over to a soon-to-be-damaged '06 Pontiac Sunfire. After a tire-stretching burnout and a healthy nitrous purge, Rob launched the Sunfire into a slow-rising wheelie that looked like he was going for a distance wheelie instead of a backflip. The Sunfire was crossing the centerline while riding the rear bumper when it went airborne and crashed on its left side. With its engine bouncing off the rev limiter and clouds of white smoke pouring off the tires, the car slid through the timing beams. After a quick checkout from the EMTs, Rob rode back to the pits with his wreckage on a flatbed.
After the wreck, no one thought Rob would make it out for the second round wheelstands. Then the booming voice of Ron Leek announced, "Ladies and gentleman, we hear that Rob is in the pits with wrenches flying, trying to get that car running for the final round." When Rob's car came through the crowd behind the starting line, you could feel the tension in the air. He came off the line hard, throwing the Sunbird into the air in a sort of vertical, twisting move on the bumper. Rob had some decent hang time in that position before the car came crashing down. Rob's Sunfire was still running after the hit, and he idled the car back along the wall to the starting line. The TV guys pounced on Rob to hear him say, "If I win Most Violent Wheelie again next year, Canada might be putting my picture on a stamp."
Brian Ambrosini, '74 AMC Gremlin
Brian Ambrosini has been a fixture at the Byron Dragway World Power Wheelstand Contest since the beginning. His bright-orange Gremlin is well known for going vertical and sliding on the rear bumper. Normally, Brian would go up with a fast, hard launch. The last couple of years, it seems Brian has been trying to get a longer total distance by bringing the front end up a little slower. The Gremmie hit the bumper at about 100 feet and got great distance in the first round. For the second round, he put a more violent tune-up in his car for the classic Ambrosini wheelie. The car went up hard and came down hard. His first run was long enough to earn Brian the Longest Wheelstand title. As usual with anything that's judged, there was some disagreement about who had the best overall wheelie, but Brian doesn't worry about all the drama. He brings his family to help him crew, moving through the pits like a bright-orange school of fish. That's what Brian is there for.
Best GM Wheelstand (Fourth Place)
Greg Broshous, '63 Chevy II
Last year, Greg Broshous told us, "I had one of the best times ever. I'll be coming back for sure." Greg brought his '63 Chevy II Gasser back to Byron to see if he could have as much fun as last year. Greg runs a 408-inch stroked small-block Chevy with Dart heads and a shot of nitrous. He puts on a great show, speed-shifting the Chevy II with the bumper dragging and sparks shooting everywhere. On Greg's last run, the landing was more than the front axle could deal with, folding the left front wheel under the car on impact. He was awarded Fourth Place in the GM category for the effort.
This is our favorite.
Best Ford Wheelie
Jason Carr, '92 Mustang
Jason Carr's nitrous-injected, small-block, Chevy-powered '92 LX Mustang took flight around the 450-foot mark last year. He won Most Photographic Wheelie, a title that cost him around $22,000 to repair. He rebuilt his Mustang over the winter and came back to see if he could beat his distance from last year without destroying his car.
Jason's Mustang left the line in a beautifully controlled manner. Once it got into its bumper-dragging position, it cruised around 400 feet straight as an arrow. He landed it without any drama and made it look easy, winning Best Ford Wheelstand.
Did you look closely at the front axle on Greg Broshous' Nova? See where it's been beefed up to handle the landings? Most drivers use a big shot of nitrous or an extremely loose torque converter to get the car to bring the nose up. Once the car begins to lift, it is important that the suspension angles are correct so the instant center moves toward the front of the car, rotating it around the center of gravity. If the tires touch the body or the suspension binds, you are going to hit the pavement hard. If the axlehousing rotates too far past zero pinion angle or the axle wraps and unloads, the car is going to come crashing down. Once in the air, look to the left to avoid hitting the retaining wall and keep your foot on the floor. That's all there is to it.
Do this next year!