This is Rick Voegelin’s Car Craft A/SM Camaro at the ’75 NHRA Winternationals with Norman
With this issue, Car Craft passes a significant milestone. There was no red carpet party with Lady Gaga in attendance because there's no money in the Car Craft budget—and the Stones only do benefits for worthy causes. Technically, this is Volume 61, No. 5, but despite the fuzzy chronology, this issue marks the beginning of our 60th consecutive year in publication. Initially launched in May 1953 as a Reader's Digest–sized publication with the lame title Honk!, we must be eternally grateful to Bob Petersen for changing the magazine's name for the Dec. '53 issue to Car Craft. Now that this irreverent, very hands-on magazine has officially entered its sixth decade, we thought this deserved something more than just a quick retrospective. So for the next few months (or until we run out of juicy stories), we will be retrieving snapshots from our past. Think of these stories as if leafing through your family photo album, complete with weird uncles, obsessive-compulsive editors, and the oddest assembly of writers, managers, and reluctant heroes that ever cursed a keyboard—or a manual typewriter if you're old enough to remember such things. Our plan is to relate stories you may not have heard before. Philosophy declares it's not the destination but the journey that should be important. That may be especially true for car crafters, as long as you cut a good reaction time and trip the win light at the finish line.
To many, Car Craft was especially influential during the '70s. Officially, the Feb. '65 issue relaunched Car Craft as the "Automotive Go & Show Magazine," and by the late '60s the book had latched onto drag racing as its primary editorial focus. With no apologies to the East Coast "rags" of the day, CC was the premiere drag-racing magazine. If drag racing was the only sport that mattered, then you got your information from this left-coast magazine that focused on the machines that blasted down the quarter-mile. To this end, Editor Terry Cook took over as head turtle wrangler in the Aug. '69 issue, in charge of a free-spirited crew of writers who certainly embraced the avant garde image of the late '60s. Management's dilemma was walking that fine line between attempting to bridle a clearly precocious staff while also allowing them freedom to work their editorial magic. The Petersen brain trust, headed by President Fred Waingrow, was convinced these long-haired rebels couldn't possibly be capable of the success that the magazine was experiencing. Despite management doubts, Car Craft was growing so fast that it was in danger of encroaching into Hot Rod's sacred-cow circulation territory. The magazine had fully embraced drag racing and subscribers were signing on by the thousands. With this unprecedented growth as a groundswell, CC proposed a new drag-racing class the editors dubbed Econo Rail in the Jul. '70 issue.
The first Car Craft Econo Rail was constructed at Ronnie Kaplan’s shop in Chicago. Car Cra
The idea was a minimum 90-inch wheelbase, front-engine dragster powered by a single four-barrel small-block engine, a four-speed, and very little else. No Rat motors, no Chrysler Hemis, and certainly no Cammer 427 Fords would be allowed to play. Econo Rails were intended as the everyman's racer. The idea was to allow budget-conscious racers to resurrect old front-engined dragsters into small-block-powered class racers. The cars would be dead simple to build, maintain, and above all be affordable. Borg-Warner jumped in as sponsor, and the plan was to build two cars: the first powered by a small-block Chevy, followed by a small-block, Ford-urged version. The small-block Chevy was a still-new '70 11:1 compression engine fitted with an 850-cfm Holley carburetor, Hedman headers, and a B-W Super T-10 four-speed backed by a 4.10:1-geared Chrysler rear axle assembly. Traction was provided by a pair of 8.90x15 Goodyear slicks.
The first car was built with an 11:1 compression LT1 small-block Chevy complete with a 750
The first car experienced some teething pains on its initial outing. Ro McGonegal reported that the car puked water all over the starting line because they forgot to add a surge tank to the cooling system, as there was no radiator nor a water pump. McGonegal also reported the shifter was a little too far away, stating that you would need arms "like an orangutan" to reach the shifter. Despite the difficulties, the car was quick with low 10s at 125 mph as the early norm. Later, rules were amended to dictate 3.5 pounds-per-cubic inch (lb/ci), which meant a 350ci Chevy could run at a minimum of 1,225 pounds. The key to the class was iron cylinder heads with no porting allowed. This was intended as a way to control costs and make racing more attractive to a larger number of competitors. Borg-Warner and Car Craft toured the country with the two Econo cars and NHRA soon adopted the class that is now called Econo Dragster in Competition Eliminator. Perhaps no car more exemplified the spirit of this class than the Bobby Cross and Bubba Corzine C/ED and later an A/ED built by Don Ness that was a terror through the late '70s. During a two-year span between 1978 and 1980, the pair captured eight NHRA Competition Eliminator national titles with several more final-round appearances. The rules and cars have evolved in the subsequent four decades from archaic front-engined cars to sophisticated rear-engined cars with wildly more powerful engines—both ends of the current A/ED record is held by Robert Bailey with a 6.59 at 204.57 mph! The current Econo Dragsters are difficult to connect with their "economy" origins, but the idea was born straight out of Car Craft's 8490 Sunset Boulevard office.
Editor Terry Cook left Car Craft at the conclusion of the Mar. '72 issue in an attempt to revitalize Hot Rod's stodgy image, turning his Number Two Ticonderoga editor's pencil to Ro McGonegal, who steered the book until John Dianna assumed the editorship in the Jun. '73 issue. By 1975, the staff included Jon Asher, Ro McGonegal, and Rick Voegelin with contributions from New Jersey drag racer Norman Mayersohn. In 1974, the seed for the idea of Pro Modified germinated out of a conversation between Voegelin and Dianna while bouncing along in Dianna's transporter between Bowling Green, Kentucky, and Detroit. Later, the idea became a cover story entitled "Cutting the High Cost of Racing," in which Car Craft proposed an eliminator bracket "that encourages racers to build fast, exciting cars on a low budget. It needs a place for sportsmen who would like to campaign a heads-up, stock-bodied cars without committing the financial suicide of going Pro Stock racing." The plan proposed a single four-barrel class with stock iron cylinder heads, no porting, and originally a 10.5 lb/ci weight rule. For example a 302 small-block Chevy would have run with a minimum weight of 3,171 pounds. The story proposed Pro Modified as a separate heads-up eliminator, but while NHRA embraced the concept in 1975, NHRA's Jim Dale changed the name to Super Modified and placed A/SM within what was then called Modified Eliminator positioned between Super Stock and Competition. While NHRA eventually changed several aspects of the class from what Car Craft proposed, the class encouraged racers to build a car that would (in theory) reduce the financial requirements.
Note the torsion bar front suspension as the frame comes together.
The NHRA later amended the rules, creating A/SM with 9 lb/ci, a 2,850-pound minimum (without driver), and 10.5-inch tires. The idea rang so strongly that Voegelin immediately began the quest to build a car. This became the "30-Day Wonder Instant Race Car" story in the Feb. '75 issue. He found a '67 RS Camaro (minus engine and trans) for $300 (remember, this is 1975) and undertook the task of creating a race car in one month. The first race for the A/SM Camaro was the '75 NHRA Winternationals with a 316ci small-block Chevy and a Muncie four-speed, driven by Norman Mayersohn. The 8,500-rpm combination was surprisingly simple, with a stock steel 3.25-inch stroke, 327 crank, a junkyard 307 block, a set of reworked TRW pistons, a pair of 461 "double hump" iron heads, a mechanical roller cam, Edelbrock Tarantula manifold, Holley 750-cfm carburetor, and some careful assembly techniques. With wife Kay Voegelin as crew chief, the Camaro won class at the Winternationals and later set a class record 10.49 at 128.03 mph in June of that same year. Class popularity quickly spiked from three A/SM cars at the Winternationals in February to more than 20 cars at the U.S. Nationals in September.
This shows the car at its inaugural test run. The car had some teething pains and puked wa
In 1976, NHRA opened up three classes with A/SM at a lighter 8.5 lb/ci for big-block engines and an 850-cfm carburetor, B/SM at 9.50 lb/ci with a 750-cfm carburetor, and C/SM at 10.5 lb/ci. C/SM quickly became the popular class, and there were 30-plus cars just in C/SM at the U.S. Nationals. Super Modified eventually attracted several reputable names in sportsman drag racing, including Ray Allen, Arlen Fadely, Garley Daniels, Larry Nelson, Rick Houser, F.J. Smith, Dempsey Hardy, Mike Edwards, Don Bowles, and many more.
Of course, the competition quickly became intense, and it was inevitable that racers would undertake extraordinary efforts to gain a competitive advantage. Voegelin said it was around this time Chevy racers discovered the now-legendary 461X small-block Chevy head that enjoyed a measurably larger intake port. "They were going for $3,000 a pair," Voegelin says, "and there was no guarantee they weren't cracked." Another nail in the budget coffin was racers like Don Bowles who were willing to pay for integrating Roush Pro Stock technology into big-bore, small-block Fords. Of course, to be competitive, the Chevy racers were also taking advantage of the Pro Stock talents of racers like David Reher, Buddy Morrison, and Lee Shepherd. The CC Camaro certainly held its own against some very tough competition. From the car's debut in 1975 to its final race in 1981, the Super Mod Camaro won the Division 7 Modified championship twice, won its class at the Winternationals five consecutive years, went to the final round in two NHRA national events, and set 16 NHRA national records for elapsed time and top speed. Not bad for a $300 shell.
While the Super Modified battles continued, the watershed moment occurred in the early '80s. "In my opinion," Voegelin says, "Super Modified died when NHRA killed Modified eliminator at the end of the 1981 season." All of the Modified Eliminator classes continued to officially exist. But you had to choose to either race in Competition Eliminator or in Super Stock. To show how far these cars have come, the current Competition Eliminator record for A/SM, as of December 2012, is a lightning-quick 7.74/176.26 held by Scott Hedlund. While Econo Dragster and Super Modified elapsed times have certainly evolved, you can trace the heritage of both of these classes back to events shaped directly by the influence of a West Coast car magazine and a small band of dedicated automotive journalists who believed in the sport.
Other Super Modified cars that quickly followed Car Craft’s lead included some significant
Super Modified Technology
"The small-blocks were easier to work on," Voegelin says, and remain his favorites. He still has two complete small-blocks—a 292 and a 287. He also has two big-blocks that piqued our interest when he began delving into the details. Because Super Modified rules mandated stock cylinder heads, these factory ports represented the restriction to increased horsepower. If ports were restricted, the easiest way to make more power per cubic inch was to use big-block heads and shrink the displacement. A good way to enhance port flow is with a big bore, which mandates an even shorter stroke. This sent Voegelin on a quest for ultra-rare Can Am short stroke forged big-block crankshafts, and he eventually excavated two! Their first combination was a 4.280-inch bore 454 block with a CanAm 3.43-inch stroke crank. "By running 394 inches, the heads effectively became bigger," Voegelin recalls. He topped the short-block with a pair of rectangle-port heads. "Those iron heads weighed a ton!"
"We built 'em like small-blocks," he remembers. "We turned the big-block rod journals down to 2.00-inch small-journal small-block sizes and used small-block rods. We did everything we could to reduce the friction." Voegelin says he relied heavily on custom machine work from Pro Stock racers David Reher, Buddy Morrison, and Lee Shepherd. "We had to run titanium valves to keep the weight down, and we broke one engine after experimenting with a cut-down retainer that didn't work." All of this was in attempt to spin these baby Rat motors as high as 9,500 rpm.
This is Voegelin’s Camaro at the ’75 U.S. Nationals with its still-unpainted hood, 10.5-in
But even with a 394ci Rat, at 8.5 lb/ci, this meant the car weighed 3,350 pounds. "They gave you a 150-pound weight break if you used a Powerglide, so we killed a lot of converters. Marv Ripes at A-1 Automatics was helping us and he says he learned a ton from all those broken converters because we were hitting 'em pretty hard and folding over the fins." Of course, all of this was within a class that was supposed to be for the little guy on a budget.
"My favorite engine combination," Voegelin says, "was the 292ci engine we ran in 1976. It was a very basic motor—a $15 junkyard crank and a $25 junkyard block." Mark Heffington's Cam Dynamics delivered the mechanical roller cam that spec'd out at 282 degrees at 0.050 on the intake side with 0.650 lift. "It had cut-down TRW pistons and Reher-Morrison would gas port them and machine a new 0.043 ring groove near the top of the piston." He used the original top ring for the second ring, leaving the original second groove empty. "We spent a lot of time massaging the top of the piston," Voegelin says. Such was the technical way of things in the do-it-yourself '70s.