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Chevy Nova Drag Cars - Life With The Bulls

Living With A 10-Second Street Car

By Scotty Gosson, Photography by Scotty Gosson

You've seen 'em blasting out of the chute at the rodeo-pure bull violence, wrapped in a cloud of dirt, sweat, adrenaline, and the promise of major pain. Brutal street machines behave much the same way: wicked-scary just to watch. And hypnotic as a train wreck-you can't not watch every second of it. Afterward, you might discuss it on the way home with your friends, then it's back to comfyville and all is forgotten. But what's it like to live with this insanity every day?

We don't care much about the rodeo circuit, but we hear plenty of talk about snot-slingin', daily-driven fast street cars and decided to check into what it's like to live with one.

Recently we heard about a gang of killer street cars in Southern Oregon. They're all early Novas that run 10s and 11s and double as short-squirt commuters and grocery getters. And they all rolled out of the same shop, Allin Specialties, in Medford. Charlie and his brother Tod Allin first got Nova-fied as teens and haven't been the same since. Now they're sharing their secret Nova BBQ recipe with others, like Dana and Chris Plankenhorn, Joel Harris, and Chris Kearney. And now you.

We spent a couple days jangling with this crew, getting to know them and spending some quality time with their street bulls. The first thing we noticed was that these are all true budget-built cars. Yes, Charlie runs his own shop where he builds cars and engines for the fast street car set, but any profit has to go back into the business. Chris Plankenhorn and Joel Harris both work in a tire store, and Chris Kearney is a parts-counter guy. These cars are owner built, from the chassis and drivetrain to the bodywork and paint, so every dollar has to count. Power-to-weight always helps the dollar-to-grin ratio, so that was priority one. And since no budget can afford to be blown, the big picture required a long, hard look before work commenced. The parts combo not only had to work well together, it would have to survive on the cruel streets and sadistic dragstrips, because parts replacement had to be factored in, however painful it may be to look at.

This is obviously an intense group. Their demeanors remind us of bull riders-more the strong, quiet type than the stereotypical street squirrel suffering from testosterone poisoning. While they were all inspired by the early days of the Fastest Street Car shootouts, they're not impressed by trends like Pro Street or Pro Touring-they prefer, as Charlie says, "to present a modest image and let the car's performance speak for itself." In fact, their humility speaks volumes about their hard-earned knowledge of what it takes to put these packages together. Years of trial and error went into finding the balance between a life spent on jackstands and a timeslip you can hang on your wall. Some of that know-how was shared on a hot afternoon in Charlie's shop, during a bull session of what works and what doesn't for a fast street car.

We asked these guys the hard questions and they answered without flinching. The obvious first query was about their definition of a street car. According to Charlie, it's a street car if it has a license plate, period. That was almost unanimous, although there were some comments about "luxury options" like turn signals, windshield wipers, and defrosters. If those are luxury options, all of these cars are full dressers with DOT tires and mufflers, as well as other required stuff like lights and a horn. On the subject of legality, none of these cars has been garnished with tickets for equipment violations, though Joel Harris mentioned being pulled over by curious cops wanting a closer look at his wagon, and Chris Kearney once received a $3,000 reckless driving ticket for doing a burnout in the parking lot where he works (he managed to get that knocked down to a more reasonable charge). Chris Plankenhorn fessed up to a ticket for street racing, with no further comment. In fact, all of these guys are former street racers who now prefer the strip for the safety, legality, and the information gleaned there.

By Scotty Gosson
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