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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

We talked at length about the surprising difference between seat-of-the-pants tuning and using a timeslip to determine what's really happening with a car. This led to the subject of dynos, where we learned that Tod and Charlie's Chevy II made 528 hp at 7,100 rpm on the motor, and 723 hp at 7,000 rpm on nitrous, proving that running an engine a thousand rpm higher on nitrous is a myth. Other myths dispelled included "Things You Should Never Try on the Street," such as reverse-pattern manual-valvebodied automatic transmissions, high-stall converters, spools, big compression, big cams, and even bigger carburetors. That's a recipe for disaster on the street, right? Not necessarily, especially for a car that doesn't drive long distances.

The guys all talked about using common sense with these components: slow down for corners with a spool (two of the cars have suffered premature axle-bearing wear), spike the 91-octane pump gas with some race gas if you're going to be torturing it, keep an eye on the trans temp gauge, wire an arming switch into the transbrake circuit to guard against an accidental engagement of the brake, feather the volume pedal on those big pipes when a cop approaches, and don't build a car like this if you're not athletic enough to climb in and out of a rollcage ("get used to it!"). Routine maintenance includes more frequent spark plug and lubricant changes than on the average beater, and since it's so much fun to play with these cars, they probably get tuned a lot more too.

All the cars start right up, run cool, and stop with authority. When pushed a little about what they'd do differently, the guys coughed up a few token offerings such as, "Maybe some carpeting" (Chris Kearney), "More tire and more motor" (from Charlie), "A legal 'cage so I can get back to the strip" (by Joel Harris, whose 11.50 got him kicked off the track), and "Cal Tracs!" (from Chris and Dana Plankenhorn, whose tan '63 wins the Maximum Yuks for Minimum Bucks award with its cast crank, stock rods, and factory heads).

Sure, it's not all tire smoke and giggles in Bullsburg-running race stuff down Main Street tears up race parts, but street stuff on the track often breaks. Two of these cars have spit tranny parts onto the street, and the aforementioned axle bearings loom ominous. There's also the cops. And insurance. And stuff still happens out there on the street.

These cars were never meant to be freeway flyers, but we see them all over town, while other would-be street heros hide in their garages. And we've seen 'em light up the scoreboards at the strip, and they have the e.t. slips to prove the numbers. Big cams bleed off cylinder pressure, forgiving the evils of low-quality pump gas and high compression (although these guys all run race fuel at the track). Parts breakage happens, but it happens to your stock '74 Caprice four-door too. Yes, rollcages, spools, and manual valvebodies aren't always convenient, but the cowboys riding these bulls write 'em off as tools of the trade all in the name of whatever it takes to put that passion on the street. And if you want to tell Charlie and the boys that what they're doing just won't work, go ahead-they'll stuff their timeslips back into their pockets, grin, and stampede right over you.

By Scotty Gosson
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