Drizzle Unable To Dampen Spirits At The 38th-Annual Old Time Drags

It was a friendly, family affair at the 38th annual Old Time Drags and Rod Run in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Attendance was hampered due to heavy overnight rains and looming showers, but the pits were alight with the sharp cackle of open headers and plenty of owners who braved the weather to bring out their show cars.

Class D winner Lou Hodi and his 1966 VW Bug along with Class B/King of the Hill champion Michael Clark and his 1971 Nova pose for a victory shot.

The Old Time Drags is one of Raceway Park’s oldest events and a favorite among attendees due to the relaxed atmosphere and camaraderie in the pits.  This nostalgia racing event is limited to vehicles built before 1988, and drew an eclectic mix of everything from diggers and gassers to Pro Street rods and altereds.  There was even a lonely VW bug, which nearly claimed the crown during the King of the Hill eliminator, but more on that later.

Rob Ida’s notorious Hemi Healy.

A wet track postponed time trials, so we headed past the pits to check out the Jersey Boys Mini-Meet, presented by the Fairlane Club of America. The parking lot was littered with the usual suspects, punctuated by several rare specimens and a few oddballs. Local legends Bob and Rob Ida were on hand to judge the show, and they brought the notorious Hemi Healy along for some fresh air, and a lot of stares. There was a ton of sleek steel to gawk at, but my eyes lit up when we spotted a unique Thunderbird hiding behind an old surfer’s Plymouth Woodie. We sat down with the owner, Rich Stuck, to get the story on his extraordinary build.

Rich Stuck's '57 "Battlebird"

History Lesson

To understand how important this build is, we needed a history lesson. Luckily, Rich is a Y-block fanatic and a deep well of Ford racing history. In 1956, Ford tapped Peter De Paolo Engineering to prepare two experimental Thunderbirds to compete at the Daytona Speedweeks the following year. The supercharged Y-block-powered #98 “Battlebird” competed in the flying mile competition, and later took Second Place behind Carroll Shelby’s Ferrari on the road course. Of those two cars, only one survives. “They wouldn’t let me drive it, so I had to build my own” remarked Rich. He sourced a partially-restored ’57 chassis, and got to work on recreating the car of his dreams.

The hood, trunk lid, tonneau cover and head fairing, along with many other bits, are all aluminum. To stay true to the original, each component was hand-formed by Rich’s buddy, Pat Pryor. Under the hood is a 312 Y-block, which has been bored and stroked to 348 cubic inches. Air is fed to the mill by a rare Paxton VR-57 series 1R centrifugal supercharger, while ignition is provided by a Vertex Magneto.

Coupled to the block is a Jaguar XK140 four-speed transmission. This may seem odd for a  factory Ford racecar. But in 1957, there was no other gearbox that fit the bill. The powertrain has been set back by 6 inches, lowered by four, and shifted to the passenger side for a lower center of gravity and to offset the weight of the driver.  Custom mounts, a notched firewall, and the removal of the factory X-member were required to adjust the position and replicate the original.

Attention To Detail

Everywhere we looked, we found details alluding to Rich’s rigorous standards and attention to detail. This car is so close to the original, that when Ford crew chief Dean McCann sat in the vehicle, he remarked that he couldn’t tell the difference between Rich’s and the original #98. The vehicle was running a Y-block-specific Hilborn mechanical fuel injection system (which still remains in the cockpit), but it was recently upgraded to EFI to make it more streetable. This is important, because Rich doesn’t tow his car around. In fact, he rolled about 40 miles through stagnant Jersey humidity and the threat of thunderstorms to share this topless wonder with everyone at the show.

Chip Brown’s ’64 Chrysler 300K drag monster.

Back at the strip, things were heating up as time trials moved on to eliminations. Racers were broken into four classes based on e.t., with class winners going on to compete in a King of the Hill eliminator. In addition to class races, several organizations were hosting separate competitions. The participation of East Coast Gassers, 422 Allstars, and Backseat Drivers summoned an entire pantheon of vintage asphalt demons to tear down the tarmac.

In a sea of vehicles encompassing just about every generation of old school drag car, it’s a tall order to stand out as unique. At least that’s what we thought until we saw Chip Brown’s ’64 Chrysler 300K roll up to the burnout box and blast our eardrums with a supercharged scream. We watched as he laid down an 8.661-second pass, and then we headed back to the pits to learn more about his luxo-missile.

No Stranger 

Chip is no stranger to building fast cars. In the 70’s, he co-owned a winning Top Fuel dragster named “Nirvana” with his partner, Bill Clark.  The 300K was Bill’s daily driver, which Chip acquired when Bill passed away. It sat outside Chip’s repair shop in Pennsville, NJ, for several years before it began its transformation in 2004. Through the years, it’s seen a fair share of engine setups, but still retains the original radio and all the glass.

So what does it take to convert a 4,400-pound sled into a rocket? A force-fed Chevy big block is a good start. Top it with a BDS 10-71 supercharger and mate it to an ATI Turbo 400 for good measure. Then, feed it with years of experience and devotion. The car has never been dyno’d, but Chip estimates that it produces about 1,500 horsepower. The trailer reads “World’s quickest and fastest 300K”, Chip says “It’s the only one.”

Unfortunately, the 300K was knocked out in the second round of eliminations by Johnny Reale’s 66 Chevelle. Reale would go on to win the New Comp class in a close battle with Charlie Bellotti’s 57 Bel Air.  The competition in class D was a bit slimmer, with local shop owner Lou Hodi running uncontested in his 66 VW bug.

Tom Tulenko's immaculate '41 Willys Coupe.

King of the Hill eliminations began with Hodi beating Luis Montalvo’s 1970 Monte Carlo, thrusting the tiny bug into the final round. Capitalizing on a great reaction time and a missed shift in the other lane, Hodi was poised to snatch the crown in his air-cooled beetle. But, Michael Card’s ’71 Nova pulled out the win by a slim margin. Card’s crew remarked that they had almost convinced the 24-year-old to stay home due to the threat of rain, but their mutiny was overruled.

Back Seat Drivers winner Patrick Brewer launches off the line is his high-powered slingshot.

For a day that began with a gloomy drizzle and dark skies, it really turned around. Several sunburned spectators mentioned how low this years attendance was, but it clearly had no effect on the mood. Instead, it simply concentrated the gregarious nature of events like this one. An all-ages occasion that brought out families and race teams across generations to enjoy some old steel, and chat with new friends. Raceway Park hosts a number of other nostalgia events, and if this was an indication of how good they are, you won’t want to miss the next one.

Race Results:

Class                          Driver                  Hometown              Vehicle                   E.T.

A (10.00-11.99)       Spencer Clark      Brookville, NY          ’65 Mustang          10.417

B (12.00-12.99)       Michael Clark       Fairless Hills, PA      ’71 Nova               12.620

C (13.00-14.99)       Luis Montalvo      Edison, NJ                ’70 Monte Carlo    13.640

D (15.00 and up)     Lou Hodi               Monroe, NJ              ’66 VW Beetle      16.081

New Comp              Johnny Reale        Nanuet, NJ              ’66 Chevelle          11.418

422 Allstars             John Warehime     Parkyville, MD         ’66 Chevelle          10.230

Backseat Drivers     Patrick Brewer      Lebanon, PA             NA                        9.554

E. Coast Gassers    Clayton Deming    Tollington, CT           NA                        11.178

King of the Hill         Michael Card         Fairless Hills, PA     ’71 Nova               13.169

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