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9 Roadkill-Approved Cars to Watch on HOT ROD Drag Week™

Next week is a Roadkill-style racing bonanza. While you’ve heard us harp endlessly about Roadkill Zip-Tie Drags at Gateway Motorsports Park on September 15 and 16, next week’s HOT ROD Drag Week™ leads right into that event. If you don’t know about Drag Week—again, it’s been everywhere—the event features more than 300 street-registered drag cars covering 1,000 road miles and their five best daily runs at the drag strip over five days. And it starts Sunday at Cordova Motorsports Park in Cordova, Illinois.

Some of the cars represent extremes with more than 3,000 horsepower and a steady number will be breaking and wrenching and thrashing to make it to the next day’s racetrack. You can find info on how to follow and attend HOT ROD Drag Week™ 2017 right here, but let’s take a look at nine cars we think Roadkill fans will appreciate.

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Roadkill Curse of 2016

Last year, we wrote some about some Roadkill-approved cars before racing began. Unfortunately, we cursed a solid six to 10 of them. You might have noticed that the Roadkill Curse is a thing, so hopefully we don’t put a hex on any of these cars or competitors below. Things are already difficult enough, as Drag Week announcer and Put Up or Shut Up host Brian Lohnes pointed out last year.

Our hope is that by mentioning it ahead of time, we’ll somehow cancel it out. Right? Or maybe Finnegan will just bear the brunt of it.

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Jeff Lutz

If you don’t know Jeff Lutz from his pair of Drag Week overall wins or his appearances on Street Outlaws, you might know him from the leafblower-Monza episode of Roadkill. Lutz is your defending overall HOT ROD Drag Week™ winner, having rebuilt his Mad Max ‘69 Camaro Pro Mod on the side of the road near Martin, Michigan, last year. He then clicked off an 11th-hour, 6.11-second pass that kept him in contention.

Guys like Lutz, two-time Drag Week winner Tom Bailey (who will have his own Sick Seconds 2.0 ‘69 Camaro Pro Mod-style car), Larry Larson (absent this year), and Bryant Goldstone (6.70s AMC Javelin) have made an art out of coaxing the most extreme machines along the byways of the prescribed Drag Week routes. If you catch any of the racing at the track, take some time to watch any of these guys prepare the car to leave for the road. It’s fascinating.

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As he told us back in December, Lutz has a fresh-built ‘57 Chevy to replace the “Mad Max” Pro Mod that is the quickest and fastest in Drag Week history. We’re pretty excited to see it in the flesh and the popular opinion is that it may very well throw down the first-ever five-second pass in Drag Week History. You can get the full details from Car Craft Magazine right here.

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Finnegan & Blasphemi

We know Finnegan has long targeted Drag Week for the blown Hemi-powered ‘55 Chevy that we all know and love as “Blasphemi.” At a recent shakedown, Finnegan flogged it into the mid-9s and also got the front wheels airborne. And he rebuilt the engine on a picnic table, too, because Roadkill. Anyway, with that kind of pace, Finnegan should be super competitive in the Gasser A class he intends to run.

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Except for that bit where he forgot to register in time. Yes, Finnegan is on the dreaded Drag Week Wait List and will gamble on getting in the show by just turning up. HOT ROD has never yet turned entrants away, but with 394 accepted entries, this might be the year they do. Come on, would you expect anything different from us? (And no, Roadkill does not get any preferential treatment here.)

So how’s preparation going? We texted Finn in the middle of “Hell Week” (as the final days leading up to Sunday’s tech inspection are known among Drag Weekers) about what was on his CTDL (Cardboard To-Do List) at that moment. Here’s that list:

  • Mount/wire a horn
  • Build new door bars (old ones were too thin)
  • Fabricate headrest
  • Rebuild headers and downpipes
  • Finish welding trailer hitch rack
  • Replace broken parking lamp housing
  • Replace leaky valve covers
  • Re-arch front leaf springs
  • Wire cell phone charger
  • Install window net
  • Install parachute
  • Replace all four tires
  • Install fuel tank and secondary fuel pump
  • Clean fuel filters
  • Fabricate new gas pedal and throttle linkage
  • Pack
  • “I’m sure I’m forgetting something.”

He’s not forgetting anything important. Go get ‘em, Finn. Read more about Finn’s prep on HotRod.com.

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Harry Haig

We love Australia here on Roadkill. Those folks Down Under know how to have fun and how to build fantastic stuff in equal proportions. Case in point: Harry Haig’s twin-turbo Chevelle SS. Haig and his Aussie crew dug the real (crusty) SS out of a Kansas field in 2015. They then ran the Chevelle Known As Steve-O that whole Drag Week. It was an amazing accomplishment that involved tons of hoonery, many new good friends, a rocker arm fixed with a penny, and a hundred other crazy repairs that would make Bush Mechanics go, “Whoa.”

Last year, things got a bit nuts. Haig had Australian engine builder Abbott Engineering and Paramount Performance whiz Terry Seng whip up a little something special for Steve-O: a 540 cubic-inch, twin-turbo Big Block Chevy capable of making 1,300-horsepower. They shipped that engine to Kansas, where they slammed it into Steve-O’s engine bay and then mounted the twin turbos sensibly. And by “sensibly,” we mean that the two snails sit a foot above the hood like twin middle fingers to sensibility.

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Did it work? Heck yes, it did! After some tinkering, Steve-O rattled off a best time of 8.770 last year. We expect the Aussies will let it eat some more this year and, more importantly, we know excitement will follow the rusty old Chevelle SS wherever it goes. They are already living the Drag Week spirit by rebuilding the engine for their tow vehicle, only days before heading to Cordova.

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Dave Schroeder

We’ve watched Schroeder and his cousin John Ens—probably two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet in racing or anywhere—try to get this absolute showpiece of a Corvette down the track at its limit for several years. The duo looked to have turned a corner in 2015, getting the gigantic nitrous-fed 872 cubic-inch V8 to catapult the road-racing-painted Corvette into 6-second territory on an exhibition pass.

On the first day of HOT ROD Drag Week™ 2016, Schroeder unleashed a 6.85-second run that elicited fist pumps and cheers. Those only lasted a moment, however, because the Corvette’s drag chute didn’t deploy. Dave did his best to slow it, but the Vette was pretty wounded after it smacked the wall. If we know one thing about Schroeder and Ens, though, it’s that they don’t give up.

Almost immediately, the car went to builder Chris Terry, who replaced just about all the chassis, suspension, and bodywork ahead of the firewall. In doing so, Schroeder used the rebuild as a second chance to improve some parts of the car. They were able to shave a few pounds and to move the weight balance forward to improve front-end stability.

The Reher-Morrison 872, thankfully, survived the crash without issue. When the car went back to Schroeder in Toronto around Christmas, he and Ens started putting the running gear back together. Since the car was already apart, they also took the opportunity to rewire the car, a project they had nearly finished before loading it up to go to Cordova.

Unfortunately, nitrous tuner and innovator Monte Smith died unexpectedly in March 2017. “Monte Smith dying was an awful thing for a guy so young and such a big part of racing,” Schroeder said. “There wasn’t a better nitrous guy out there and it’s a huge loss.” This was not only because Smith was instrumental in designing and fine-tuning the Corvette’s four-stage nitrous setup, but also because Monte and his NOS company were fixtures of the drag-racing community and of HOT ROD Drag Week™.

His nitrous setup remains on Schroeder’s Corvette and Dave has felt his way around the huge knowledge-base that Smith built for that car. The combination has made some very promising test passes recently and Schroeder told us that he hopes at some point to finally be able to use all four nitrous kits during a run (He’s only used three so far). That said, he’s set a cautious goal for this Drag Week:

“Everything on the car is trying to destroy itself the entire time. So our first goal is to finish Drag Week and we want to put down some respectable times, too.”

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Frank Saponaro

Few cars on Drag Week look as beautiful as Dave Schroeder’s Corvette, but Frank Saponaro’s ‘67 Chevy Nova Wagon is another. This wagon will absolutely stun you the first time you see it in person. And the second. And the third. But it’s not just a looker. The 7-second Nova has dueled George Gallimore’s big Monte Carlo in the Super Street Big Block Power Adder class for the last two years.

Early in 2016, the Nova knocked the wall and things looked bleak for Saponaro. On a short timetable, Frank had to rebuild the car and the engine to make Drag Week 2016 and when he did—again, like Schroeder—he found ways to make it faster. For Frank, that meant knocking 0.2 second from his elapsed times.

Why is that a big deal? Because it put him on equal footing with Gallimore. With a best time of 7.629 seconds, Saponaro led Gallimore’s Monte Carlo last year through two days. Unfortunately, the Nova broke mid-week and Frank took home a DNF result. We’re hoping Frank is back this year and we’re excited to see him put the screws to this turquoise long-roof.

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Vinnie Barbone

Vinnie is on a mission this year. We wrote about his Project Samsquanch Geo Tracker not long ago and the compact SUV with a twin-turbocharged Small-Block Chevy is a shoe-in for quickest Tracker ever built. That competition is probably not so stiff—Barbone likely holds the (very) unofficial record with a 9.859-second pass last year on Drag Week—but everybody likes to be the best at something. You might think the short wheelbase would be a detriment, but Vinnie told us earlier in the year that the car tracked straight and true like it was born for the dragstrip. Weird. Awesome.

This year, Vinnie’s gone bigger. That means more horsepower and it also means a lot more rollcage. A new chassis certification will let him run far lower times without drawing the ire of tech officials. Barbone nearly had the car ready(ish) to go in June, but a U-joint failure on the dyno set things back several weeks. After some rebuilding, he managed a test run a couple weeks ago of 9.23 seconds at 148 miles per hour on low boost.

That means there’s plenty left in the turbos to sling the little off-road runabout into the 8s. We can’t wait to hear Brian Lohnes go berserk on the livestream if Samsquanch blows past 9.00.

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Jon Huber

“You’re never ready for this.” That’s how former Drag Week class winner Jon Huber started our conversation during his Hell Week. His turbocharged, four-cylinder Ford Mustang dropped some jaws last year when he went 8.604 on the first day, though he suffered a DNF shortly thereafter. But this is Huber’s 11th time on HOT ROD Drag Week™ and he learned long ago to roll with the punches. In other words: Even when you think everything is sorted, you know you’ll be fixing something.

Unfortunately, Huber’s “Hell Week” has actually been “Hell Summer.” While testing at its home track Gateway, the Mustang’s front wheels soared on a run. Jon pedaled it, but the wheels stayed up. When he felt the car start to wander out of the groove, he dropped the front end. That bent the frame, K-member, and wheels while also shattering the windshield.

Huber spent the summer replacing all of that and was just about to install the windshield when we talked to him. Other than that, however, the car has been running strong since he’s added titanium valves—the only change for 2017—and he’s put a lot of street miles on the powertrain.

Oh, yeah. The powertrain. It’s crazy.

The engine is a 178 cubic-inch version of the Ford Lima engine with an 86-millimeter Precision turbo—known colloquially as a Big Hankin’ Turbo (BHT)—cranking 34 pounds of boost into the four-banger. That’s good for about 1,100 horsepower, Huber said, but the BHT would happily send (lots) more boost. Since the car will run 8.50s with 34 pounds and that’s the quickest anyone in his class can go, though, that’s where the combination will run.

Huber, it turns out, was not originally a proponent of the four-cylinder Mustang. His uncle, a Ford engineer, custom-ordered the ‘79 Mustang Ghia with power-nothing and an AM radio. His dad bought the car and was going to sell it a few years later when Huber was 12. Jon wanted a car—any car—for when he was 16 and he talked his dad into letting him keep it, provided he store it elsewhere. It turned out that Grandma had an open garage spot.

From there, Huber just kind of built on the “old technology” of the 1970s-designed single-overhead-cam 2.3-liter engine: “Dad said, ‘Anybody can make a V8 go fast. This is a challenge.’ I probably should have given up years ago when we were fighting all these problems.”

We’re glad he didn’t because it’s always spectacular to see an eight-valve, four-cylinder Mustang absolutely ripping down the track. You can read more about this car in this 2013 HotRod.com article.

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Dan Nissen, Rich Guido, and The Week Wagon

Nissen and Guido both hail from the northern Rocky Mountains and they will make their annual pilgrimage to HOT ROD Drag Week™. This year, they’re doing something particularly special. Nissen has spent months building “The Week Wagon,” a 1983 Chevy Malibu Wagon with a 496 cubic-inch Big-Block Chevy V8. And when they reach the end of Drag Week, Nissen and Guido will sell—or possibly auction—the car for a worthy cause.

One hundred percent of the Week Wagon’s sale will go to Alex Taylor, whose dad Scott runs the Australian drag-racing and hot rod magazine Street Machine, to help with Alex’s ongoing medical care costs. Alex was born with Cerebral Palsy. We’re always happy to see racers looking after each other on and off the race track like this.

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As for the car, the Week Wagon lived formerly as a U.S. Forest Service vehicle. It bears the scrapes, scars, and (especially) the body rust of a hard-lived long-roof. In fact, we think it looks rather Roadkill. We’ve seen some of the decals that Nissen has commissioned for it and while we won’t ruin the surprise, they’re pretty danged good.

When the car sells, it will include everything but the engine from air cleaner to oil pan. For drag racers, that’s not a huge issue—most like to choose how their engine is built anyway—and Nissen has put together some good go-fast bits on the car. That includes like a 3.50:1 Strange differential and a Trick Chassis Ford 9-Inch rear end. There’s more, which Nissen calls “old school ‘80s stuff,” and it’s gonna be super cool to watch this thing run for a good cause.

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Shawn Brumley

Less than six months ago, HOT ROD Drag Week™ racer Shawn Brumley fell off a ladder and hit his head while working in his Texas yard. When he collapsed later that day, his wife and neighbor rushed him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a subdural hematoma.

We talked to him before one of his last physical therapy sessions—if you’ve known someone with head trauma, you’ll know how intensive that therapy is—before he leaves Texas in his Camaro to start HOT ROD Drag Week™ 2017. Because his determination is incredible, we’ll let Shawn describe the situation himself:

“March 29, 2017: A day I’ll never forget. An oak tree in my back yard split apart. Trying to fix it, I fell off my step ladder, hitting my head on the ground and causing a subdural hematoma. I was left paralyzed in the left half of my body. On March 30, following my surgery, the neurologist told my wife that I would probably never move again.

“That brings me to Drag Week 2017, which has been a difficult goal to achieve. I began rehab to regain the ability to live a normal life again. Being a car addict and not able to drive or race had taken its toll. I decided to push to make Drag Week happen. Recently, I was given the clear by my doctors and finalized my decision to go this year.

“My wife, daughter, son and my mother have pushed me to help achieve my goal of full recovery. My car is ready. I am ready. I will see you in Cordova with my Camaro.”

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Click here for all the resources you need to follow these (and about 400 more) stories on HOT ROD Drag Week™ 2017. Don’t forget to keep tabs on Roadkill’s Facebook page for live updates from Roadkill Editor Elana Scherr and on Roadkill’s Instagram account for even more awesome photos from the track and the road.

And don’t forget about Roadkill Zip-Tie Drags at Gateway! Freiburger, Finnegan, and Elana will all head straight there from the final day of Drag Week and they might just bring a Drag Weeker or two with them. Plus Dulcich!

Roadkill Fall 2016 Cover