Most families have heirlooms and since this story is on a car website, you can probably guess that this is a story about an automotive heirloom. The tale of Tommy O’Donnell’s 1957 Chevy 210 Hardtop Sports Coupe—not a Belair—from Texas is more interesting than the typical handed-down muscle car. No, O’Donnell’s grandfather bought the car in 1957 and immediately put it to work as a race car. O’Donnell had it out running the B Gasser class at HOT ROD Drag Week™ 2016 and we got a brief rundown on the car in the staging lanes at US 131 Motorsports Park during a short rain delay.
The late 1950s were the pioneering days of drag racing so we were super excited to have a historical piece racing on Drag Week. O’Donnell’s grandpa raced the 210, which he called “Ol’ Red,” as a class car from 1957 to 1972. In that time, he won a few races in stock eliminator classes running the car with the original inline-six engine.
The Chevy got parked under the grandfather’s carport in 1972 as bracket racing became the rage. It sat there until O’Donnell’s father bought it in the mid 1980s, then Tommy drove the car to high school in the 1990s.
It got parked again for a couple decades while life intervened until Tommy dusted it off to run the Cruising the Coast event in Mississippi. After returning from the cruise, he decided to resuscitate the old Sports Coupe, replacing everything under the car. The engine is a 383 cubic-inch Small Block Chevy—The 331 paint is old—in front of a Turbo 350 transmission and a Ford 9-inch rear end. He’s run 11.0-second passes in it with nitrous but has to run naturally aspirated at Drag Week in the B Gasser class.
O’Donnell made sure not to touch the body or the interior of the car, which are the same as when his grandfather raced them down to the NHRA tech stickers.
This isn’t the first HOT ROD Drag Week™ for O’Donnell or the car. Big-time Drag Week aficionados will remember him in 2012 behind the wheel of a ‘57 Chevy—he’s always raced ‘55 to ‘57 Chevys—that made some epic wheelstands. In 2014, he brought the car out to run the week and averaged 12.6 seconds. This year, O’Donnell is letting his friend Dean Kyle drive the car to roughly the same average while O’Donnell turns the wrenches.
We get a lot of great stories and cars, but we’re ecstatic to have Tommy O’Donnell’s family race car, an iconic ‘57 Chevy, participating in Drag Week.
Check out a few more photos of Ol’ Red below.