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From Stock to A Modified in 30 Years
By Jim Samuel

John Clegg has built some interesting vehicles in his lifetime.

There have been support vehicles for the U.S. military. There have been hazardous materials vehicles for a number of clients. And there was even a support trailer used to service NASA's space shuttle after landings.

But to drag racing fans, perhaps the most interesting vehicle that Clegg has put together is his 1973 Super Stock Pontiac Firebird. Now sporting a 1,200 horsepower big block engine, Clegg's Pontiac has been in the family since he purchased it new in 1973.

“I bought the car brand new in 1973,” Clegg said. “It was a Super Duty, 455 (cubic inch) car. They only made about 11 of those cars.”

Since then, Clegg's Firebird has gone through a series of changes and all of them had one purpose in mind: to make him go faster.

Going faster has been a common theme in Clegg's life, starting when he built his first race car at 14 years of age. Even then, he had a taste for cars with large, powerful engines.

“It was a 1953 Studebaker with a Chrysler Hemi engine in it. It was a cool looking car,” he said, adding that the car's engine had too much power for the original drivetrain. “I didn't understand that the first time I raced, I was going to break an axle. “

Today, 43 years later, Clegg makes his living running Clegg Industries, a Victoria , Texas company that makes specialty vehicles, trailers and structures. Among the vehicles the company has made are a support trailer that is used during space shuttle landings, command centers for the armed services and private industries, SWAT team trucks, transport vans, mobile retail structures and race car trailers.

One of those trailers carries Clegg's bright red 1973 Firebird from race to race throughout the southern states and to selected events outside of his home region.

Clegg ordered his Firebird more than 30 years ago for the sole purpose of building a race car. “It was a special order and it took eight months to get it,” he said. I raced it in Stock (Eliminator) for a year. I took it to Indy for the US Nationals one month after I got it and won my class in Stock.”

Then Clegg made a decision that led him and his Firebird through the Super Stock division and into the Modified classes. Then when NHRA dropped the Modified Eliminator division at the end of the 1981 season, Clegg took the Firebird back into Super Stock.

After working his way up to the SS/CM class, each time so he could drive faster, Clegg took a big step during the off-season when he ordered a new, 1,200 horsepower big block engine and dropped it into the engine bay of his Pontiac . With the new power plant in place, Clegg's red Firebird moved into the SS/AM CLASS.

“I've got a very good engine in it,” Clegg said of his Pontiac . “The first time out in it I ran an 8:38 at 163 miles per hour. That's with a 3,300 pound car. It's easy to make a 2,000 pound car go that fast.”

Clegg spends most of his season racing in the southern region of the USA , with occasional trips outside the reason for NHRA and IHRA national events. At many of those events, he is accompanied by his son, J.B. Clegg, who races a 1974 Pontiac Firebird in the Super Stock division.

“He races a more traditional kind of Super Stockcar, Clegg said of his son.

A native of Texas , Clegg became interested in drag racing before he became a teenager. “I got into drag racing at an early age,” Clegg said. “There was a drag strip here in Victoria . I was hanging out with older guys and I went to the races a lot with them.”

After more than 30 years racing the same car, it may seem, logical to ask Clegg why he does not park his 1973 Firebird and get a more modern race car. The simple answer, he says, is that he would lose far more than he'd gain.

“The biggest reason I stay with this car is the size of its engine bay,” he said, adding that like many older cars, his Firebird's engine bay is large enough to easily accommodate the engines he wants to use.

“I could move to the next generation of Firebird but that would not gain anything,” he explained. “I could never move to the last generation of Firebirds because there's not enough room in the engine bay.”

Unlike Pro Stock racers, car owners in the Super Stock division may not alter the wheelbase, length or other dimensions of their cars. In the case of the latest generation of Firebird, the car's large windshield slopes too far forward into the engine bay and takes up needed space.

“If I want to stick with a big block, I need a car with a big engine bay,” Clegg said.


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