DALE WILSON

Why not a Crate Motor Dragster class?

I’ve always wanted to race in Competition Eliminator. I did once, in a Hilman Minx owned by a friend of a friend of mine. C/Altered. An anemic 331 hemi in a four-door English altered with a push-button shifter and a pair of worn-out cheater slicks on the back. Powder blue in color, just like “Ohio” George Montgomery’s ’33 Willys, with a straight axle front end at the gas pedal mounted just inches from the right front door.

This was in 1965, when there was only a flag starter at Helena Drag Strip near Birmingham, Alabama, and I wore a football helmet for protection. I didn’t get any kind of elapsed time out of it (no burnouts in those days, either, and besides, I started off in second gear, by mistake), but it was fun. I was scheduled to race an A/Gas/A/Altered Anglia for eliminations, but my friend said no, we have to go home. Now. Only later did I figure out that he "borrowed” the car for the afternoon and had to have it back before his friend returned home and found his race car missing.

But the hook was set, both for drag racing and for Competition Eliminator. (Well, part of that is true: I’d been going to the drags since 1961, and started writing about them for a “throwaway” newspaper in ’65.) Now here it is, 2006, and I have a bracket front-engine dragster that can run Super Comp and the 8.60-indexed C/Nostalgia Comp at the NHRA nostalgia races at Bowling Green and Bakersfield, and I’m hungry again. But one thing I DON’T want to do is to figure out a way to come up with $100,000 or more to field a competitive A/ or B/Nostalgia Dragster with an exotic small-block Chevy between the rails of a single-purpose FED and a spare motor in the trailer. Wife Fran and I would have to sell the house, hock the dogs and go into debt big-time just to hit the NHRA Division 2 road.


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So after drinking a couple of beers at friends Mike and Bobbe Jo Pittman’s house one recent Saturday night, and listening to Mike talk about his 383 small-block that had just been dynoed at more than 600 horsepower, and then his launch into what those NASCAR guys are doing with their motors today, I hit upon the finding of my quest, and that is to be able, on paper at least, to field a competitive Competition Eliminator car on my own nickel. And that finding I would call Crate Motor Dragster, a class within Competition Eliminator.

Crate Motor class racing is not new. The IHRA started it several years ago, and as far as I can determine, it has been a success. Here’s how it works: take one crate engine bought from a local dealership, leave it unmodified except for a blueprint job (strict rules here) and drop it into a competitive race car. Voila! An instant competitive Stocker. The IHRA indexes are reasonably set, there is no high cost for a trick 350 Chevy to go into your G/Stock Automatic Nova, and all the machine and heavy tuning have already been done for you, via the factory. My favorite Crate Motor Stocker would be a crate hemi in an AMC Pacer. Think of all that glass you can see out of when chasing down a fellow competitor!

I’ll bet you a dollar to a Dunkin’ Donut that a guy fielding such an oddball combo would have no more than $25,000 in it when he’s through with the buildup.


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Okay, let’s take it one step further. Take your standard Chevy, Ford or Mopar small-block crate engine and drop it into your Saturday night dragster and call it Crate Motor Dragster. Voila again! No more exotic 18-degree heads, no more sheet metal intakes, trick carburetors, block-grinding for wild stroker crankshafts, no more titanium keepers or even bolts, for that matter. Just a plain ol’ factory motor (albeit hi-po) sitting between the rails of your family digger. And this thing, if the NHRA were to offer its blessing, would be legal for Competition Eliminator, the highest pure sportsman eliminator there is. Talk about ingenuity in action (an old NHRA slogan, by the way).

I would compare it to racing the IROC series in NASCAR. In theory, everybody would have access to the same motor combos, hence everybody would be equal. No more blowing the index away with a CIC-killing .80 under, thereby ruining the class for everybody. Big bucks would play a small role here.

Besides the beer, I also got the idea from talking to Terry Cook, former editor of Car Craft and Hot Rod magazines, who came up with the idea of the econo dragster classes back in the 1970s. He told me recently during an interview that he was shocked to learn that C/Econo Dragsters now ran computers on the cars. “That goes against everything we tried to create with an econo dragster car,” he said. “Computers! There’s nothing ‘econo’ about an on-board computer.”


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My perfect Crate Motor Dragster (and why not Crate Motor Altered?) car would be one of minimum weight with driver, say, 1,600 pounds, a two-speed Powerglide trans with a Dedenbear case, 9-inch Ford rear carrying your choice of gearing, your choice of tire size, MSD-type ignition, front- or rear-engine dragster, and that’s it. Heck, in theory, it could be called IROC Dragster, because every one car would be equal --- small-block Chevy of a size that is readily available from the Chevy dealership, small-block Ford, readily available, small-block Mopar, again, readily available.

So how does the association police the class to ensure no engine has been “messed with?” Mike Pittman says that some NASCAR classes have break-away bolts on its engines that break off when cranked hard with a wrench, leaving only a stud to hold things together. How about a tech check via “pumping” of cylinders, then a couple of spins of the camshaft, to ensure a spec duration and lift? How about an automatic tear-down if one car outperforms another? Fuel and weight checks would be mandatory after each pass.

How do I think the NHRA will react to my summertime musing? If past history is any indication, not with any favorable consideration. I seem to remember a “feeling out” of an NHRA class that was to be called G/Econo Dragster, for Comp dragsters equipped with Super Stock-type engines. The idea never got past the talking stage, thanks --- so the rumors went --- to the griping of some engine builders who told the tech guys that such a class would be so popular that it would kill their business. Money, you understand. Big money. You wanna go fast in C/Econo Dragster? How much money are you willing to spend?


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Ah, well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. I’m raising this flag just to see who salutes it. Me, I’ve fooled with at least one crate motor in a race car in my racing career, a 350 from GM Performance Parts that came stock with a roller camshaft, roller rockers, a racing-type intake and reverse cooling so efficient that when I put it in one of my Bracket Racing USA magazine cars, a ’71 Malibu wagon we called “The General’s War Wagon,” it would peg 190 degrees maximum at idle on the street, yet get both me and friend Toby Barnes two runners-up at Montgomery (Alabama) Motorsports Park Footbrake races and wife Fran a win in a Mopar Against the World event in its short life. And 8.20s in the eighth-mile in a 3,400-pound station wagon was not much to sneeze at, even though several fellow competitors laughed at the wagon’s lunky looks.  

Wanna go Competition Eliminator racing on the cheap? This might be one way to do it … if some racing association were to accept the idea. Hey, they came up with two Nostalgia Dragster classes, and I went out and had an FED car built just for me. Crate Motor Dragster? Why not? I’d sure like to run Atlanta, or E-town, or even Indy in one in national event competition. Then my racing career would have come full circle.

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