10 cool cars of Drag Week 2019

A selection of the cool, fast and quirky cars taking on Hot Rod Drag Week 2019

Photographers: Chris Thorogood

ALL manner of people and machines fill the 400-strong field of cars that line up to take on the iconic Hot Rod Drag Week in the US, from Pro Mod mad-machines, hardcore street cars, vintage hot rods and just about anything in between. Here’s just a small sample of some of the killer cars we’ve come across by Day Three of this year’s event. And rest assured, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Three-time Drag Week winner Tom Bailey was sitting pretty after Day Three, heading the overall leaderboard. On Wednesday his first run in the ‘Sick Seconds 2.0’ Camaro Pro Mod saw the car shake the tyres; Bailey pedalled it, got a little out of shape, pedalled it again, lifted the front wheels and then just gave up and coasted down to an 11-something. He was back out soon after and had no such problems, putting in a near-perfect pass to run his best time ever at a Drag Week event – 6.18@239mph.

“First run, it launched good but there was no track there,” he said. “Then when we took it back out it went right down. It was still a little washy – I mean, it had more power than the track should’ve held – but we were able to get it done. We want to give it what the track can handle, and that was right on the edge of what it could do.”

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Mike Finnegan’s ‘Blasphemi’ gasser ran an eight for the third day in a row, this time an 8.89@155mph. “The week is going good,” Finnegan said. “The car didn’t run last week, so the fact that we’re running eights every day, I’m stoked. Even with parts flying in the air, I’m cool.” The blown 528ci Hemi-powered ’55 is on track to win the A/Gas class – if it makes it back to Virginia in one piece on Friday.

Jim Eby’s 1919 Franklin Series 9B has been in his family for 100 years! “My grandpa bought this new,” he told us. “It was his first car and then he gave it to my dad when my dad was nine. Dad drove it through high school and college. He picked my mum up for their first date in this car.” It still has the original Franklin motor – a 200ci, air-cooled, overhead-valve six-cylinder that makes around 26hp. So far its best pass at Drag Week 2019 is a 28.7@47mph on Day Two.

“Today I ran a 30-flat at 46mph, and if I can do that at the next two tracks, I’ll be happy,” Jim said. “It’s slow on the street – runs 40mph [64km/h]. So I try to get my run in early each day and get down the road. And I’m still the last one in at the end of the day!”

Rick Steinke’s ’67 Chevelle Malibu four-door is powered by a 414ci SBC with a BorgWarner S488, ProTorque converter, Turbo 400 trans and Strange Engineering nine-inch turning the 275 radials. The car is teched to run no quicker than 8.50, and on Day Two Rick ran a perfect 8.50. This perhaps raised his expectations for Day Three and he chased that elusive .50 until the lanes closed.

“I did eight laps today with only an 8.53@162mph to show for it,” Rick said. “I’m a little bummed out. We usually race an 8.50 Index class, and I’m usually good at getting close to it. It should not take me eight passes to come up with a .50. Every change I made it just seemed to not respond, or to respond in the opposite way. When it’s working good it’s really rewarding, but when it’s not it’s frustrating as hell. Today was frustrating as hell.”

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The ’71 Chevy Nova of Craig Groebner from Madison Lake, Minnesota, has gradually got bigger and meaner over the few years he’s been bringing it to Drag Week. “This was a nitrous car when I bought it and it was painted a terrible piss-yellow colour,” said Craig, who, as of Day Three, led the Ultimate Iron class by more than two seconds. The car has had several different engines, but now has a stout Steve Morris-built 540ci big-block, and the nitrous has been overthrown by an F3 ProCharger. The package is only teched to run as quick as 7.50 seconds. On Day Three, the best Craig could manage was a 7.53.

“It’s been a pain in the ass trying not to break out,” Craig said. “We’re pulling two degrees of timing out for two-and-a-half seconds just to make sure we run right on 7.50.”

Lisa Fischer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania has her turbo V6-powered 1987 Buick Grand National back at Drag Week for the third time in four years. “The best I have run is 8.88@156mph at the Buick Nationals in Kentucky,” Lisa said. “Today I ran a 9.11. My goal coming to Drag Week was, firstly, to finish the week. The second goal was to finish with an eight-second average. So, every day when I turn in a timeslip, I do my math on what I have to run to get that, and it’s getting deeper and deeper into the eights. It’s like, oh my god, I’m setting myself up for trouble. On Friday I will need to push it a little harder. It’s hard to really push your car and then you get handed a direction list with 220 miles.” In case you missed that, Lisa ran a 9.11 on 9/11 – freaky.

The big-block nitrous ‘OG Ascona’ campaigned by Swede Robin Johannesson spilt oil down the track during its one and only run on Day Three, but still went a very respectable 7.74@175mph.

“It didn’t want to keep the oil in the car,” said Robin with a smile. “When I started the pass, everything was working good. At half-track I thought I could smell oil, but I just kept the pedal to the metal. When I rolled into the return lane, I saw a lot of oil but I thought it couldn’t be that bad because the engine is still running. I checked it out and saw that the oil filter was all covered in oil, so I think what has happened is the vibrations from the big-block shook the filter and unscrewed it. I’m just happy the car didn’t go off the race track, because there’s oil all underneath it, on the tyres, everything.”

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The Real St. Toyota Supra is full of trick gear. It’s powered by a Mazworx billet pro street block with Mazworx Stage 4 heads and Mazworx intake manifold, Precision XPR 88mm turbo, an M&M transmission and ProTorque converter. The car has run a handful of sixes over the past year, the quickest being a 6.91@200mph. On Day Three it ran a 7.53@189mph.

“We’re trying to work our average down, so 7.5 is enough for today,” said the Supra’s pilot Geo Castillo. “The car is obviously capable of more, but we’ve got two more days. By Friday, if everything is looking good, we’ll really try to put together a run.”

Tracy Grim from Defiance, Ohio has his 1970 Oldsmobile at Drag Week for the third year in a row, and so far this week it’s run a best of 10.02@132mph. “We’re gonna put it in the nines this week,” Tracy said. The motor is an Oldsmobile W30 big-block stroked out to “not quite 500ci”, with Edelbrock heads and Holley EFI.

“Terry Smith from Horsepower Sales out of Cincinnati, Ohio had never built an Olds motor before; he just builds race car motors for NHRA guys, But he built that motor and it’s still living,” said Tracy. “This is its third year and we haven’t tore it down and worked on it.” Tracy wanted to give a shout-out to his buddy Todd Vandenberghe, who rides along with him and does most of the wrenching on the car.

Joe and Paul Castiglione hail from Long Island, New York. At the time of writing, Drag Week 2019 has been a tale of mixed fortunes for the two brothers. Joe was leading his class in his super-cool Plymouth Road Runner, but Paul’s Challenger lunched a trans’ mid-week and is out of the race. “We had a transmission melt down, and no way I can make it to the last day,” said Paul. “We’re still rolling to the end for the festivities though.”