Mike Ward’s twin-turbo Chev Nova

Mike Ward's twin-turbo Nova has reset the drag-and-drive bar for Aussies racing in the US

Photographers: Matt Reekie, Matt Zelinko

Taking on a drag-and-drive event is no mean feat, especially when you’re on the other side of the world, challenging Americans at their own game. Pushing your car to the limit on the road and track in soaring temperatures and contending with long daily drives, potholes and adverse track conditions becomes a hell of a lot more difficult when you don’t have mates and local contacts to back you up.

Flying into the United States and attempting to build a car with limited resources is an even bigger challenge again. Many Aussie teams have thrashed like madmen, only to arrive with untested cars or simply be outgunned in their chosen class.

First published in the April 2024 issue of Street Machine

That’s why you’ve really got to hand it to Mike Ward and his mates from Western Australia, who have run the quickest drag-and-drive average of any Aussie team in the US, with an impressive 7.35-second average over a week of racing. In doing so, they reeled off a PB of 7.14 on leaf springs and 275 radials, with bigger things still to come!

To rewind, fellow racer Kevin Boulton took Mike to Hot Rod Drag Week 2018 to show him how it all worked. Mike was obviously impressed; as soon as he got home, he and his mates formulated a plan to run their own car Stateside.

They decided trying to build a car from scratch in the States would be too hard, so they started looking for a turn-key car that met their criteria. It had to be registered and capable of running quicker than an 8.50, and most importantly it had to be complete. The hunt began, and as luck had it, they found a Chevy Nova owned by a guy called Eddie Whipple.

The car had been running a turbocharged small-block Chev, which saw some no-prep racing and other meetings before lunching itself. Eddie was tied up with Brian Macy from The EFI Store, who designed and built a twin-turbo LS combination for the car. Unfortunately, Eddie got sick and the Nova was never raced with the LS, so right before COVID-19 brought the world to its knees, Mike jetted over to the States to do a deal on the car.

When he’s not kicking arse at drag-and-drive events or buying super-cool street cars, Mike runs WA Racing Developments, where he does everything from engine-building to fab work and tuning. He’s a pretty handy guy and there’s not much he can’t do. The Nova needed a lot of stuff: rewiring; a diff ratio change; a transmission and new safety gear. It was about a month’s-worth of work, but it had to wait for two years while the world got over the spicy cough.

The Nova was already a good platform for drag-and-drive events, with a lift-off front end and a super-reliable 427ci LS combination with a Dart block, Callies crank and GRP rods. The cam is a big solid-roller designed by The EFI Store, while a full Holley EFI system with ID2600 injectors delivers C16 fuel. There’s an Aeromotive brushless fuel pump for the track stuff, which is replaced by a Bosch 044 for street duties.

Brian kindly stored the car for Mike throughout Covid, which helped big-time. When they landed in the US, the Aussies picked up a tow rig and enclosed trailer before meeting up with Street Outlaws’s Reaper, who let them keep the car at his place for a short while. Having no ties to any workshops in the States, Mike, Kevin and Tim Roads had to float between Airbnbs and work out of carparks.

Mike eventually got the car to Drag Week 2022, where it ran an 8.50 on the first day. That gradually dropped to a 7.97; Mike finished the week with an 8.1 average. The car started the event in the Super Street class, where they were running second until the car’s moulded front bar was protested for not being separate from the nosecone. They were moved to Unlimited, finishing fourth in-class.

“We did a little testing at Bradenton before our next event at Sick Week to step the tune up a little,” Mike recalls. “On Day One of Sick Week, we went 7.8 and then 7.7; on the Wednesday we lunched the trans. It shattered the forward drum, which didn’t surprise me. The car is heavy at 3650lbs, and when you start to lean on things you end up finding the weak points.”

The Aussies networked with a staff member at National Transmission to organise a new Reid-cased ’box in readiness for Lights Out. “We looked at the data with him and changed to a 1.7 first gear and 1.35 second, instead of the 2.48 and 1.48 gear set we had in the original trans,” Mike says. “We ran in the Limited Drag Radial class, and with a 4.80 we were off the pace, but it was all about the experience.”

A pair of GT42 1450 snails were new additions for Drag Week 2023, stepping up in size from 78mm to 80mm. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t go any quicker than my licence, which was only good for 7.50,” Mike says. “On the first hit with the new turbos, it went 7.54, so we had to keep it above a 7.50 average or we couldn’t turn in our timecards.” The team finished the week with a 7.71 average, and re-licensed to a 6.50 ET prior to Sick Week 2024.

On the first pass at Sick Week, the car blew out a transmission cooler line, knocked a front tyre off its rim, and had a leaking rocker cover gasket. It looked ugly at the finish line, with smoke pouring from the car. They got it patched up, only to rip off the bonnet, half a front guard and a headlight on a single pass.

Big wheel-stands and the usual drag-and-drive woes followed, but the team kept banging away, pushing through the 7.40s to a best of 7.19 to take the outright win in Super Street, with an average ET of 7.35 across the week. On the last pass, Mike decided to crank it up and shoot for something even better. The mighty Nova left hard on the back wheels, only to snap the pinion off the diff mid-track, marking the end of the Sick Week mission.

“I enjoy all of the journey,” Mike says. “I like the planning, going to the USA, the people you meet – every part of it. When you try and tackle events like these you need to have a plan C, as parts can let you down. Being able to cruise without worrying about the police is the best part; over here in WA you are scared to drive your car, whereas in the States the police are interested in what events you’re heading to, and the people are awesome.”

So, what does the future hold for these guys? “Due to the race calendar, we are going to skip Drag Week this year, which is a pity as it’s the 20th anniversary,” Mike laments. “But we will be at No Mercy, World Cup, and the Street-N-Yeet meeting being run by Devin Vanderhoof.”

The Nova will soon go back together with a carbonfibre tailshaft, while the transmission will get a first-second leave upgrade and the body may cop steel front guards so it can run in more classes. The leaf-sprung car has run a 1.18 to the 60-foot, so it’s safe to say the existing rear end is working well!