Over the last several months, we have shown you how Larry Dixon not only initiated a plan to bring his ’66 Nova out of retirement, but to make it road and competition ready. His intent was to make his once trusted steed fun to drive, and to participate in the once a year adventure called Drag Week.
Getting the car ready has been a several month long process, and along the way some things went as planned, and some, well, not so much. For those of you following along, you know that Larry and some friends have rebuilt the suspension with the help of Classic Industries, updated the fuel system, and installed a Chevrolet Performance supercharged LT4. If you want to see everything that was done to the car, you can check out all of the articles by clicking here.
It was all smiles before the project started, and the smile is still there after Drag Week is over.
This installment is the culmination of all that hard work, and instead of us just telling you how things went during the event, we asked Larry to give a day-by-day account of how things transpired throughout the week.
As you read, keep in mind that during the week, very little sleep was achieved, more than 1,000 miles of roads were traveled, and he raced his LT4-powered Nova in five events in five days at four different drag strips. Considering the Nova had to be driven from event to event, and he couldn’t have a trailer follow “just in case,” we’re sure that he was enthusiastically-stressed by week’s end. So sit back, grab a cold one, and follow along as he tells us about the eventful happenings of the week.
It was close, but Larry made it to the start of Drag Week In Columbus, Ohio.
Project And Stress Begins
My first thought was, ‘I’m done, I’ll never make it’. – Larry Dixon
If you ask me, ‘What was the best part of your experience’, believe it or not, it was passing tech. It was a five-year journey getting to that moment. I’ve always wanted to participate [in Drag Week], and to finally have the event close to home, actually have time to enter, get there and pass tech – mission accomplished. Passing tech definitely made for a good night’s dinner on that first night.
Although the LT4 engine and transmission arrived at my shop on July 22, it wasn’t until 5:00 p.m. Friday September 9, that I was able to get car on the road for its first test drive. Unfortunately, I didn’t even make it one mile from the shop, when I ran into a non-engine-related mechanical issue that sidelined the car.
My first thought was, ‘I’m done, I’ll never make it’. My buddy Walt called a part’s supplier and got what we needed to make the repair. Another stroke of luck saw Danny Camden, the auto shop teacher from Ben Davis High School come over to help with the fix. We finally got the car road worthy at 1:00 a.m. Saturday morning.
There was not a lot of “extra room” when installing the LT4, but the guys made it fit.
After a few hours of sleep, we continued to finish small details to get the car ready to go. My buddy, Eric Reyes was planning to ride along on the trip, and at 11:45 p.m. he landed at the airport. We were ready to go.
Finally Made It
When Sunday morning rolled around, we were surprisingly ready – almost. We hadn’t had a chance to do any dyno testing or extended driving, but we were still optimistic. Some friends and I had a group of three cars planning to make the voyage, (my Nova, my friend Walt’s Camaro, and another friend, Jan, and his Camaro). We left my house at 7:00 a.m., and arrived in Columbus, Ohio, three hours later. We checked the Nova’s fuel mileage for the trip, and the car got 17 mpg.
While we were in line for tech inspection, we did learn that the brake lights didn’t work and fixed them while we were in line. We finally passed tech inspection at 8:00 pm., but we missed the 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. test-and-tune session. Here we were at the first race track, and still have not tested the car.
Does this look like a 17-second car? Larry didn’t think so either.
Day One: Columbus, Ohio
After the 8:30 a.m. driver’s meeting on Monday morning, we got in line to make a run. I decided I was going to manually shift the car at 6,500 rpm. Since I had the shifter in first gear and I learned that the rev limiter won’t let the engine spin past 6,000 rpm, what actually happened was, I never shifted to second gear until after the rev limiter did its job. My first run in the car was wasted. To say I was disappointed with the 17-second quarter-mile run is an understatement. I got back in line to make another pass, and after a 90-minute wait, the officials sent us back to the pits. They had 117 Real Street eliminator cars that still needed to make passes, and we were told that if they ran all of them before the track shut down at 2:00 p.m., we could run again.
I decided against waiting, and Eric and I left for Norwalk. My friend, Walt, left at the same time with his ’69 Camaro. As we were headed to Norwalk, the water pump in Walt’s car failed. We were trying to figure out how to get a water pump when a guy came by and asked about all the cars he saw on the road.
Nobody ever plans to change a water pump at a gas station.
I jokingly asked if he happened to have a water pump for a big-block Chevy. He said ‘no, but I know someone who might’. Long story short, he did. A local bracket racer brought two, and Walt bought them both. We finally got back on the road, and as I was in line for a photo at the first check point, my car died. We checked the battery and then the battery disconnect switch, and found the problem. We bypassed the switch and I was back in business. The rest of the night is uneventful, and we made it to the hotel about 2:30 a.m.
Day Two: Norwalk, Ohio
The next morning, we all left the hotel in Norwalk at 7:30 a.m., and were in the staging lanes by 8:30. This time, I kept the transmission in Drive, and the car ran an 11.02 seconds at 123 mph. We left the track around noon and headed to the assigned checkpoint on the way to the next track in Martin, Michigan. I have a friend that works in General Motors’ transmission facility, and he agreed to meet us at our hotel in Martin that night, to do a little “programming” to the transmission.
A little transmission programming for good measure.
We had been running with Walt and Jan up to this point, but Eric and I decided to leave early and make up some time. I figured Walt and Jan would catch up later – that was the plan. Unfortunately, Jan’s Camaro broke, and had to be loaded on a trailer. We got to Martin, about 10:00 p.m. and made a few test passes on U.S. 131 – not the track, the highway. The car is running well, and we made it back to the room by 1:00 a.m.
Day Three: Martin, Michigan
Wednesday morning; breakfast at McDonald’s, and then we got to the track at 8:00 a.m. Unfortunately, it was raining. The rain subsided by 9:00 a.m., and I finally got to make a pass, which was 11.21 seconds at 121 mph. The car was slower than previously, but that was my fault. I let the car sit and idle for too long, and the supercharger got too warm. Soon after that, we grabbed lunch and headed back to Indy on the next leg of the journey. The trip back to Indy was fairly uneventful, and we got there around 8:00 p.m. I was happy to go home to Indy and sleep in my own bed.
Day Four: Indy Bound
We got to Martin about 10:00 p.m. and made a few test passes on U.S. 131 – not the track, the highway. – Larry Dixon
I got to the track on Thursday at 8:00 a.m., and learned my car is being sent to the impound lot. The bad thing about that is, if you have to make any adjustments or repairs, you can only use what you brought into impound with you, or try to get stuff from other participants also in impound. The upside is that you get to make another pass without having to wait in line. For my next pass, I decide to ice down the supercharger, and unfortunately, I blew the tires off the car. It still ran an 11.27-second e.t., and I decided to change out the Mickey Thompson Sportsmans with M/T Drag Radials. I once again “chilled” the supercharger, and the car ran 11.04 seconds at 124.97 mph. I also kept the car in Drive, and it still hit the rev limiter at the top of first gear. I decided that when at Columbus on the next and final day, I would again try manually-shifting the car.
While there were benefits to being close to home in Indy, there were also issues to resolve, and they didn’t involve the car. Basically, I got the “Honey, while you’re here…” speech after a plumbing issue at the house reared its ugly head. You guessed it, I couldn’t leave Indy until my father-in-law and I fixed the plumbing issue at the house. We eventually got that fixed, and I was on the road back to Columbus around 5:00 p.m. Unfortunately for Walt, the plumbing issue at the house was minor compared to what he would have to deal with.
Sometime around 7:30 in the evening, we were on our way to the second check point on this leg of the journey when I got a call from Walt. He lost the trailer he was pulling with the Camaro. Eric and I went back to see Walt parked on the shoulder of the road looking for his trailer. The hitch broke, and it travelled down an embankment. The heavy brush slowed it down and then a tree caught it about 25 feet down the embankment. Luckily, the car was not hurt. It’s now 9:30 p.m., and Walt and the guys from Ultimate Hot Rods weld the trailer tongue back together at their shop. We were back on road around 12:30 a.m. looking for someplace to eat. Luckily (?), we found a Waffle House. We eventually got to the hotel at 2:30 a.m.
Not much happening at Waffle House at 1:00 a.m. Oh well, we didn’t have to wait very long for our food.
Day Five: Back To Columbus
To say we were happy the track in Columbus, didn’t open until 11:00 a.m. is an understatement. While prepping the Nova, I noticed that one of the front shocks had broken through the shock tower. We found a couple of oversized washers and made a temporary repair.
After the repair, I got in line and chilled the supercharger again. This time, I planned to manually shift the car, but at a lower RPM to try to keep off the rev limiter – at least that was the plan. What actually happened was, I shifted too late and the first run was a major fail. During my second pass, I short shifted and the car ran an 11.17 at 121 mph. That was my last opportunity to make a pass, and I turned in my time slip. My average quarter-mile time for the week was mid-12s, and officially placed me 27th in class. I didn’t make the top 10, but I’m not in the bottom 10 either.
When the event was over, Eric and I hopped on I-70 and headed for home. When we got to Dayton, Ohio, the freeway was closed because of a traffic accident. We jumped on a small two lane road to bypass the accident, and when we got close to Indiana, I heard a knocking noise from the rear of the car. We pulled off at a truck stop and found out that we lost a rear lower shock bolt. To make the repair, I bought one of those handles for pulling down tractor trailer tarps and some duct tape. Roadside engineering at its finest. It was an easy fix, and we were back on road and got home at 12:30 a.m.
Maybe Next Time…
For not having a lot of time to get ready, and almost not meeting the deadline, I thought we did well. If you had asked me that Saturday morning after the event: ‘would I do again?’ I would have said no way. Now that a couple of weeks have passed, I can say that I would do it again. I met a lot of great people, and for a solid week, everywhere I went, I was surrounded by a bunch of hot rodders. To me, that is over the top cool.
I want to thank everyone that had a hand in letting me cross off a five-year-old bucket list item. I don’t want to get all philosophical on you, but if there’s something you want to do, don’t put it off. Do it while you still can. If I didn’t do this now, I was afraid I’d be 70 years old when I finally did. I don’t know if not racing full time this year or if my cancer changed my mindset, but I would like to think it changed for the good. That’s what I’m taking from this adventure. If my life/schedule permits it, I really would like to go again. When I do, I hope to meet someone that said they read this and are doing Drag Week for the first time. Until next time, see you at the track.
Editor’s note: This is by no means the end of our series with Larry Dixon. Continue to follow along as he updates and further tests his Nova, hopefully reaching his 9-second goal.