Walking through the pits at race tracks anywhere in the world, you’re likely to see plenty of cars with a wow factor, be it in the looks or performance department, but then there are those cars that stop you in your tracks, and Mickey Tessneer’s Chevy Nova is one of those very machines.
Tessneer and his crew at Mickey’s Chassis Works have built one of the cleanest radial tire cars the world has ever seen. The 1966 Nova known as “The Green Reaper” is about so much more than looking good and going fast — it’s about a man, his dream, and a promise to a customer to finish a project.
Tessneer always had an interest in anything car or racing related growing up. As a young kid growing up, he idolized a family friend who owned a shop and would sit in class drawing up ideas for race cars that he’d love to build. The die was cast for his future in racing when he took an agriculture class his senior year in high school where he learned to weld. After graduation, Tessneer worked at a few small companies learning more about fabrication, prototyping, and welding.
Working for others only lasted for so long, as soon Tessneer branched off on his own and began to build race cars. His humble beginnings included doing odd jobs to pay for tools and equipment while working out of his roommate’s small garage. All of this was done while still working full-time, but then came the day that that all changed, As Tessneer’s hard work paid off and he had an opportunity to start his own shop.
In time, Tessneer’s shop was gaining steam with local racers, and a gentleman known only by the name of Doc walked in the door at Mickey’s Chassis Works with his 1970 Monte Carlo known as “The Beast”. Doc wanted to set the local street racing scene on its ear and was ready to give Mickey a shot at doing some updates to his car.
“Doc pretty well gives me free range with his car. The first thing I did was cut the whole thing apart, and he about died when he saw it.” After Tessneer was done with Doc’s car it went on to win Cash Days, and that notoriety flooded Tessneer’s shop with customers, including Daddy Dave and Monza, of Street Outlaws fame. “We spent endless hours testing and testing on the streets of Oklahoma City. We were finally at a point of making four-second passes on un-prepped, bare concrete.”
All of that was great, but Tessneer had a dreams of being a small tire racing kingpin, and those dreams were about to be pushed into motion by another customer, Vern Brown.
The Green Reaper
The story of the Reaper begins with a racer named Vern Brown dream of building a small-tire outlaw drag car. Brown was a good customer of Tessneer’s, dating back to 2004, and brought the Nova to him in 2007 as a project car. Tessneer fell in love with the car and led on to Brown know how much he’d always loved the styling of this era Nova. As fate would have it, Brown’s health was not doing well and he let Tessneer know this would be his last hot rod he’d have built. The project was put on hold as Brown tended to his health, but even during this time, Tessneer was hatching a plan for what would become a big block monster feeding on lots of boost.
In 2008, Tessneer got the call from Brown saying, “come get the car, it’s yours.” After the call Tessneer rolled out to get the Nova, where Brown had a title in hand for Tessneer, with no strings attached; except for one, that he would finish the car. Over the next four years Tessneer and his best friend, Ron Plummer, worked on building the Green Reaper.
At the outset of this project, Plummer and Tessneer had no idea how radical of a car they would be building, which features some of the best parts you can cram into a 60’s muscle car on leaf springs. At the who, they totally gutted their blank canvas of a 1966 Nova and went to work. Not a single square inch of the car went untouched as they built a killer chassis, picked out their driveline parts, and prepared the body for a yet to be decided color of paint. The documented build thread on Yellow Bullet forum shows the totally epic amount of work, time, and detail that went into this build.
Tessneer and company have built a rolling work of art out of the Nova. The car sports a custom-made 25.5 chrome-moly chassis that was built at Mickeys Chassis Works. A Smith Racecraft bolt-on front end with Santhuff shocks has been implemented up front to hold the Reaper’s bullet. Powering the Nova is a Henson Racing Engines-built 518 cubic inch Dart Big M block Big Block Chevrolet. The short block is filled with top-flight parts, including a Lunati Pro Series crank, GRP Rods, a Comp custom cam, and Aries custom pistons. Topping off the mill is a set of Dart Pro 1 355 CNC aluminum heads with a Jesel valvetrain and a one-off Edelbrock intake from Chat Speier Racing Heads. Pushing all the exhaust out is a set of headers fabricated by the crew at Mickey’s.
To compete in small tire racing you better be packing a punch, and the F2 ProCharger modified by Steve Morris Racing Engines and driven by a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks CDS Component Drive System gear drive does just that. Tessneer uses a ProCharger intercooler, Chiseled Performance Ice Box, and a Vortech Blowoff valve that are plumbed in with custom piping made in-house at Tessneer’s Chassis Works.
Of course, all the power in the world is useless unless you have a driveline that can eat everything you throw at it, and Tessneer has enlisted an Ace Racing Transmissions two-speed Turbo 400 for the job. This unit is filled with a Griner valve body, 1-3/16-inch input shaft, custom pump, billet steel forward and direct drums, billet forward hub, billet steel input shaft, and a first gear delete package. A custom M&M converter spreads the power as Tessneer shifts the Precision Performance Products shifter.
The leaf spring suspension was far from overlooked on the Reaper. Calvert Racing split leaf springs and Smith Racecraft traction bars help put the power to the ground, and a McNasty nine-inch rear end from Mickey’s Chassis Works filled with Strange 40-spline axles and a Strange Ultra third member put the power to the 15×12 Weld Racing V-Series rear rims. Mickey Thompson Pro 275 drag radials are the rubber of choice on the rear of the car.
Being a perfectionist also led Tessneer to gain a new skill during the build-up of the Reaper: sewing. “After attempting to have the interior professionally done, I wasn’t happy with the work I had received. So my mother-in-law spent one Sunday evening teaching me to sew and I redid the interior myself.”
Filling the interior with go-fast goodies is another ‘skill’ Tessneer has. An all-MSD ignition system highlighted by a MSD PowerGrid feeding spark to the car, and information to the Holley Dominator EFI computer. Tessneer wired the car with a Spaghetti Menders race harness.
One of the biggest stresses for Tessneer was what color to paint the car. The final color came from inspiration provided by his wife, who to that point had shown no interest in the car.
“So one day a new Camaro that was Synergy green passes us and it was all she talked about — how sexy the color was. So I surprised her with the paint job being that same color and she is in love with the Nova now…it definitely got her attention.”
That Synergy Green paint was laid down by Parker’s Auto body on the flawless body work done by George Ray. Ultra Carbon produced the carbon fiber bumpers and hood that accent the car so well.
The car almost didn’t make its debut at Lights Out V in February, that is until customer Larry Hare stepped up. With Larry’s help, Tessneer and Plummer were able to finish the car and head to the first big race of the year. The first time out with the car netted some great results, running a best of 4.84 at 149 MPH that was good enough for the number four qualifying spot in the ultra-competitive Leaf Spring class.
Mickey Tessneer and his best friend Ron have built a show stopping drag radial car, and their attention to detail and passion for perfection show throughout the Green Reaper’s build. With a little more track time there’s no doubt you will see Tessneer and his Nova at the top of the drag radial world.