Mike Hadley is among a growing number of radial-tire racers dipping their toes into the no-prep drag racing scene, doing so with his 1968 Chevrolet Nova that many would agree is too pristine to chance on an un-prepped surface.
Beyond possessing that universal seat-of-your-pants talent behind the wheel, being in-tune with and knowing your race car inside and out provides a significant advantage in no-prep drag racing — not just in seeing the car shiny-side-up, but in going rounds. And there is perhaps no one that knows their machine better than Hadley.
The year was 1986, and Hadley, in high school at the time, was in search of a project; he found a Nova with a small-block, painted orange, and like so many other teenage gearheads, had to have it.
“I started racing in high school with this same Nova at local tracks like Brown County Dragway, Muncie Dragway and IRP. Back then it had a big-block 427 running mid 5-second 1/8-mile times. I wrecked the car in 2002 and pushed it aside and began racing a ’65 Nova for a while. Then I had found another solid ’68, an original four-cylinder, three-speeds-on-the-tree car, and decided to build it. I had Bill Carter at Two Lane Performance install a 25.5 cage and kept it small-tire stock suspension. I raced that for a few seasons and then sold it and went back to racing the ’65 again. That was, until my oldest son got his license and took over the driving. That made me decide to finally rebuild the original ’68.”
The car sat until 2016, when Hadley rebuilt it with a 423 cubic-inch small-block. Today, it’s powered by a larger 582-inch big-block Chevrolet mill (4.600 x 4.375). The foundation is a World Products Merlin IV block, and it’s fitted with a Callies Magnum crankshaft and Ultra rods, Ross pistons, and an LSM 55mm camshaft, all held together using ARP fasteners. Hadley used titanium valves, Jesel rockers, Trend pushrods, PAC springs, and titanium retainers to fill out the valve train inside the M&M X17 CNC aluminum conventional BBC cylinder heads. An IRD X nitrous-specific 4500cfm four-barrel carburetor sits atop an M&M X1 intake manifold. Hadley built fender-exit headers to expel the exhaust gasses, which are lit using MSD coils. A Fast Lane fogger nitrous system and Induction Solutions Guardian plate put the juice to the big-block for ample more horsepower. A Holley Dominator EFI system manages the entire operation.
Behind the powerplant is a Dedenbear Powerglide transmission with a Hughes SSX bolt-together converter, and Hadley gets it into gear using a Hurst pistol-grip shifter. An aluminum driveshaft takes the power and torque to the Moser Fab 9 rearend housing and center section, which features Moser’s 40-spline gun-drilled axles. Strange Engineering Pro Series brakes are at all four corners.
Up front, you’ll find a Smith Race Craft bolt-on front clip, with tubular A-arms, Menser double-adjustable coilovers shocks, and a rack-and-pinion box. The rear features QA1 double-adjustable shocks, Calvert split mono leaves, Cal-trac bars, and an anti-roll bar. The front wheels are Weld V-Series 15 x 4 with 26-inch Mickey Thompson ET Drag tires, and the rears are American Racing Trak Star 15×10 double beadlocks, with a choice of M/T 28×10.5s, or 28-inch M/T Radial Pros, depending on the surface at hand.
Inside, you’ll find the factory floors and interior, factory-style black carpet, door panels, dash, and other details, with a Holley Pro dash standing out as a very non-original feature delivering telemetry to Hadley.
The car is all steel, save for a fiberglass hood, decklid, and bumpers. It’s all finished in a popular Hugger Orange color, applied by Mike Bleke. Normand Boutot at Stormin Normand’s Custom Rollcages fabricated the 25.5-spec chromoly cage, and Nick Taylor made the fender-exit exhaust, while Hadley did the brunt of the rest of the work himself.
On radials, Hadley has been 4.94 at 144 mph with the combination, but assures it has the potential to get into the 4.60s and 70s on prepped surfaces, at 150-plus mph. Hadley has trekked to a number of no-prep races in the Midwest and the South over the last couple of seasons, actively switching between the drag radial and no-prep slick-tire combination to hit a variety of events.
Hadley, a native of Greenwood, Indiana, and the owner of a fire protection contracting business says, “I’ve accomplished a lot over the years with multiple different setups in this car in radial-prep racing, and now, I’d really like to get it more competitive in the no-prep stuff.”
“There is a lot of history in this car over the years, from many late nights of street racing back in the late 1980s and early ’90s, to the start of the original OSCA days at Muncie and Ohio Valley,” he adds. “I get people all of the time come up and ask if it’s the same old car from back in the day. Back in 2017, at Bowling Green for the Car Craft Nationals, we took both cars and I got to line up against my son in his ’65 Duece, so that was a really memorable moment.”
Hadley continues, “It’s gone through numerous changes over the years, from small-block to big-block, back and forth many times, but has always had nitrous as the power adder. But I can tell people that I have been building this same car for 37 years,” he says with a laugh. “The fact that I have kept it all these years and still compete with it on stock suspension and a small-tire setup is what really makes me take pride in this car.”