Vintage Racer Reborn: The Return of Touch & Go II

Think back to when you first realized that hot rod Chevys were something extra special. Back when drag racing suddenly became better than baseball, and all the cool guys were driving race cars on the street. Gas was cheap, and getting a car and going fast was as important as anything in your own personal worldview. If that sounds familiar, then you were probably about eleven or twelve years old, and you were fascinated with fast cars in a pre-gas-crisis America. Cars were, without a doubt, a big part of the journey to adulthood.

That youthful fascination with speed often became a serious passion once a valid driver’s license had been acquired. The next step along the path to power-shifting fame was proving who had the fastest car, and who was the most fearless driver behind the wheel. If your hair is now turning grey, then you probably remember a similar journey that brought you to your current appreciation for high-revving Bow Tie horsepower.

Taking this journey during the latter part of the 1960’s meant the muscle car era was in full swing. If you lived in a place like Cicero, Illinois, you were standing in the shadow of the sprawling metropolis of Chicago, a hub of mid-western high-performance action.

The 12-bolt rearend with a 5.86 gear was a weak link, and I needed a taller tire. – Wally Staszko

Wally Staszko fit the profile well. He got an early start on the journey as a 12-year-old boy who first became hooked on the thrill of drag racing competition while peering through the fence at the now defunct Oswego Dragway. Wally was still in high school when he began frequenting the many hotly contested drag races held throughout the area. It was during this time that he first encountered a memorable Nova drag racer known as Touch & Go at the local dragstrip. Wally became drawn to the compact car’s form as an ideal drag racing machine. Deep down, he knew he needed a car like that.

And So It Begins…

A short time later, a then 17-year-old Wally, discovered another Nova that was making its mark at the drags. It was a sleeper 1966 model, factory equipped with a stout 327 small-block and a four-speed gearbox. Coincidentally, it was also for sale. It didn’t take him long to forge a deal for the compact Chevy. Quarter-mile competition was now within sight, and with the blessing of the original owner of Touch & Go, Wally christened his new ride Touch & Go II, out of respect for the car that inspired him to pursue the siren call of competition.

The car would spend a year as a daily driver, while also serving a dual purpose as a weekend drag racer. After graduating from high school, Wally found himself employed at a GM parts warehouse in Broadview, Illinois. He considers this work experience invaluable to his education in the performance world, since he was required to identify an endless variety of GM part numbers. That ultimately revealed which parts were best suited for his Nova’s horsepower requirements.

Since youthful enthusiasm had yet to be displaced by the inevitable responsibilities of  life, Wally was able to devote a sizable portion of his paycheck to maintaining his need for speed. Week after week, he deposited most of his take-home pay into the First National Bank of Touch & Go II, during his early racing years. His investments soon began to pay dividends, with ever quicker and faster trips down the quarter-mile.

Wally’s Nova in the early ’70s. Street legal, but race ready.

“My car was eventually pretty close to being an NHRA class-legal Modified Production racer. It would have fit well into C/MP, where the record stood at 10.98 seconds. That became my goal. I wanted to better the existing C/MP record,” Wally stated.

Before long, the speed shop shelves were looking barren as Wally continuously tried to coax an extra tenth out of the Nova by deploying the latest in over-the-counter speed technology. Fenderwell headers, tunnel-ram induction, and high-lift camshafts were key elements in developing his recipe for low elapsed times. Noted horsepower wizard, Merle Mangle, a part of Austin Coil’s early go-fast brain trust, mentored Wally in the fine art of making horsepower through his M & H Autocraft shop in Cicero. The results of this apprenticeship became obvious in the time slips that Wally began to collect. He was methodically creating a serious competitor at the track, and Wally was always in contention for top honors in Oswego Dragway’s Run Tuff Eliminator, or in his ET bracket at Gary Indiana’s US 30 drag strip.

A New Direction

Eventually, the effort to break the elusive Modified Production record was scaled back. “The car was gaining on the C/MP record, but going any faster meant breaking parts. The 12-bolt rearend with a 5.86 gear was a weak link, and I needed a taller tire. The Nova rapidly went from being a 12 to an 11-second car while chasing the record, and it turned in a best of 11.30 at 122 mph before I realized that the record was out of reach without making a lot of serious changes to the car,” Wally affirmed.

Wally's Nova as it was during it's street/strip days.

Wally raced through the first half of the ’70s, but eventually, life took him in other directions. Marriage, kids, becoming a homeowner, and a lengthy career at Montgomery Ward, working in their auto department, all deserved more of Wally’s time. So, he stepped away from racing, and mothballed the car in his in-law’s garage.

In 1985, Wally had taken the Nova to the drags one last time before he put the car back into storage. He later immersed himself into serving as a sort of crew chief for Tim Bruton, and a gentleman whose name no one could pronounce and was known simply as Ed ‘K’, with their 1968 Pontiac Firebird. Wally found the fledgling race team in need of a decent engine, and the donor was none other than Touch & Go II. The powerplant swap propelled the Firebird solidly into the 12-second bracket on the first pass with Wally behind the wheel. As payback for his guidance, Wally was gifted a four-bolt main 350 engine, which he built into a suitable street performer. He then began to, once again, enjoy driving the Nova on the streets of Cicero. That is, until he stashed it away for a winter hibernation at the in-law’s garage.

Wally's Nova garaged and wrapped in a winter cocoon (left). The Firebird that Wally led to the 12-second bracket (right).

Chicago winters are notoriously cold and unforgiving, and the frigid Nova hiding in the garage was stricken with a cracked engine block after a particularly harsh spell of sub-zero temperatures. This led to the car being kept away from any street activity or drag strip action for many years.

Touch & Go II after arriving at Bill Jelinek’s Route 66 Motorsports.

The Second Act

Fast forward to the present day, and Wally’s daughter and her husband now own the refurbished in-law’s home with Touch & Go II still lying dormant in the garage. A practical need for that garage space was the trigger that Wally needed to pull the Nova out of dry dock and send it to Bill Jelinek’s Route 66 Motorsports in nearby New Lenox, Illinois.

Bill has his own personal memories of watching Touch & Go II compete at area races when he was just a boy. Bill was initially exposed to drag racing through his older brother while he was competing at the drags with his own 1970 Chevelle, and Wally was also on hand with his Nova. The idea of bringing Touch & Go II back for an encore holds a special nostalgic appeal for Bill, and a small world of long-time friends has now come full circle with Bill leading the charge to return Wally’s Nova to its former glory as a street/strip terror.

“I was 12 years old when I first saw this car competing at the drags. It brings back a lot of heartfelt emotions to see it again after all these years. It means a lot to me, personally, that Wally selected our shop to restore Touch & Go II back to how it was during its heyday,” Bill related.

Wally lends a hand at Route 66 Motorsports as Touch & Go II gets a face lift.

Other than the missing engine, the Nova has survived its long hiatus and emerged from storage in remarkably good overall condition. Current plans are to repair some earlier modifications – like the enlarged wheel openings – with fresh lower quarters and stock-style wheel wells. A stout, but street worthy, 383ci stroker engine will likely find its way into the engine bay, although currently, a small-block mule is taking up that space for fitment purposes.

All of the engine accessories Wally originally used “back in the day,” were stashed in the interior of the car, and they will be revived and reused on the new powerplant. That will include the fenderwell exit headers and the tunnel-ram induction. The car was originally equipped with a homemade three-point rollbar, and it will be retained as a nod to its competition heritage. The jury is still out on whether to use the exposed velocity stacks or replicate the aluminum Grump-lump that once adorned the hood. A needed concession for the Nova’s new purpose as a street car will be realized with a 4.10-geared rearend ratio replacing the previous 5.86 cogs. But, the close-ratio four-speed and stroker engine should still provide plenty of thrills while making the local car show scene.

Old friends; Ed Zinke, the late Sammy Potts, and Wally Staszko... A relic from the 1960's, Wally's racing jacket.

Wally has given some thought to taking the Nova back to the drag strip for old-time’s sake, but the need for updated safety gear may mean that the car will stay primarily on the street. However, it’s not likely that anyone will mistake this car for a poser. It was, and will again, be a street car that can more than hold its own in drag strip competition. Many local residents of Cicero that are “of a certain age” retain fond memories of the car’s history as a drag strip warrior, and will no doubt celebrate the day that Touch & Go II appears at a local cruise-in. Join us as we follow this survivor’s revitalization as a local legend with a new lease of life.

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