Indiana native Bryan Wright and his bright-red 1946 Chevrolet pickup are an unmistakable presence at virtually any racetrack on any given weekend, because…well, it’s bright red, and more importantly, there really isn’t another truck quite like it.
Wright’s classic Chevy hauler is a decades-in-the-making work-in-progress, evolving a number of times throughout its second lease on life as a street/strip machine. From his teen years to the present, much in the same path as his own knowledge and skills, Wright has taken it from the simple to the extreme.
Wright has been a hot rod fanatic for much of his life — “probably before I could walk,” he says — a byproduct of his father’s interest in performance automotive pursuits. Bryan’s father would take him along to local cruise-ins and car shows, and soon enough, the hook was set.
“My dad and I would go to the local dragstrip to watch the races, probably well before I was five years old. I enjoyed watching and continued going to the dragstrip up into my teen years,” Bryan says. “I was really interested in the Fastest Street Car shootout stuff that was going on in the early 1990s, and there was one cruise-in that changed everything for me. There were a group of guys with some pretty fast street cars that would show up, and they were doing burnouts, nitrous purges, and cars were launching in the street. That did it for me — that’s when I knew that I wanted to race and have something fast. The catch was that I wanted to have a fast street car, not a pure race car.”
Many years later, Wright’s passion for racing runs as deep as he envisioned it. In fact, his life largely revolves around racing. When he’s not competing in his prized pickup, or building up and tinkering with other projects with his wife, Leanna, he’s clocked in at Longacre Racing, part of the AFCO Performance Group.
“Over the years I have mostly raced this truck, but there was a time when I parked it for a couple of years to race a small-tire Mustang that I had built. I think I made my first pass down the dragstrip in the ’46 when I was 17 years old. That was 1997. I have built and owned some other hot rods over the years, but they were more for just cruising around.”
A friend of his father’s bought the ’46 in the mid-’80s, in all original condition. He and the elder Wright did some work updating the chassis, but later halted the project. Seeing potential in both his son and the pickup — and the chance for father-son bonding over the project — he bought the truck for Bryan years before he could even drive.
“My dad knew I had a strong interest in hot rods and he purchased the truck for me when I was about 12. I had turned 16 and was driving around in a Chevy Caprice as my daily. The truck sat for a while until I proved that I was not going to be crashing and smashing into stuff. Then we got to work on the truck. The cab was on dollies and the frame was leaning against the wall. We got rid of all the rust and got the body in decent shape. The body was then sprayed with a white primer. We built a stock bottom end 350 for it, with a cam and aluminum heads. It had a Nova front clip, a 9-inch rearend with 15×14 Centerline wheels, and Mickey Thompson tires. I was really happy with it and had fun cruising it on the street.”
Work began on the project in the mid-’90s, and Bryan has continually updated the truck, its chassis and components, and the engine and power adder combinations. But its very post-WWII factory steel DNA remains.
Bryan took the ’46 to the drag strip for the first time when he was 17 and went 8.50-seconds to the 1/8-mile on his very first pass.
“This thing felt really fast to me. I thought for sure I had set some kind of a record when I was coming back down the return road,” he says with a laugh. “I knew 8.50 on street tires wasn’t bad, but wanted to go much faster. From then on I have made a change to truck almost every offseason since the late ‘90s to get it where it is now.”
Bryan has utilized a couple of different engine combinations over the years, both of them small-block Chevrolets. One, a 355, he ran with roots-type superchargers on gasoline and also with nitrous oxide. Another engine, a 400-inch Dart Little M setup, also had a roots blower for a time, as well as a mechanical injection configuration on alcohol. That 400-incher was later bored out to the current 409 cubic-inch displacement.
“At the time we were running the mechanical injection setup, the truck was running 5.60s and 5.70s, but it was real hard to drive on the street with methanol as fuel, which I did for some very short trips,” he explains.
He then had switched the truck over to an F-1X ProCharger and a blow-through E85 carburetor setup, making it even quicker and more streetable. It was ultimately converted to the current single turbo combination.
During that whole period, the truck sported a few different colors of primer and was bright yellow at one point. In 2008, Bryan repainted it to the racey red that it is today. Everything you see that is red, is steel (the cab and doors are still original ’46); the front and rear fenders are fiberglass replacements, and the bed cover is carbon-fiber. The entire project and all of the changes that have unfolded over the years have taken place in Bryan’s two-car garage, largely with his own two hands, or with the support of his father.
“I did the paint and body, built the engines, did the chassis work, wiring, all fabrication. My dad passed away in 2008 and he did get to see the truck go into the fives. I don’t think when this whole thing started either one of us thought it would have gotten this out of hand or ever gone this far,” he says. “It’s a farm truck from the 1940s and it was never intended to go as fast as it’s been.”
The present combination is a 409 cubic-inch small-block, based around a Dart block and aluminum heads. A hefty 102mm turbocharger feeds boost to the Edelbrock intake through a CSU four-barrel carburetor. A Turbo 400 transmission transmits the power to the rearend and, ultimately, to the racing surface.
“I have learned a great deal about many things building this truck, and it’s been a learning curve with trial and error,” he continues. “Many of the things I know about racing, race cars, engine building, fabrication are because of this truck.”
As primarily a no-time racer, Wright isn’t privy to sharing precise numbers, but this is indeed a 4-second truck. But he is confident that it is the world’s quickest and fastest 1946 Chevrolet truck.
“It has been interesting to see the different milestones of the truck: the first 7-second pass in the 1/8-mile, followed by the first six, first five, and first 4-second pass. Then we went from the 10’s in the 1/4-mile, to our first 9-second pass, then the eights, and finally into the sevens.”
When you’ve got a show-quality pickup of this era, with a silly amount of power, that can easily handle the street, it’s not hard to pick out Bryan’s soft spots for his ’46.
“It has a conventional small-block Chevy with a carburetor, it’s heavy, and it’s fast, so those are my favorite parts of this thing. I can jump in it and go get ice cream, because it is still street legal. It’s also unique — I’ve never been at the track and another ’46 Chevy truck was there. And I really like trucks.”
Wright has competed regularly with the midwest-based Outlaw Street Car Association (OSCA), and intends to add Ohio Valley Dragway’s heads-up racing series to his schedule in 2022; he’s also hoping to press his ’46 into a drag-and-drive event in the near future. “I just want to hit a few races, go some rounds and have fun,” he says of his goals in his racing endeavors.
Engine: Small-block Chevrolet, 409 cubic inches (4.170” bore x 3.750” stroke)
Block: Dart Little M iron
Crankshaft: Howards 4340 steel
Connecting Rods: Oliver Speedway
Pistons: Diamond by Steve Morris
Compression Ratio: 10:1
Camshaft: Steve Morris spec’d solid roller
Cylinder Heads: Dart Pro1 aluminum
Valves: Manley (2.08” intake, 1.60” exhaust) stainless
Rocker Arms: LGM shaft-mount
Pushrods: COMP 3/8” with PAC springs
Intake Manifold: Edelbrock SV2
Oiling System: Melling billet high-volume oil pump (wet sump)
Induction System: CSU 4150 low-through carburetor (on E-85)
Exhaust: 1-7/8” custom fabricated
Ignition: MSD Power Grid (with boost control)
Power Adder: Forced Inductions GTR 102mm turbocharger
Power Adder Components: Frozen Boost type 12 intercooler, dual Tial 44mm wastegates, Tial blowoff valve
Hoses & Fittings: JEGS AN
Transmission: Firecracker Performance TH400 with second-gear leave
Torque Converter: PTC
Shifter: Precision Performance Products
Driveshaft: Perfection Driveline
Rearend Housing: Moser 9”
Third-member: Strange Engineering
Axles: Moser 40-spline
Rear Gear Ratio: 4.11
Front Suspension: AFCO shocks, TRZ rack conversion for Chevy Nova, Autofab chrome-moly control arms
Rear Suspension: AFCO shocks, Art Morrison ladder bars
Rear Wheels/Tires: 15×12” Sander double-beadlock, Mickey Thompson 28×10.5” Pro Bracket Radials
Seats: Kirkey aluminum w/ cloth coverings
Floors: Home Depot indoor/outdoor carpeting with carbon-fiber door panels
Instruments/Gauges: Dolphin gauges, Autometer tachometer, Longacre pressure gauge for transmission
Steering Wheel: Innovative Racecraft