Finally, we're on the track!
Words and photos by Jok Nicholson
t seems like it took forever to get the "Back-2-Basics"
on the track, but I guess it could have been
worse. I picked up the engine when I was in
St. Louis over the Fourth of July. It was about
100 degrees and the asphalt pit area at Gateway
International made it seem like 125 degrees!
It was worth it, though, as we won the NHRA
National Open in S/Comp with our "Project 4-Link"
When we got ready to leave we arranged to meet editor Jeff Burk at St. Louis street racing legend Bill Weckman's shop in Granite City, Illinois where Burk and Weckman had built the engine. We were to pick up the engine and put it in the trailer. By the way, who said a small-block Chevy isn't heavy? Good thing I am in the excellent shape that I am (LOL!). Anyway, we moaned and groaned and got it in there. I was really expecting to be at the track in two weeks after I got the engine. Well, things don't always go like you plan and that is an understatement.
Everything that should have fit DIDN'T and it seemed like even if we took a bolt off, it wouldn't fit back on in the same hole! From brake lines not fitting to the engine plate not allowing the Moroso oil pan to clear the drag link, to the headers being a NIGHTMARE (more on those later) to the transmission cross member not being at the right angle, etc, etc. Nothing seemed to bolt up.
My son and occasional driver of the Project 4-link dragster, Andy, and I worked every evening for three weeks to get the Vega race ready. Thank goodness he works for a great tool and die shop where he could fabricate the pieces we needed. One lesson learned here is that no matter whether the car you bought used to be a race car or not, once you take it apart you're in for a lot of fabrication work to get it back together the way you want it.
Just a quick story on the headers. The headers came with the car when we bought
it and are home-made but looked like they could
do the job. I noticed they had a bolt pattern
that requires the use of adapters. So I pulled
out the Moroso catalog and sure enough they
make them. All you have to do is port match
them to the heads and bolt them on, right? We
did all that, but then when we put them on the
heads and got ready to put the headers and gaskets
on. . .SURPRISE! The adapters had different
bolt pattern than the headers did! WHAT? Nobody
mentioned there were two different styles of
header patterns! They were close but a quarter-inch
|Header problems. This
is the right side and they fit pretty good.
||The left side is a different
story. See that bend around the master cylinder?
We decided to raise the master cylinder
3/4" rather that beat the headers flat.
It was midnight and we wanted the Vega ready
to race for the weekend so Andy headed for the
machine shop where he works (Progressive Tool
Co. in Waterloo, IA) and carved out a set of
3/8" plates that would bolt to the Dart heads
(normal small block Chevy pattern) and milled
out the ports based on what he had done to the
first set. He got done at 1:30 AM and we thought
it would be an easy project for the next day,
Saturday. WRONG-O again. It took about four
hours to get the adapters marked accurately
by holding the headers in place and using a
centering punch. Then we had to drill and tap
14 holes. They are on, but we must have about
25 hours of time in getting them there! Typical
racer story right? Been there, done that!