A blast from the drag-racing past

by Larry D'Argis . Oct 06 2017
PHOTOS BY LARRY D’ARGIS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESSLarry Arnold of St. Andrews with his 1923 Ford T Fuel Altered nostalgia drag car.


Larry Arnold of St. Andrews with his 1923 Ford T Fuel Altered nostalgia drag car.

Automotive trends often can be fleeting: here today and gone as fast as the 8-track tape player of yesterday. Over the past several years, however, one form of racing has made a comeback, and in a big way. Nostalgia drag racing captures a time before the use of nitrous oxide and delay boxes.

Long looked at as being the heart of drag racing, many of these cars faded from the tracks in the early 1970s and went on to be show cars, simply stored away, or even converted for street use. With several events being held throughout North America, the focus today is on having a good time while still meeting the track sanctioning bodies current safety requirements.

Larry Arnold of St. Andrews’ racing days go back to his running a stock car at Brooklands Speedway. In 1991 a venue change took him to Gimli, drag racing a Kawasaki motorcycle and even taking the championship in 1993 and ’94. The following year he earned his competition driver’s licenCe running an Austin Bantam Altered, then moving on to a 217-inch wheelbase rear-engine dragster he purchased from Wally Dyck.

Arnold parked the dragster to raise a family, then saw his daughters Breanna and Michelle take up racing junior dragsters under the watchful eye of his wife and crew chief Arlene. He’d return in 2011 to the track running a 1981 Ford Granada in the Heavy Street class.

“Up until then I had never raced a door car,” Arnold says. The sedate grocery-getter proved to be the ultimate championship winning sleeper. Arnold later swapped the drivetrain into a purpose-built 1980 Mustang and after a year, he got the bug to build an “altered” for nostalgia racing.

“A 10- or 12-second gasser wasn’t going to be enough for me,” Arnold says. “I’ve always liked the awful altered. I wanted to build a nine-second fuel altered; they’re just plain fun, unpredictable, you hit the gas and never know what they’re going to do.”

Sitting under a fiberglass 1923 Ford T body replica is a custom-built 106-inch wheelbase frame and roll cage. Arnold added four-inch drop tube front axle and the used steering box from a Scott McVey funny car. In back, Paul Pelissier at Pro Gear, narrowed a nine-inch Ford rear axle housing to accept a Strange aluminum centre section, with a spool turning 3.70:1 gears and Strange axles.

The rear suspension consists of adjustable ladder bars, coil over shocks, Aerospace Components 4-piston disc brakes and wheelie bars. It all sits on a set of reproduction American Racing Torq Thrust 5-spoke wheels. There is M/T 25 x 4.5 x 15-inch ride up front, while the rear M/T 29.5 x 11.5 x 15 ET Drag slicks hook it all to the track. It’s finished in several coats of Orange Crush pearl by Gord Compton at CY Truck Centre. Bowing to tradition, most cars of the era wore the name or names of the builder or race team and some were just a play on words. Arnold’s altered is complemented by the gold leaf “Sheets & Giggles” name applied by Ian Kroeker at Von Knobb Kustom Paint.

Motivation is based on a small-block Chevrolet V-8 engine block built by Brazier Race and Machine. The only GM part on the car, the block is filled. The block filler dampens unwanted vibrations and harmonics and helps prevent a thin cylinder wall from cracking. It is also said to improve ring seal by keeping the cylinders round. The reciprocating assembly consists of a forged steel crankshaft, moly rods and custom-made CP pistons.

Straub Technologies supplied the custom-ground roller camshaft and the engine is topped off with Brodix 10X aluminum cylinder heads, T&D Machine shaft-mounted roller rocker arms, GM 6-71 Supercharger and Enderle Bug Catcher fuel injection. A Mallory Super Mag III magneto lights off the alcohol-injected engine and the exhaust exits via a Speedway Motors-supplied set of modified sprint-car headers.

The engine is backed by a TCS torque converter and race-prepped, Powerglide two-speed transmission with Biondo Racing shifter.

The driver’s cockpit is all business, with racing seat and harnesses, on-board fire extinguisher, DJ safety parachute, AutoMeter tachometer and gauges to monitor engine functions. There is also a set of required headlamps, as some nostalgia tracks feature night racing.

The Ford altered made its debut this summer at Interlake Dragway at Gimli Motorsports Park for several test and tune runs. The first major race outing was in July at the 8th Annual Meltdown Drags in Byron, Ill., where the car was well-received and attracted a fair bit of exposure. Arnold says, “Building it, I wanted to capture the look and feel of what a fuel altered would be like in the ’60s.”

Running the quarter-mile with an elapsed time of 8.50 seconds at more than 160 miles an hour, I’d say, “Mission accomplished, Mr. Arnold.”

For those looking to join the fray, building a gasser or fuel altered can be done on a relatively affordable racing budget. There are more than a dozen nostalgia race events to compete in. Locally you can check out Manitoba Gasser Association (MAN GAS) on Facebook for more information. A salute to the past when running your own home-built gasser or altered racer was as easy as throwing in with a friend or two. The hardest choice would be deciding on a name that doesn’t sound like a law firm or a cough drop company.

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Cruiser note: The final Sunday Night Cruise at the Grant Park Pony Corral takes place Sunday, beginning at 3 p.m. Stop by with your classic or special interest vehicle for a chance to win a variety of great prizes.