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A Need for Speed
by Peggy Helmick-Richardson
A popular American pastime, organized drag races were first held in the deserts of California in the 1930s. The first drag strip, Santa Ana Drags, opened in Southern California in 1950 and the following year, the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was established. In 1953, the NHRA officiated its first race at the Los Angeles County Fairgrounds. Two years later, the organization hosted its first national competition in Kansas.
Today, the NHRA boasts 80,000 members, 140 member tracks, and 35,000 licensed competitors in the United States. The largest motorsports sanctioning organization, it hosts over 5,000 member-track events annually.
The standard distance for drag racing is the quarter-mile or the eighth-mile, with tournament eliminations between two drivers at a time. Today, speeds on the track have been clocked over 300 miles per hour.
According to the NHRA, there are 200 classes of autos that compete at the organizationís sanctioned events. These are combined into 12 categories based on such issues as the type of vehicle, engine size, weight of the vehicle, and permitted modifications.
Top Fuel, Pro Stock, Funny Car, and Pro Stock Motorcycle are the four Professional categories. The remaining categories are Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Super Comp, Super Gas, Super Street, Comp, Super Stock and Stock.
Russ Teager of Allen has been involved in drag racing since he was a teenager growing up in California. "My dad was kind of into cars when he was in high school," Russ notes, adding that his fatherís teenage auto interest included a brief foray into drag racing.
"I have always had a love for cars," he continues. "When I was old enough to drive, I started tearing cars apart to make them go faster." Paying for this hobby required that he have part-time jobs, and while in high school he worked at an automotive speed shop, automotive repair facility, and a gas station.
His first vehicle was a 1955 Chevy pickup truck, acquired at the age of 17. "I spent my whole paycheck to keep the thing on the road," Russ grins. "On the strip, it would run a 15-second quarter mile. Thatís like 95 miles per hour, and for a starter vehicle, that was pretty quick."
Three years later, Russ acquired a 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner, which he describes as a "fast street car." He admits to participating in some illegal street racing with the Roadrunner, and then emphatically declares, "which I donít condone!" He explains that because the nearest racetrack was over 60 miles from his home, "it was easier to go behind the grocery store. After racking up a number of speeding tickets, Russ opted to keep his racing strictly to the track.
Russ explains that his early competitions were "Bracket Races," which he describes as "a form of handicapped racing to even up the field. A slower car gets to leave [the starting line] first and the second car has to chase him down." The thrill of speed and the lack of spectators at the Bracket Races lured him into moving ahead to create and race faster cars. "The type of racing I do now is Heads Up" racing," he notes. "Everybody leaves at the same time and whoever has the faster time is going to win." He adds, "They are also a less expensive car compared to some of the pro cars you see out there."
Five years later, Russ moved up to a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, the first vehicle he raced in the "Heads Up" category. "That car was considerably faster; it would run 9.8 in the quarter mile, or 147 miles per hour," he notes. "Nothing was stock from the factory. It had a modified motor and suspension, and I had a supercharger on it. There were a ton of aftermarket components." This effort gave the street legal Firebird 750 horsepower. "I had that car eight years, with a lot of motors, a lot of trannies (transmissions), and a lot of tires," he laughs.
It was during this period that Russ opted to relocate from Colorado to North Texas in order to be closer to his parents and sister. Initially moving to Princeton, he chose to settle in Allen six years ago. When he first came to Collin County he opened Office Furniture Concepts in McKinney, which he sold in 2001. Earlier jobs include assembling 747 jumbo jets for Boeing, building armed forces communication shelters for Litton Data Systems, and owning an office furniture and cubicle installation business. When he moved to Allen, he opened Office Furniture Concepts in McKinney, which he sold in 2001. He currently is a sales manager for Total Air & Heat in Plano.
Russí current car, purchased through e-bay four years ago, is a two-door 1974 Chevy Nova. "[The previous owners] had already started with the anticipation of turning it into a drag car and I just finished it up," he explains. "They had put some of the roll bar in and cut a lot of the floor pans out. And they had narrowed the rear end. But that was pretty much it. It was drivable when I got it, but it was not anywhere near ready for racing."
A number of modifications were still required on the Nova to meet NHRA sanction rules. "When I got it, I changed the motor, trannie, and the rear end," Russ continues. "I put new wheels and tires on it. I also did the electrical and interioróaluminum dash, floor pans and door panels, and the racing seat."
Because of alterations to the design and the addition of the roll cage, the standard steering wheel was replaced with one that detaches. This permits easier access for the driver to get in and out of the car.
Also added to the Nova engine compartment was a Wilson Nitrous Pro nitrous oxide canister (NOS) to increase horsepower. Ross explains, "It adds 500 to 600 horsepower to mine. You can adjust the amount of nitrous you add. It depends on what the car will handle."
Along with the more standard tachometer and water temperature and oil pressure gauges, other required dash panel gauges tell nitrous pressure, vacuum, and exhaust temperature. Of the latter, Russ comments, "This is so we know how much nitrous and how much fuel we can put in the motor." The switch for the nitrous canister is also located on the dash panel.
Another addition is an on-board computer that controls the amount of timing of the spark to the motor, which provides additional horsepower.
Along with those amenities to increase power and speed, safety equipment also takes a priority. Russ installed a fire extinguishing system that douses fires both under the hood and inside the car. "It is a halon system that works by taking oxygen out of the air, thus the fire cannot burn," he explains. As an added precaution, he also wears a fire retardant suit with a full-face helmet when driving at the track.
For most drag racing aficionados, the primary question often is "Whatís under the hood?"
Russí Nova has a 462 cubic inch big block Chevrolet engine that he notes has been printed and balanced. He explains that this process eliminates vibration in the motor, thus adding additional horsepower. It also has an Eagle rotating assembly, 13 to 1 Ross pistons, Comp Cams roller cams, AFR aluminum head, 2 1/2 inch Hooker Super Comp headers, 1050 CFM Dominator carburetor, Eldebrock manifold intake, and an MSD ignition system. The ATI 2-speed power glide transmission has a 3500 A-1 Stall converter and Hipster Trans break.
Moving to the back of the Nova, youíll find a 9-inch Ford rear end with a 4.56 gear ratio. It has 40-spline Mosier axles, which Russ states is about twice the size of a stock axle, and 17-inch wide slick tires "stuffed up underneath the car" to provide better traction.
The body has a 4-inch fiberglass cowl hood with a 12-inch Ed Quay wing on the back to create more downforce. Also in the back is a Simpson parachute. Regular bumpers have been replaced with fiberglass ones to eliminate excess weight. And 70-inch wheelie bars prevent the car from going on the rear bumper. "If it didnít have these," Russ explains, "the car would go straight up."
The only stock body parts remaining are the body panels and doors. With the standard interior and some of the glass removed, along with the fiberglass replacements, to make up for the increased weight of the heavier racing components, Russ estimates that the car was transformed from its factory weight of about 3,500 pounds to 3,000 pounds.
For those drawn to the aesthetics of drag cars, the Novaís burgundy paint job with true fire airbrush artwork on the front fenders and hood was created by Paul Burdick of Fairview. Draglist.com photographer Gena White describes Russí Fired Up Nova as "one of the best looking Super Pro cars in America." Proud of his carís look, Russ laments some of the cosmetic damage to the hood and fender as a result of recent mishaps on the track.
Russ notes that this type of race vehicle is classified in the drag race world as a Backhalf car in the NHRA Super Gas category. What he has is a non-street legal car modified to run 5.5 seconds in the eighth mile or 8.6 seconds in the quarter mile.
Although Russ has spent approximately $50,000 to get his Nova in racing condition, he admits, "You never get out of them what you put into them. It might be worth $15,000 to $20,000 now."
Living in North Texas, Russ has several options for racing. Although he competes in "Heads Up" races mostly at Texas Raceway in Kennedale, his favorite drag strip is Redline Raceway in Caddo Mills, preferred because it is closest to home. He also races at Northstar Dragway in Denton and Red River Raceway in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Russ a member of dragstrip groups Texas Backhalf Outlaws and 9" Madness. Participating in the latter groupís competitions requires that he replace his regular 17-inch slicks with 9-inch slicks
For non-professional drag racers, competing can get a bit pricey. "Every time we take the car out, it costs us $175 to $250 for the fuel, nitrous and entry fees." The fuel used in his Fired Up Nova is 116-octane race fuel made by VP Racing Fuels that ran about $10 a gallon in July. He averages about five gallons a fuel each race night, driving from one to one-and-and-half miles total.
Purses in the Heads Up category races can be as high as $5,000 for the winners. Last year, Russ recalls taking three 10th places, one 5th and one 4th place at the Kennedale track and two runner-ups and two 4th places at Redline Raceway. He adds, "If it comes home on the trailer in one piece, youíve won. Those things are so unpredictable."
He does note that racers who show up and complete at least one run, whether they win or not, receive their $75 entry fee. Russ shakes his head, adding, "Last year at one race, we didnít get the entry fee because the motor blew up."
"Weíve never really won," he shrugs, "but some of these cars have $100,000 in them and it is hard to compete against that. But we get luck every now and then."
Russ considers every competition a major race. "You hang everything out there on the line," he emphasizes. "You are taking a chance. You take every one of them seriously because of what is at stake. You can hurt or kill yourself or someone else." His biggest close call came last year at a heads-up race. "I had a í55 Chevy cut in front of me and hit the wall," Russ explains, shaking his head. "He almost took me out." Luckily the only injury sustained was minor body damage to the body of the car.
His own most recent catastrophe came this summer when his transmission blew. "It pretty much disintegrated," he sighs. And last year, he lost both a transmission and a motor within a month of each other. "Except for last year, on average we will spend $10-15,000 a year to keep one of these things on the track."
"I have sponsors to help out with this, so that makes it nice," he points out. His current sponsors are Keith Craft Motorsports in Plano, Scottís Tire in Garland, and Total Air & Heat in Plano.
Russ also relies on Ric Hilson, his crew chief, and Rob Camp, who helps him fine tune the car. In order to work on his Nova year round, Russ had heat and air conditioning added to his garage.
Having recently repaired the damage from the disintegrating transmission, Russ is already making plans for additional amendments to further increase the carís speed. He is currently building a 505 cubic inch big block Chevy engine. "This should make it around 900 horsepower," he declares. "Then I want to put more nitrous to it. I would like to get the car down to the low 5-second range. Right now we are running a 5.5-second range."
Russí love for racing has proved to be contagious. "My fiancťe April Davis wants to drive. She drove a NASCAR here two weeks ago. I call her my little Mario Andretti."
He has no compunction about letting April race his Nova, explaining that all she needs is a little "seat time," so she can practice enough to get a good feel for the car. "Iíll let her drive with no nitrous, then add a little nitrous to see if she can handle it." He explains that NHRA does require racers to have a competition license. This entails passing a physical and written test as well as demonstrating proficiency through five test runs. In addition, NHRA requires certification of the car as well.
Russ supports the cautious approach NHRA takes. "It is dangerous," he stresses. "Imagine hitting a wall going 140 miles per hour. It has my undivided attention when Iím in the car. And five seconds isnít a lot of time to react."
Most of the accidents he has witnessed on the track he attributes to "dumb luck, inexperience or lack of preventative maintenance." He continues, "If you lose respect for these cars, you are done." Although he has never had an accident on the track, he does admit to having a couple of close calls. "I have a video to remind me of it too," he grimaces.
When not racing or working on his Fired Up Nova, Russ enjoys bowling, golfing and riding his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He has two daughters, 19-year-old Kayla Graham of Wylie, and 10-year-old Morgan Teager of Allen.
Drag racing is "more self-indulgence than anything else," Russ confesses. "It is a need for speed."
To learn more about Russ and his Fired Up Nova, go to his web site: www.firedupnova.com