TAKIN’ THEIR CHEVIES TO THE MAX

Las Vegas Motor Speedway, 2013: Blane Thomas executes a burn out in preparation for updating his NHRA Competition driver’s license at his home track in Las Vegas. Two weeks prior to this action, Blane’s dad Clarence ‘Tom’ Thomas drove the same Chevrolet Cavalier B/Altered Automatic and qualified for Competition Eliminator at the NHRA Summit Nationals! (Photo by Tim Marshall)

Back in the ‘60s, when Las Vegas’ drag strip action was owned and operated by the historic Stardust Hotel & Casino, a 1956 Chevrolet gasser with a Las Vegas name, Bac-a-Rat was normal fare at the track. The popular car came from the home garage of a Chevrolet Factory technician at Fletcher Jones Chevrolet, Clarence Thomas.

Fast forward to 1972 and the Pro Stock scene to which Bill Jenkins had just introduced the Chevy Vega. They were much smaller than Camaros and Novas which housed the 427 ‘porcupine’ motors. Jenkins worked with NHRA to allow the Vega with a Chevrolet small block engine and a weight break of 6.5 lbs. per inch.

Irwindale Raceway, 1972: Clarence Thomas lifts the front wheels during a qualifying run at the original Irwindale quarter mile. The small block propelled Vega from the Chevy Shop in Las Vegas used a Muncie ‘rock crusher’ 4 speed gear box and was known throughout the west as the Bak a Rat Vega!  (Photo by Dave Kommel)

One of the original ‘west coast’ Vega cars was a ‘hugger orange’ hatch back from Las Vegas with the name Bac-a-Rat!

1972 was a big year for the Thomas family, as Clarence quit his mechanic job and opened ‘The Chevy Shop’ at its long tenured location on Westwood Drive, behind the brand new Circus Circus Hotel., The street became known as ‘Gas Alley’ to local enthusiasts. Wild burn outs and roaring engines were normal fare on Westwood Dr. But no one cared back then, as Vegas was a smaller town, with the ‘strip’ gambling corridor on one side and the Union Pacific Railway on the other.

While their Vega Pro Stock ran well and was a local hit in Las Vegas, everyone running Pro Stock is ‘under the gun’ to improve their ‘ride’. This is when Clarence thought ‘outside’ the box and had Willie Rells Race Cars in San Diego construct an even smaller Chevrolet Chevette as a contender in ’77.