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" Mopar-powered dragster.

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 off.
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!

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