Tech Stuff

Project S-10 – Final Tech for DRO

Words and photos by Jok Nicholson

Just writing that headline makes me sad and happy all at once…


Hello everyone and thank you so much for choosing to read my last tech column for the longest running online drag racing magazine, DragRacingOnline.com.

I have been writing both technical and editorial columns for Jeff and Kay Burk since sometime in 1998, I think. I sure don’t remember that far back but it is a pretty good guess.


If I recall correctly, I think my first tech column was on the new MSD Digital 7 ignition. Working with Joe Pando at MSD I got one of the first Digital 7 ignitions. It ended up we found an engineering flaw that would cause the car to not restart if it ran for more than 12-15 minutes continuous. Ended up Joe caught the flaw in time to prevent a lot of them hitting the warehouses. Over the years we have done a lot of “trial runs on parts” for manufacturers like Moroso, Hoosier, MSD, TCI, Indy Cylinder Head, Aeromotive and many other great companies.


To that end, I am proud my last “project” is associated with S&W Race Cars, QA1, Quick Performance, Schaeffer Oil, Performance Bodies, BTE, and Roeder Performance and Machine in Nashua, IA.


The “Project S-10” will not be complete before DRO goes offline but I will probably finish it on S&W Race Cars website and Facebook page. I have a lot of confidence that we have built one of the best race cars I have owned. It has the basics in the chassis that will be reliable and adjustable, the driveline components are far stronger than the engine power we fill send to those components. The engine will be a pretty basic conventional small block Chevy until we get some more time to get an LS engine in it.


I am pleased where I left off with the body prep and especially the overall “sheet-metal fit” considering everything but doors on the cab are aftermarket sheet metal.


The roll cage and chassis are pretty finished and waiting for engine/trans and being put on scales to get the corner weights where we want them.

I had just started getting a dash built, wheel tubs installed and some finish work. Here is my last tech installment for DRO….


After getting some paint on the roll cage to keep it from rusting I started on getting an aluminum dash fitted. I am not a detail-type guy and I knew getting this dash to fit and look like I envisioned it would be harder than it looks. I started with a universal dash from JEGS along with one of their steel wheel tub kits. I will cover the dash first and I should have taken more pictures, but I didn’t.


The first thing I did was figure out how and to what I could attach the dash once the stock dash was in the trash bin. The windshield was out (I highly recommend you have the windshield removed to do this as I am not sure it is possible with the windshield in the vehicle). I used one of the longer “grille shipping boxes” to make a template that matched the curve of the windshield where the top of the dash would sit. There is a nice wide flange running along the inside edge where windshield fits, so we had a nice mounting surface for the aluminum dash.


This is the final cardboard template I used to get a perfect fit to the curve along the base of the windshield where we will mount the aluminum dash panel.


The “trick”, so to speak, was getting the template cut with the right curve and then trying to figure out how to trim that piece so it would fit around the front tubes of the roll cage and not look crappy. My guess is I had about two hours doing the cardboard template. The next part made me nervous, as I had to lay the template on the new aluminum dash, mark it and then get the tin snips out and make the first cuts to my $99 piece of aluminum. I started out trimming it on the “larger” side of the markings. If you have already painted the roll cage like I did you will find the “fitting of the dash” could rub about all the paint off the roll bar where it meets the dash. I put three layers of blue masking tape around an 8” area of those roll bar tubes because I could tell the final fitting was going to take a lot of “in and outs”.

It probably took 15-20 “ins and outs” with the dash panel to get the best fit I could around the two roll bar tubes.

Final fitting, just like we wanted it. The tape you see is holding up bottom of dash so it is level and we make a couple 1/8” thick aluminum support straps that go from bottom and behind the dash to the “dash bar” tube on the roll cage.

In this photo you can see the Cleco spring-loaded fasteners we used to hold dash in place. If you are going to do aluminum panels you owe it to yourself to get some of these. Performance Bodies has a kit available for only $25. Huge timesavers for sure.


I think the final trimming was done in about two hours and I used some Cleco fasteners to hold the dash in place before the final rivets were installed. I still had to mount the bottom of the dash to the “dash bar” of the roll cage and cut the hole for the RPM Engineering Digital Dash.

How is this for a hi-tech template for the RPM Engineering dash display? Doesn’t have to be fancy, just workable.


One note about the RPM Engineering date/dash display unit. It requires the use of the RPM Engineering Date Logger. We had the basic Sportsman model in the dragster and didn’t use it anymore so it became part of the “tools” we will use to make the S-10 as consistent as we can.


The RPM Engineering Digital Data display requires an almost square hole so that was a little challenging for my basic tool kit. Started with an 1-5/8” hole saw and worked my way around, little at time, until the RPM Engineering dash fit through the aluminum. Forgot something…I wanted to make sure I could actually read the dash when seated in the car, so I had to decide on a steering wheel, get it mounted and make sure the dash cleared the stock steering column. Originally, we were going to make our own tubular steering column but then the thought of $200-$250 to hold up the steering wheel compared to using the OEM column was an easy “budget decision”.

Steering column trial fit. We got lucky and only had to raise dash about ¼”.


Vehicle weight is not a primary concern for this race truck; turning on win lights is the goal, not how fast it is. Sometimes it is hard to keep that in mind when building on a budget. Make lists, price it out and try to make sure you can afford to finish the project so you can go use it. There are thousands of unfinished race cars in garages. Started out pretty simple then the owner got hung up on having all the “trick stuff” and ran out of money (and probably spousal support) before it was done.


Once I was satisfied with the fit of the dash and the fit of the RPM Engineering Data display, I finished the installation by riveting the dash panel in place with 3/16” rivets that flare out on the bottom side to grip better. The lower section of the dash was attached with four strips of aluminum that rivet to the S&W dash bar that is behind the dash panel. I thought about painting the aluminum and then I remembered I had used some thin and inexpensive auto carpet on the dash on the Olds Cutlass. I ran to Walmart and got a roll of it, glued it on with some spray trim adhesive and the dash was done.

I wanted a non-glare dash for those sunny race days and for the tracks that have a lot of bright starting line lights. About $10 at Wal-mart and I had a roll of “automotive speaker carpet” that is easy to cut with scissors, about a quarter can of spray trim adhesive and I had a non-glare dash. The carpet also acted a trim filler around the roll to dash area. Looks great for cheap!

First fitting of the column to see if we had clearance with the dash. Only had to raise dash about ¼” and definitely decided the OEM steering wheel had to go to the scrap pile.

RPM Engineering’s newest Digital dash/data logger display. Priced under $600.00 I think it will be “one of those things” that will make this truck a lot better in the future.

RPM Engineering display mounted so we can have a clear view of it at all times.


Next up was the master cylinder and getting the correct one for the new brake system. A call to Baer Brakes informed me that I needed a 15/16” master cylinder bore. I looked up kits for S-10s and when I contacted David.schultz@MalibuBrakes.com he flat-out filled me in on more stuff about brakes than I could imagine. Needless to say, I gave him a try. The kit arrived and was an absolute bolt-in kit and he included a 15/16” master cylinder at no extra charge. Next up will be brake lines and a line-lock.

Mailbu Brakes master cylinder and adapter bolted up perfect and all the fasteners came with kit. We mounted the Moroso line lock using Performance Bodies pre-made steel braid Teflon-lined #3 brake hose.

When mounting steel brake lines we suggest using the rubber insulated steel “P-clips”. Easy to use and easy to keep the steel brake lines from rubbing against the frame or other components.

JEGS wheel tubs. They come shipped in a flat box and have a special interlocking seam when you start to assemble them. I will tell you this: The second one goes together easier and looks a lot better once you get some “experience” tapping the sheet metal over the seam the right way.

Possibly my last tech photo after over 22 years on DRO: Trial fitting the fuel cell, the fuel pump and one of the batteries. We will likely run two batteries as well as an onboard air compressor. The Harwood fuel cell will be kept full of methanol that will be sent to the George Rupert 850 alky carb at 9-lbs of pressure by the Aeromotive pump.


That just about finishes “Project S-10” for my run on DRO. Watch the S&W Race Cars website and Facebook page for the final details.


Thanks to all of you who have read and enjoyed the tech series articles. From my 1967 Dodge Dart “Attitude Adjustment” that started it all in 1998 to the most-read-about longest running tech series “Project 4-Link” that started as a pile of pipe in 2001 and ended up winning a IHRA points meet first time out and an IHRA national event a couple years later. I still have the same chassis and body and it has won more races that any car I have ever owned. Then we built a ’72 Vega that was called “Back-2-Basics” and it was a fun car but couldn’t get it to work like we wanted.


Then we took Nick Jeffery’s Olds Cutlass and did everything from wiring to suspension to an all-Olds small block that ran 9.70s at 3250 lbs and won a bunch of races and a track championship. The last project was “Project 10-The Hard Way” Firebird. Complete S&W roll cage, rear suspension and QA1 front suspension and rear coil-overs. Very good car that we ended up selling to the founder of Red Line Oil in California for his grandson to begin his racing full size cars in.


My son Andy and I shared the “Project 4-Link” the last few years and it just seemed like I needed one more race car before officially retiring, the S10 seemed to be the right choice. Time will tell!


See you at the stripe....



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