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2003 - Not How We Planned It)
01 started off with high expectations. The car was finally done
and ready for its maiden fire-up. The plan was to get the fuel
system close, check for leaks and put her in the box for the
weekend. Wrong! At the foot of John's driveway a very bad thing
happened. After the first fire-up that produced a high idle,
the car was shut off, adjusted, backed off and then refired -
not! As soon as John hit the mag switch there was a huge "boom"
and the street was littered with scrap metal and block fill!
Seems the block was not magnafluxed or ultrasounded before the
machine work was done and the autopsy revealed that there were
minute cracks in the # 2 and # 4 cylinder walls. Nitro got in
them after the first fire up and when they got spark on the second
- done deal.
Needless to say
it was a very big let down, especially after all the hard work
it took to get the car done for the CHRR. With no spare parts
whatsoever it looked like our weekend was trashed. I was driving
down from Oregon and crossing the Siskiyous when I got the news
and almost drove off the road. Like the others I was shocked
and really bummed! I thought for awhile and called John back
and told him to put it in the box and come to Bakersfield - we'd
figure out something.
fire up was fat and fast idle.
After the boom John gets out
and looks down at the damage. Pieces hit Crew Chief, Ronnie Rapp
in the food and cut Alex Mikkelsen's legs.
The explosion was so violent
it pushed the upper frame rail out 4" at the motor mount
and put dents and a hole in the freshly painted body panel. Ouch!
Out of the box on Thursday
to Friday morning. We had stopped licking our wounds and got
into drag racer mode. We spent all day Thursday looking for a
392 fuel short block to borrow or buy with no success. Late Thursday
we finally got lucky when Don Green (Rat Trap) offered his spare
Donovan long block. Although it was not period correct, it was
the only option we had. And so "The Great Cacklefest Thrash
of 2003" began.
The body was stripped and the
car was ready to go on the stands for the swap.
Getting the dead 392
out was no problem.
Again - 1000 words ......
Once the 392 was out all the
parts were laid out to go on the Donovan. Ya gotta love our huge
hi-tech work bench. It was suppose to be our picnic table!
After pulling the long block
out of Green's truck we started figuring out what we needed to
make it work in our car. A car that was built in 1968 and NOT
designed for a Donovan. As it turned out, there were a lot of
parts we needed to make this deal work!
and Don Green put our degree wheel on the engine.
By Friday afternoon,
after finding and changing the stepped bellhousing studs we needed
(thanks to Jon Halstead) we were ready to drop the Donovan in
and see what we were facing to make it fit.
There were three
major problems. One, the ribs on the Donovan wouldn't allow it
to sit properly in the frame rails. Two, the oil pan was to deep
and three, the oil filer assembly wouldn't fit at all.
As day turned
to night we'd spent most of the afternoon scrounging parts. I
can't even remember all the little stuff we needed like lash
caps (thanks Gene Amaya), a brass oil pump drive (thanks Don
McManus), a line up shaft (thanks WW2 Racing), assorted nuts,
bolts and aluminum grinder (thanks Jack Harris), 1/2" pitch
blower belt (thanks Dennis Fenstermaker & Brendan Murry),
oil (thanks Frank Genco), generator & compressor (thanks
Dennis Prater) and the biggie - special thanks to Darrell Tedford
(Tedford & McGee) for bringing this from home -- the only
shallow oil pan that would work on the car! That's what brought
it together. And then there was Tom Hanna's crew that cut the
baffles out to make clearance for the 5/8" stroker. This
was definitely a group effort!
After we got
the pan, the oil pump had to be changed (out of our old engine)
and gaskets had to be made. Chuck Goebel is just one of the racers
who stepped in to help over the ordeal.
The biggest task
by far was grinding the ribs on the block to fit in the chassis.
Bob Damly and Rick Kepler did all the grinding with a hand grinder
and small compressor -- it was a laborious job that took about
As the block was prepped, everybody
else made sure the other parts we needed were ready. Bob Danly and John Jennings
made the on-site custom parts needed for the engine to finally
By 10 PM we were ready
to drop it in again.
After all the alterations it was a perfect fit.
Ronnie Rapp and
Bruce Dyda install the clutch - she's almost done. We then installed
the bellhousing, steering and linkage and called it a night.
Finally - the Donovan
is in place waiting for plugs and fuel.
Saturday morning we put the top
end on and by 10 AM were ready for another first fire-up.
sigh of relief and high fives followed as oil pressure came up
and the engine fired. It was fat but that could be fixed....and
we had some oil leaks and those were also fixed.
Putting the cowl on was
the last step before the second fire-up.
After a major
change in the fuel system we were ready to try her again. This
time we gave the seat honors to Lynn Kane who, back in April
of 2003, was the first fan to step up and offer parts for the
restoration. His help has been overwhelming and nobody deserved
the second fire-up than him.
Alex raps the throttle
as Lynn enjoys the moment.
I told him he'd need ear plugs!
After the fuel system fix this baby was pounding the ground.
Lynn described the experience
as a "life highlight". We're sure glad we could give
it to him.
Our next step
was to get everyone in sync for the Cacklefest push start. John
hadn't push started a car since the 1970 March Meet and it had
been 33 years (1975) since I was push started. In spite of suffering
from a gallbladder attack that had plagued me since the previous
Thursday, I was strapped in the old girl for the first time since
1971... and I was in heaven.
Once we made the turn onto the
strip it was 1971 again. It was magic - like we were all young
again and this was something we did every weekend. John did perfect
and the car fired right up. What a friggin' thrill! Needless
to say, everyone who had busted their butts the past two days
were ecstatic. We'd pulled off the improbable, if not the impossible.
Getting lots of looks was John's
'58 Chevy built by John Jennings at Outlaw Products...and it
had the trickest push bar ever.
After the car fired I took it
past the lights and stopped so Ronnie could give the engine a
once over. She was clean and dry.
Back to the pits
We were ready for
On Sunday morning
we got a very unexpected surprise - a shock actually - icing
on the cake. At 10:30 we were informed that they needed the car,
push car and crew on the starting line in 20 minutes. Seems the
staff had unanimously voted us the car that best represented
the era and the overall spirit of Cacklefest.
Dave McClelland interviews John Ewald about
the car - its history/restoration and what we had to go through
to make the call for Cacklefest.
crew Alex Mikkelsen, Ronnie Rapp, John Ewald and Don Ewald.
John, Gregg Sharp
and the dumb driver (ask any owner, all drivers are dumb! LOL).
More of the gang:
Alex Mikkelsen, Rick Kepler, Bruce Dyda (who did the restoration)
Ronnie Rapp (Crew Chief), Greg Sharp, John & Don Ewald.
does an interview for 1010TV
Back in the pits
we had to share the award with the guys who made it possible
- Don Green and Ron Hope.
The rest of our day was spent
taking Don's engine back out and putting our dead player back
in. Was it worth it? One and all say "ABSOLUTELY"!
This was not something any of us want to go through again (and
we won't) but what a great story for a bunch of old dogs who
though their thrashing days were long over. Next time we'll be
more than ready and are looking forward to many more CHRRs to
Again - many thanks to
EVERYONE who made this happen.
Update time for
the "rebuilding of the rebuilt BankAmericar". Bruce
Dyda has repaired the frame rail and engine mounts (which had
been pushed out 4 inches), and he kept the fix behind the body
panel so it will never show. He is good at what he does! He also
redid the brake system and the clutch... figured we didn't need
the counter weights and all those springs... Don's leg was getting
a bit tired in the Cacklefest until Ronnie got the clutch pin
in. Thanks to Weber/McLeod clutches for doing the final balance.
We now have a good block to work with thanks to Dennis Fenstermaker
and Ken Rappaport of Race Car Research. Henry Velasco straightened
the crank, Jerry Sweeney at Brooks Rods fixed the one hurt rod
and Arias knocked out a new piston. Gene Mooneyham checked the
blower and confirmed it was not hurt. Our best fan Lynn Kane
came up with a NOS set of gaskets for everything... don't know
where the hell he finds all this stuff! But I sure am glad he
does. In this first shot is the repaired rails. JE
Being the owner
of a top fuel car has it's drawbacks... like having to deal with
a crew chief by the name of "Sir Ronnie" Rapp. He has
this very weird way of making me greet him...
For those of
you that think Ronnie is just a grump with no since of humor...you
haven't spent time with him. He even cracks himself up working
on the injectors.
Forgot to mention
above... the heads were fixed and made all better by Larry Ofrea
at Valley Head Service. Glad Ronnie doesn't mind that drive to
his shop from Orange County... took him about 3 hours each way
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