Of course, that stock frame is only a starting point--how reconfigured is it? Mcclenon wanted the front and rear suspensions to share a pickup point, making for an extremely stable platform, so he cut off the back of the frame, raised it, and moved in the rails to accommodate king-sized rubber in the back. Nothing hangs below the framerails, so the floor was moved up and the body channeled over the framerails.
One amazing feature, visible in the pictures, is the spine built to tie the front and back of the car together. "It's got the stiffness of a Cup car," Mcclenon says, but with room for two passengers.
If that's not enough, the firewall and engine were moved back a full 12 inches, giving the Chevelle from Hell a near-perfect 49/51 weight distribution--it might as well be a mid-engine car. Mcclenon's vision was to create a vintage road race stock car, using the late great Smokey Yunick as an inspiration. He's 100 percent pleased with every aspect of it--except that it didn't have enough oil cooler, which we'll read about later.
"Everything that I knew or could think of, I threw at it," Mcclenon said. The extra-stout rollcage was built to be death-proof, since Mcclenon's younger brother was the driver at one point. I may not be related, but I appreciate the sentiment, to be sure. The only qualm I had was during tech inspection, when I was instructed to put a piece of tape on the back of my helmet with my name and blood type written on it. Necessary, yes, but not the type of thing a guy likes to think about.
Luckily, I didn't have too much time to consider it, because car owner Jim Peruto was kind enough to let me drive the Chevelle From Hell in the Mile Shootout sponsored by Optima Batteries, a standing mile race. This is where I had another interesting experience. I had no trouble getting into my gear, but climbing over the side bars and into the driver's seat proved to be a bit of an adventure for my out-of shape 42-year-old frame. I only bonked my head a couple times--with my helmet on, luckily--and Peruto's man Friday Bob Jones got me strapped in and my HANS device hooked up. From there, it was a short wait in line to the starting area, and there I was at the line, with 700-plus Donovan big-block horsepower at my command. I didn't want to obliterate the tires at the start, so I left easy as the flag dropped, then tagged it once underway.
The sensation of speed can be a strange thing--the speedo on the GPS unit was showing me 160 mph, but it didn't feel like I was going that fast, and I did my damndest to shove the pedal right through the floorpan. The car was totally planted, unbothered by road irregularities or crosswinds, issues that seemed to affect other drivers. In fact, this had to be about the most uneventful 160 mph I'd ever driven. I backed up the 160 with an identical run, which was good for Sixth Place. It made for a strange call home that night: "Yeah, Mom, things went OK, but I only went 160 mph."
Later that afternoon, I met up with car owner and driver Jim Peruto, and we talked shop about the race. I was of course concerned for him, this person who'd have my life in his hands for 90 miles of triple-digit speed. Peruto admitted that he hasn't been racing for long, but now that he's in, he races everything he can get his hands on every chance he gets. That includes three-quarter and full-size winged midgets, Formula Fords, road course stock cars, and B-production sports cars. The guy does get around. Like me, he had two Silver State experiences before this one, including a 125-mph-class run in a Buick Skylark and most recently a DNF in the 150-mph class due to an oil problem in a '66 Corvette. The run in the Skylark lead Peruto to Steve Mcclenon and Hotrods to Hell (hotrodstohell.net). That, in turn, led Peruto to getting stuck with a magazine guy as his navigator. Not that he seemed to regret it--conversely, he did let me drive the car.