The field of cars that shows up for the Pure Stock Drags every year is a who's who of muscle car legends—440 Six Pack and Hemi Mopars, GS 455 Stage 1 Buicks, Super Cobra Jet Fords, W-30 Oldsmobiles, as well as killer Chevrolets like LS6 454s, L78 and L89 Camaros and Chevelles, and 427 COPO Camaros. It's a regular shark tank.
But the biggest predator in those waters is Julie Pennington's '69 Corvette. She won the Triple Crown of the 2012 Pure Stock Drags—fastest qualifier, low e.t. of the meet, and winner of the Top Gun Shootout.
You wouldn't know it from talking to her. She's soft-spoken and unassuming, a complete 180 from the high-strung, Type A personality you might expect. But on the track, she's all but unbeatable. Julie showed up in 2005 as greenhorn in training, then set the record for low e.t.—11.54 at 120.75—the following year. The record, which previously changed hands every year, stood from 2006 until 2011 when fellow L88 pilot and rival Jimmy Johnston eclipsed it with a scorching 11.43 at 125.50 blast, with a four-speed no less, all with closed, OEM-style exhaust and on repro bias-ply tires.
It wasn't that long ago that those kind of numbers were wildly ambitious for even heavily modified cars. Though there's really so such thing as a 100-percent stock car these days, Pure Stock Drags rules are the most strict we know of concerning originality, but allowances are made for wear, aftermarket mufflers and electronic points converters (Pertronix, etc. are allowed). Tuning, jetting and timing are wide open. All castings, carb, distributor, cam, valves and rockers, ports, etc. have to be stock.
So how do you get one to run mid 11s?
Terry Pennington, Julie's hubby, says that there are no concealed mods and nothing really trick. It's a combination of starting with the best-configured car, taking advantage of everything the rulebook allows, and careful attention to details.
"I've spent a lot of time on the dyno with guys like Richard Szabo, Steve, Ron, and Little Richard of Shaker Racing in Granger, Indiana, learning what works and what doesn't," Terry says. "I've had a lot of guys help me. If you think you know it all, you might as well stay in bed."
Using that hard-earned experience, Terry built the L88 427 engine.
"It's 100-percent NHRA spec," he states, citing the Pure Stock Drags' source for stock class engine specifications. "Compression is even down over a point from the 13.7 that's allowed. I bought a Whistler [compression tester] and depending on the temperature, it comes in at 12.4 or 12.5:1."
Compression and displacement are about the only two areas where potential has been left on the table, the latter allowing for a future cylinder service.
"It's 438 ci," Terry says, "and 440 are allowed. Pistons are Diamond, and the cam is a correct '69 second-design L88 grind. In '69 they went to open chamber heads, and they're aluminum. So is the intake." The carb is a stock part number Holley 850 double pumper that Terry rejets at every race.
"I've had a lot of guys help me. If you think you know it all, you might as well stay in bed."
"We use an LM1 meter. I ask Julie to look at the meter when she hits high gear and wide open throttle. That's when the engine load is the highest. It runs best between 13.2 and 13.5. I stagger jet her car to make the secondaries two sizes bigger."
That helps even out the mixture variations at the Number 3 cylinder due to the dual plane intake's flow. Ignition is the stock optional Chevrolet transistorized system with NGK plugs.
The Turbo 400 transmission has a TransGo Shift Kit, but Terry cautions that you don't want the gear changes to be too firm given the engine's power and the limited traction of the original-size bias ply tires. The differential runs 4.56:1 gears.
The Corvette was originally a 427/390hp car that was sold in their hometown of Mishawaka, Indiana. The owners quit driving it in 1973, and parked it in a climate-controlled garage for decades. It still has the stock shocks and bushings.
"I didn't even degrease the chassis or paint it," Terry says. "I heard about it from a friend, and bought it with faded paint, but no collision damage. Brian Bottager applied the signature orange paint."
Because of the car's performance, it has its share of skeptics. But it's been through voluntary teardown after setting the record in 2006, and in 2012 Terry volunteered it for heavy tech, a much more in-depth scrutiny. It passed both with flying colors. It's legit. Doubters are just going to have to deal with it. To date, its best elapsed time is 11.03 at 127 at National Parts Depot-sponsored Musclepalooza in last September.
Besides Terry's meticulous tuning, it helps that Julie is petite. "She's a lot lighter than those other guys," Terry observes. Car and driver together weighed in at 3,414 pounds at this year's event. Julie's also very sharp at the light, with reaction times less than a tenth of a second, and 60-footers consistently in the low 1.8s. She can get other drivers rattled too, because they know she's cool under pressure, and some are probably worried about getting beaten by a girl.
Then there's always maintaining that power. "I do a leak-down and compression check after every race," Terry advises, adding that he gets around 200 runs on the motor between services.