Gettin' It On
At the F.A.S.T. season opener in Martin, Michigan, last June, the buzz among the veteran racers was that the final event at Virginia Motorsports Park in Petersburg, Virginia, would be where records fell. They reasoned that the cars would be sorted out through the season, and when the dialed-in racers hit the cool fall air, Virginia Motorsports Park's sticky starting line would launch cars to new records.
Friday's rainout left only one day to get it done, and Saturday's weather, though dry, was not what racers were hoping for. Cloudy and cool meant that the critical starting line would not be hot and sticky-a huge consideration in the high-powered but traction-limited world of F.A.S.T. racing. But the track crews were no rookies, and an event the previous weekend left the starting line in good shape. "NHRA is usually there the weekend before we're there, so the track is prepped extremely well," says Corvette pilot Terry Pennington, "and there's a lot of rubber laid down on the track."
The current record holder was Hemi Dave Dudek, a ferocious front-of-the-pack competitor in his sinister black '69 Hemi Road Runner who, just two months earlier, had broken Wayne Nelson's long-standing record of 10.59, set in an L88 Corvette. The new record was now 10.53. So to a die-hard Chevy guy like Terry, who sees the world through Chevrolet Orange colored glasses, the bull's eye on Hemi Dave's back was bigger than ever.
But whether you're in real estate, cage fighting, or high stakes drag racing, a guy like Hemi Dave never goes down easy. "On his first pass, right off the trailer, Hemi Dave ran a 10.51," Terry says. And that was no fluke. Dudek qualified with a 10.50, yet another new record, and well ahead of Terry's 10.62. Terry, a cagey veteran himself, was biding his time and picking his moment, not to mention still trying to find the L88's sweet spot. "I made six-to-eight passes during the day, trying different launch rpms and different advance springs on the distributor, trying to get my jetting right," Terry says, "and waiting for what I thought would be a good time to run a good number."
As the chess game for the record played out, eliminations, the primary focus of the meet, were underway. Terry's opponent, a '69 1/2 440 six-barrel Road Runner, had gotten into the wall and was unable to answer the call to the staging lanes, leaving Terry with bye runs. He pulled to the line, watched the lights signal, prestaged, then staged. At the green he hit it hard, maybe too hard. "The car hooked really well," Terry says. "I ran a 1.56 60-foot." Wow. That's serious hook. In fact, it's the quickest start in the history of F.A.S.T. racing.
While Terry was out of the hole like he'd been shot from a cannon, it was far from a perfect run, as he's quick to admit. "There's video of the car," he says. "It was sideways in First gear, and nobody thought it would be a good run." Conventional thought is that once you spin, you've lost any chance at a good run or low e.t. Standard practice is to abort. Terry did not observe either. "I decided to stay in it and see what happened. I just drove through it and hit Second, and it hooked in Second. Guys who were watching said that it looked like the right rear of the car was trying to rip the asphalt off. I knew it was a good run, but I didn't think it was 10.30." (It was a 10.308 at 132.84, to be exact). On a bye run plagued with wheelspin, Terry had just whacked two full tenths off the F.A.S.T. record.
In high-powered, competitive racing like this, records usually fall by a couple hundredths. This one fell like a grandfather oak. "When I got the timing slip, I was pretty impressed," Terry says. "I didn't think it had a 0.30 in it. My fastest run until that day on my street tires was a 0.62. So I jumped right past the 0.50s and 0.40s and almost jumped past the 0.30s." The new record had arrived with a thunderclap.