1969 Chevrolet Corvettes - Drag Strip Domination

Terry And Julie Pennington Put The Pure Stock And F.A.S.T. Drags In An L88-Powered Tap-Out Submission

Tom Shaw May 12, 2009 0 Comment(s)
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This incredible L88 is the baddest of all the muscle cars, even with Julie Pennington being a relatively inexperienced driver. Car and driver together weigh just 3,410 pounds.

What's the fastest muscle car of all time? To quote Paul Revere and the Raiders' song "SS396," you can "Forget about your Hemis and your GTOs," and while you're at it, you can also forget about 428 Cobra Jets, W-30 Olds and Pontiac 455s, Buick GS455 Stage 1s, LS6 454s, and every other heavy-hitter that's ever attempted to lay claim to the title of world's fastest muscle car. That honor goes to the '69 L88 Corvette, and we're not just bench racing. We've got not just one, but a pair of record-breakers to prove it.

If you weren't a Corvette aficionado, it might be a bitter pill to swallow, what with all the posturing, propaganda, and PR about which car is truly the king of the quarter-mile. But we kind of like this pair of supercars, especially in Monaco Orange, and even more when they blow the doors off of everything in sight en route to breaking records. Amazingly, they're piloted by a husband/wife team.

Terry and Julie Pennington, of Mishawaka, Indiana, drive the matching Corvettes. Terry competes in F.A.S.T. and Julie in Factory Stock (a division of F.A.S.T.) and at the Pure Stock Drags. Both have risen to the highest heights of their classes in these L88-spec cars. Stock racing requires the car to be close to showroom condition, while F.A.S.T. mandates a stock look and tire size, but encourages creative modifications internally. The competition is tough, and for Corvettes to hold both records simultaneously is unprecedented. But it's yet another testament to the engineering built into these incredible automobiles.

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For years, Car and Driver's Nov. '65 road test of a 427 Cobra-12.20 at 118 mph-stood as the fastest quarter-mile time of any production car. No longer. Terry and Julie Pennington and their twin L88 Corvettes now own both Pure Stock and F.A.S.T. (Factory Appearing Stock Tires) classes.

Julie Rocks The Pure Stocks
If you show up at the Pure Stock Drags and assume Julie is just a fair, soft-spoken, petite blonde, you're already jinxed. She's all that off the track, but behind the wheel, she's got the heart of a pirate. Julie loves to lay low, then, when the time is right, carve up the odds-on favorites like a holiday turkey. Her favorite carving knife just happens to be an Orange '69 L88-spec Corvette. Watch her at the starting line. You can't read her poker face, and you're not going to psych her out with head games. Don't even try. Just bring your best game, and hope you brought enough. Chances are you didn't. That's because Julie is going on her third year as record holder for quickest e.t. at the Pure Stock Drags.

Julie showed up as a driver in 2005 but was well off the leader's pace. Terry would later confess that he purposely had the engine detuned a bit, until Julie got familiar with the car. That changed in 2006, when he put all the timing back in the engine, removed the sidepipes, and broke the record for low e.t. on her second qualifying pass. The record was now 11.63. For having pulled off such an amazing feat, she didn't seem to view the achievement in technical terms. "I don't know, I just drive," she says. "I ignore how fast it is, and I just go."

In Saturday's best-two-out-of-three shootout, Julie faced Jimmy Johnston, a fellow L88 pilot and high-powered gunslinger whose skill with a four-speed would be hard to overestimate. Jimmy was what you'd call highly motivated, as it was his record that Julie had just broken. Julie took Round 1 with a 11.68/120.75 to Jimmy's 11.79/120.36.

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Can you find the rip-your-heart-out-and-feed-it-to-you competitor in this picture?

In Round 2, Julie redlighted while Jimmy shaved off a tenth, running his best e.t. of the meet, 11.69 at 121.72. Up next was the Round 3 tiebreaker. Incredibly, Jimmy, the cool customer, redlighted. That handed the shootout to Julie, but instead of soft-peddling the Corvette to a leisurely win, she put the spurs to it, blitzing the 1,320 with a jaw-dropping 11.54 at 120.75, yet another Pure Stock Drags record, and one that still stands. If Julie was looking to make a statement, she certainly did. So the '06 Pure Stock Drags ended with bang.

At the '07 Pure Stock Drags, the anticipated rematch didn't happen. Julie again had the quickest e.t., an 11.58, but she was paired against Bob Karakashian's '70 Hemi Cuda, which she dispatched handily in two straight rounds. Meanwhile, Jimmy wound up as top qualifier and top gun. His best e.t. of 11.66 was improved, but he still trailed Julie and her '06 record. A rainout at the '08 Pure Stock Drags would extend the record another year.

Defending the record won't be easy. For 2009, Jimmy will be back strong as ever, a '71 LS6 has been coming on strong, a new L88 is expected, and there are always the usual sharks of other brands.

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No DOHC, four-valve stuff here, no multicarb razzmatazz or other exotic hoopla-just a big, dumb, carbureted 427 that makes enough power to slam the door on every other big-name challenger out there.

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."

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Debuting at Martin, Michigan's June '08 season opener, Terry's L88 sure looked like it had enough power to make a run at the F.A.S.T., but it was well off the pace with a best of 11.26 at 130.02. Unfortunately for Terry, archrival Hemi Dave Dudek broke it first with a 10.53, then did it again running a 10.51 right off the trailer at Virginia. Photo: Rick Fisher

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.

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Traction is everything running at this level. Top racers we spoke with are making so much power, they have to come up with ways to roll off some for a better launch.

In the runs to follow, Terry would run a second bye that didn't approach his earlier record time. Meanwhile, Hemi Dave was making some big noise of his own. His Round 2 e.t. was a smokin' 10.40 at 133.79. That was a new record for the fastest mph. In the finals, the two would meet. Had Terry raised the bar high enough to keep it out of reach, or could Hemi Dave reach deep enough to find one more tenth of Hemi magic?

All eyes were on the starting line as the new record holder squared off against the guy who just lost it. This is the kind of battle racers live for. Both cars were breathing fire, the drivers were ready for war, and electricity filled the air. The tree lit, and they were off like a shot. Both got a clean leave. As they flew towards midtrack, it was just too close to tell, but through the traps, the win light flashed for Hemi Dave. His e.t. of 10.48 at 133 just edged out Terry's 10.50 at 132. So Dave won the meet's eliminations, but the bigger prize, the record for low e.t., went to Terry's Corvette. That record is what gets talked about, what captures the imagination, and it's the target that other racers shoot for.

"The record is back in the Chevy camp where it'll hopefully stay for a while," Terry says. But he knows better than to rest on his laurels. Dudek's gunning for him, and there are various other predatory Corvettes swimming these waters, including a couple that Terry's working on. With Dudek breathing down his neck, going faster is a must. But Terry says that faster will come only from a lighter car, not more horsepower. "I'm carrying a lot of weight in that car," he says. "I don't want to give away its actual weight, but if I could hook it without the weight, it'd be a 9.90-second car."

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Here's Terry's record-breaking F.A.S.T. timeslip. Impressive all the way down. Have you run any 1.5-second 60-footers lately?

It's worth pointing out that other racers have gone faster by adding pounds-hundreds of them-to the rearmost point of the trunk to aid in starting-line traction and weight transfer for that critical couple of seconds that make or break the run. Adding weight runs counter to standard racer-think, which holds that removing 100 pounds is good for a tenth, but we're talking about stock-type bias-ply repro rubber here, not slicks, and that changes everything. It's also worth pointing out that a Corvette is a different animal than a standard muscle car, so perhaps less weight is the hot ticket. The man holds the record, so what he's doing is working most would agree.

Most, but not Hemi Dave. "Even with their slick aerodynamics, independent rear suspension, and 400-pound weight advantage," he says, "these L88s haven't been able to beat my 3700-pound brick of a Hemi for over two years now-supercar, my ass." One thing's for sure; the red-meat racers will be out in force for the '09 F.A.S.T. season, and the fireworks are sure to be spectacular.

Pure Stock Drags Rules
The second weekend after Labor Day, the Pure Stock Drags happens at the Mid-Michigan Motorplex. The Friday-Saturday event draws 140-150 stock, original muscle cars. Rules are strict, allowing only minor changes in exhaust pipes, mufflers (Flowmasters are OK), air filters, and tuning. All castings must be factory correct parts. More info: www.purestockdrags.com.

F.A.S.T. Drags Rules
F.A.S.T. stands for "factory appearing, stock tires," which sums up the rulebook. Engines must look factory stock but internal mods are allowed, so increased displacement and updated valvetrain are OK. The spirit of the race is to "...look stock, sound stock and run fast." F.A.S.T. events are held in multiple locations throughout the season. For more info, log on to www.fastraces.org.

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After Julie's 11.54 record run at Stanton, certain partisans of another brand began suggesting that the L88 was bogus. Julie put a stop to that, tearing down the engine immediately after its last run. Pure Stock Drags chief tech inspector Scott Tiemann began a careful exam, including P&G, cc'ing the heads, checking for porting, and precise measurement of the cam lobes. The engine, and the record e.t. it ran, were both legit.

DATA FILE: '69 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY
Owned by Julie Pennington, Mishawaka, Indiana

BODY
Production '69 T-Top Corvette
Paint: Monaco Orange by Brian Bottger, Car Crafter Customs, Lawton, Michigan

CHASSIS
Frame: Production '69 Corvette
Suspension: Stock GM front/rear
Steering: Stock GM manual steering
Brakes: OEM GM-Delco Moraine four-wheel power discs
Wheels: OEM-style Rally wheels, 15x8 in front/rear
Tires: Reproduction Firestone Wide Oval RWL F70 x 15-in bias plys

ENGINE
Chevrolet Mark IV overhead-valve V-8, L88-spec
Built by: Shaker Racing Engines, Granger, Indiana 4.310 x 3.76 bore x stroke, Diamond pistons, Crane flat tappet camshaft, Crane valvesprings, 2.19-in intake/1.88-in exhaust valves
Displacement: 439 ci
Compression ratio: 13.5:1
Cylinder heads: Original GM aluminum castings, PN 3946074
Ignition: Stock GM transistorized ignition, Brisk spark plugs, FireWire plug wires
Induction: Stock GM cast-aluminum intake, PN 3933198, stock Holley 4296 850 double-pumper
Exhaust: OEM cast-iron exhaust manifolds, PN 3880827 left, 3880828 right, 2.5-in aluminized steel pipe, Walker DynoMax UltraFlo mufflers
Horsepower: 430 at 5,200 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 460 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm (Advertised)

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TRANSMISSION
OEM Turbo 400 three-speed automatic with B&M Shift Kit
Built by: DDW Automotive, Osceola, Indiana
Shifter: Stock GM
Rearend: Stock GM Positraction differential, 4.56:1 ring-and-pinion

INTERIOR
Stock GM
Instrumentation: Stock GM gauges, plus Auto Meter Sport Comp tach
Sound System: Radio delete

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In eliminations at Martin, Terry went out in the first round. Savvy racers told us that big things would happen at the season finale in Virginia in October. They were right.

DATA FILE: '69 CHEVROLET CORVETTE STINGRAY
Owned by Terry Pennington, Mishawaka, Indiana

BODY
Production '69 T-Top Corvette
Paint: Monaco Orange by Piper's Auto Alley, Mishawaka, Indiana

CHASSIS
Frame: Production '69 Corvette
Suspension: Stock GM front/rear
Steering: Stock GM manual steering
Brakes: Wildwood brakes, front/rear
Wheels: OEM-style Rally wheels, 15x8 in front/rear
Tires: Reproduction Firestone Wide Oval RWL F70 x 15-in bias plys
Shocks: QA1 Drag Shocks, front/rear

ENGINE
L88-based Chevrolet Mark IV overhead-valve V-8
Built by: Shaker Racing Engines, Granger, Indiana 4.375 x 4.250 bore x stroke, Diamond pistons, Bullet solid roller camshaft (0.710-in lift, 270/270 deg duration at 0.050-in. lift), Crane valvesprings, Ferrea titanium valves, 2.30-in intake/2.19-in exhaust, Jesel 1.7:1 Sportsman roller rockers, GRP 6.375-in aluminum rods, block clearanced for rods
Displacement: 511 ci
Compression ratio: 16:01
Cylinder heads: Original GM aluminum castings, PN 3946074, ported and polished, exhaust ports converted to D-profile
Ignition: Magnetic pickup distributor, Digital 7 MSD ignition box, Brisk Spark Plugs, FireWire plug wires
Induction: Stock GM cast aluminum intake, PN 3933198, flowed by Wilson Manifolds, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Carburetor: Holley 850 double-pump built by Patrick at Pro Systems, Muskegon, Michigan
Exhaust: OEM cast-iron exhaust manifolds, PN 3880827 left, 3880828 right, ported by Gessler head porting, then Extrude Honed, 2.5-in aluminized steel pipe, Walker DynoMax UltraFlo mufflers
Horsepower: 430 at 5,200 rpm (Advertised)
Torque: 460 lb-ft at 3,400 rpm (Advertised)

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TRANSMISSION
GM Turbo 400 three-speed automatic, Yank 11-in torque converter, 2,600- stall speed
Built by: John Kilgore, Sun Valley, California
Shifter: Stock GM
Rearend: GM 12-bolt Positraction differential, 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion

INTERIOR
Stock GM
Instrumentation: Stock GM gauges, plus Auto Meter Sport Comp tach
Sound system: Radio delete

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