Sometimes you've just got to do things your own way. Thank people for their advice, acknowledge they mean well, but stay true to your own course that leads to the goal you want. When you're building a car it can be a treacherous course to navigate, with opinions and suggestions coming at you faster and more plentiful than love bugs during a Florida summer. Yeah, it can be just as messy too.
Derek Putnam's first car was a '72 Chevelle, triple green (dark green paint, interior, and vinyl top), that served him well as a daily driver in high school and early on in college. Some youthful driving exuberance and a stand of trees led to the Chevelle's demise in '97, leaving Derek on the hunt for a new classic.
After five months floating in limbo, Derek's good friend Gene Johnson found a pristine, triple-green 307 bench-seat '70 Nova. Gene sold the car to Derek's parents, who in turn gave it to him as a replacement for the lost Chevelle. A rocket by no means, the milquetoast 307 had the Nova chugging down the Gainesville International Raceway quarter-mile in the low 17-second range.
Fortunately Derek still had the good parts from his wrecked Chevelle, including the 355 he had built with forged pistons and World Products Sportsman II heads. This woke the little car right up, and Derek was able to win the Division 2 Street Championship Trophy in '98. Not bad for a daily driver used for college.
Over the years as he saved money here and there, Derek made some improvements to the Nova, including a new left front fender and hood. After graduation he went to work for National Parts Depot, the restoration parts supplier, and the needs of a more fuel-efficient daily commuter meant the Nova could be shifted to weekend fun/racing only duty. More upgrades followed that had the Nova running high 11s. But the 355 had reached its limit, and after seven years, 50K miles, and close to 1,200 race passes, the stock crank snapped like a twig.
Jason Rollins at Rollins Automotive in Gainesville, Florida, was tasked with building a new short-block. He started with an Eagle cast stroker crank and rotating assembly, and combined with the salvaged top end made for a healthy 383 Mouse that propelled the Nova to a best of 11.42 at 116 mph. With a 120hp shot of nitrous, the car rocketed to 10.50 in the quarter-mile.
Because of the higher speeds and lower e.t.'s, Derek went to Dan Neumann Race Cars in Ocala, Florida, for a custom-bent rollbar for added safety. This was all around the end of '03 and lots more racing ensued.
By November '06, the X-body was ready for another major overhaul. A long list of little things needed to be fixed from all the years of track abuse and road driving, plus Derek wanted to upgrade some things for more horsepower and safety. After Rollins Automotive had pulled the drivetrain to start its rebuild, the Nova was stripped down to its shell for a trip to the paint and body shop. Dan Neumann Race Cars upgraded the rollbar to a full cage, and fellow racer Darren Stutts of Darren's Custom and Restoration took on the paint and body work. Derek himself spent about 30 hours underneath the car scraping away the factory undercoating that had protected the Nova's floors over the years to keep them in pristine condition. The body was stripped to bare metal, all the little dents and dings repaired, then resprayed in three coats of factory code 48 Forest Green with four coats of clear on top.
Ready for reassembly, Derek enlisted the help of Larry Galyean to re-install the Nova's interior, along with a new American Autowire Classic Update wiring harness, factory buckets recovered with PUI upholstery, and a new Alpine CD stereo for cruising music. Jason Rollins built a fresh, blueprinted 383 using an Eagle forged rotating assembly, Canfield 23-degree aluminum heads, ARP head bolts and main studs, Crane Cams solid roller valvetrain, with Holley 750 double pumper and Edelbrock intake. For some extra power, an Edelbrock Performer RPM plate kit sprays a 200-horse shot of nitrous.
Rollins also built the car's TH400, with a JW Transmission 10-inch converter with 3,800 stall speed, transmitting power to a narrowed 12-bolt rear from a '68 Chevelle with 3.73 gears, Strange Engineering spool, 33-spline axles, and C-clip eliminator kit. The front suspension was upgraded with Global West billet cross-shafts and Del-A-Lum bushings in the upper and lower control arms. The shocks are Lakewood adjustable units, and stopping power is handled by Stainless Steel Brakes Corp. four-piston competition calipers clamped around 11-inch Big Bite rotors.
Back together the car runs in the low 11s, with a best of 11.12 at 119 mph naturally aspirated, and a 9.92 on nitrous. Derek won the DOT class at the 2011 Super Chevy Show at Palm Beach International Raceway and on the same weekend was the runner-up in the True Street Challenge.
Over the last few years, Derek raced Open Comp (an index-based class with a 5-tenths pro tree), as well as brackets at Gainesville Raceway, and he finished second in OC points last year, missing the championship by one round of racing. Same thing happened to him in '05, but he does have two track championships in the foot-brake/Pro bracket class ('04 and '05).
During the rebuild he could've lightened the car with a fiberglass hood and lightweight racing seats, but he didn't want to alter the stock-appearing look hiding the car's quickness. "To me, a small-tire, stock-suspension car that clocks a quick number and can be driven on the street running pump gas is more impressive than a big-tire, ladder-bar/four-link car that might run a quicker time but needs more maintenance, race gas, and is very subjective on the street."
We didn't have room to include interior shots of Derek's sleeper. So, check them out here!