The parallels between one of the most sensational racehorses of all time and the beleaguered blown-alky dragster you see here are both numerous and startling. Anyone familiar with the tale of Seabiscuit knows of his travails and tragedies-an undersized, bowlegged, neglected nag who went on to win not only some of the biggest races of all time, but also the heart of America.
The impact of this Vette-bodied gasser is not so great or far-reaching, but there are some significant similarities. It was a "door car" with a troubled past and a bent frame that went on to win the A-Gas class in its second outing, at the Hot Rod Reunion in the fall of 2008. And that was with a recently rebuilt chassis and an untested pilot. "A green car with a green driver," recalls its stunned co-owner, Jim Van Gordon. A longtime engine builder, Van Gordon has a lengthy history of supplying motors for an impressive range of vehicles for both competition and the street. Clearly this ride had some thoroughbred bloodlines, just as Seabiscuit could be traced back to the legendary Man o' War.
Van Gordon's partner Jimmy White manned the wheel on the winning run, but oddly enough, he bombed the brake pedal right at the end of the strip, unsettling the car and nearly crashing. "We don't have any idea why, and he had no explanation, either. Maybe he just thought he was running out of track," Van Gordon laughs. (Interestingly enough, Seabiscuit in particular was known to stop suddenly on the track, among other odd behaviors.) Despite the misstep, they took home the trophy after galloping through the quarter in 7.60 seconds at a blistering 188 mph.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, though. How did a split-window Sting Ray body end up on a thrashed frame, and go on to surprise everybody on the track? As already noted, it's a story akin to Seabiscuit's saga, but without the hay and oats and manure.
In keeping with the car's rags-to-riches narrative, Van Gordon discovered it on a website that specializes in used racing hardware. Apparently the previous owner let the dragster get away from him on the track, and the impact with the side rail put a hook in the front end. (Seabiscuit endured a number of bangs and bruises, too, and ran erratically before getting into the hands of a skilled trainer.) Van Gordon and White didn't have a big enough budget to slice off the front clip, so they reworked the suspension to make the best of it.
"Sometimes a race car is better after it's bent," Van Gordon points out. "The measurements on the frame aren't numerically correct, so we just went by the seat of our pants." He admits that the most challenging aspect was setting up the chassis so the car would launch properly-not unlike Seabiscuit, who had his own problems in the starting gate, raising holy hell within its metal confines. Yet, just as the barrel-chested, knob-kneed horse never looked like a thoroughbred, somehow these defects worked to the car's advantage. "The better wrong is the better right at times," Van Gordon observes. The cure? As with Seabiscuit, the trainer just had to let him discover the sheer pleasure of speed: Let him go.
Even if the chassis appeared to be more plow horse than racehorse, the candy-apple red Corvette body tells a different story. Although not an original split-window (those are far too valuable to risk on a race car), this Hairy Glass body gives the car sharp lines and even trips the win light a smidgen sooner. (Even Seabiscuit won just by a nose in some races against the fastest horses of his day.)
Although penned by Pete Brock back in the early '60s, the split-window shape is still fresh and arresting from any angle. A belt-high crease circumnavigates the car, separating the form into distinct top and bottom sections. Below this character line, the body panels angle inward, an effect that helps take mass away from what is, in fact, a fairly big car with fat Mickey Thompson meats in the rear (measuring 33x17x16 inches). The result of all this is a form that seems to thinly skin the furiously pumping parts, rather than simply boxing them in, giving the car a more menacing quality.