Super Gas Corvettes - Super Gas Class Is A Gas, Gas, Gas

Part 1: A History Of The NHRA S/G Class And A Look At Eight Of The Most Talented Drivers In The Sport Today

Christopher R. Phillip Oct 20, 2010 0 Comment(s)
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Of the eight National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series classes today-Top Alcohol Dragster, Top Alcohol Funny Car, Competition (Comp) Eliminator, Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, Super Comp, Super Gas, and Super Street, only one of them can boast of having the most Corvettes. Which one would you guess? Super Stock? Stock Eliminator? Super Street?

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The answer may surprise you. According to Eric Lotz, the director of NHRA field marketing, "Super Gas has the most Corvettes by far of any of our classes. Of course, Vettes are ineligible for Top Alcohol Dragster, but even eligible and popular classes such as Top Alcohol Funny Car and Super Comp hardly ever feature Corvettes. Super Stock, Stock Eliminator, and Super Street fare somewhat better, but you could definitely not call them huge Vette draws. Super Gas is a completely different story. At any given S/G race during the NHRA season, 22-29 percent of all race cars participating in the class are Corvettes."

How did Corvettes come to dominate S/G? To learn that answer, VETTE looked at the history of the extremely popular, primarily California- based Pro Gas index racing of the 1970s.

"NHRA picked up on this," Bobby Bennett, publisher/editor of CompetitionPlus.com, a leading drag-racing Internet magazine, explains. "If the NHRA was going to bring in one class, it had to kill one class-and the one to go was Modified Eliminator, a class largely dominated by midyear Sting Rays. The Pro Gas style of 9.80-second indexed bracket racing opened up NHRA's back gates to participants who had previously been shunned by the elite group of class racers who dominated the Sportsman program. All of a sudden, there was an outlet for bracket racers who didn't fit into a Comp, Modified, Super Stock, or Stock classification to race the national events. And best of all for the NHRA, there was less time involved in teching the cars.

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"Basically, with the advent of S/G 9.90-second indexed racing, it didn't matter if the racer had a corporate serial number on the cylinder heads. What mattered is that he or she had the proper safety equipment and could run the 9.90 index. That's why the NHRA was all too happy to kick Modified Eliminator to the curb in favor of Super Gas. It could get more cars involved, and with less tech headaches."

The first NHRA Super Gas race got its green light at Pomona, California, in 1980. Four years later, in 1984, Tommy Costales, then a 32-year-old race-car engine builder, earned his place in history by becoming the first Corvette racer to win the NHRA Super Gas World Championship, beating out a field of 160-plus race cars, including 25 to 30 other Vettes. His weapon-an original-body '67 Tuxedo Black Sting Ray with a 505ci big-block.

"Vegas and Anglias were really popular in the class back then," Costales recalls. "There were a number of midyear Corvettes and a few C3s in the class, but Corvettes didn't dominate the S/G races."

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"In these early days of the Super Gas class-1980 through 1984 primarily-it wasn't rare to see real factory-bodied Corvettes, like Tommy Costales' '67, competing in the class," Bennett notes. "When the NHRA killed Modified Eliminator, the Corvette racers had three choices-dump a lot of money into their cars and go Comp racing, go breakout racing within Super Stock, or essentially do nothing and make their cars run 9.90 and move over to Super Gas."

According to Bennett, most of these old, factory-bodied S/G Corvettes died out in the '90s. The cost of classic Corvettes had skyrocketed, and converting them into S/G race cars was expensive and impractical. That allowed aftermarket companies-Suncoast, Worthy, and Tim McAmis Performance Parts, among others-to begin building and marketing fiberglass '63 Corvette roadster bodies, which quickly became the default for racers wanting to campaign midyear Corvettes in the S/G class.

Today, there are more Corvettes racing in S/G than at any other time in the sport's 30-year history-and it's not just '63-'67 Vettes that have gotten in on the action. C5 Vettes have made their way into the class as well, making the past several years the new Golden Age of S/G Corvette racing.

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To honor Corvette's dominant role in Super Gas and the men and women who put it there, we picked 14 of the best Corvette S/G drivers in the NHRA today and asked them about their cars and their careers. This month we'll introduce you to half of them. We'll then be back next month with the second half of this special feature, in which we'll explain how the C5's introduction in 1997 brought the Corvette's role in Super Gas to a whole new level. We'll also discuss the future of the sport with Jim Hughes, an industry expert and S/G Corvette racer. It should be a real gas.

Note: The majority of S/G Corvettes in the NHRA use aftermarket bodies and custom chassis. Nonetheless, every racer featured in our story chose the Corvette body style for its aerodynamics and great looks.

What is Super Gas Racing?
Super Gas is NHRA-sanctioned, index-based drag racing in which competitors use electronic timers and throttle stops to run as close as possible to the class standard (9.90 seconds) without going under, using a 0.4-second pro-start tree. According to the NHRA, "Super Gas entries are primarily full-bodied cars and street roadsters. No dragsters or altereds are permitted. Rules regarding engine and chassis modifications are extremely liberal, though the use of exotic fuels is prohibited. The minimum weight is 2,100 pounds, except for four-cylinder-powered cars, which may have a minimum weight of 1,200 pounds."

Wes Adams
Age: 32
Corvette: '67 coupe
Sponsor(s): Jerry Barker Racing
Years racing your Corvette: Two
Body/chassis: Suncoast/Suncoast
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 582ci
Horsepower: 950
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 165
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 8.20/169
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: NHRA Southern Nationals semifinals (2009)
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? I've always been a Chevy person. When I partnered up with Jerry Barker Motorsports last year, there was no question it would be a Chevrolet. What's better than the pinnacle of sports cars? The classic lines and aerodynamics of the Corvette made it an easy decision
Other Corvettes currently owned: '09 Z06

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Thomas Bayer
Age: 42
Corvette: '62 roadster
Sponsor(s): Lucas Oil, Toyo Tires, K&N Filters, Crower, B&M Converters
Years racing your Corvette: Five
Body/chassis: Unknown/unknown
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 565ci
Horsepower: 900
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 160
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 8.90/161
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: NHRA Division 7 Super Gas Championship (2006)
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? Classic style
Other Corvettes currently owned: None, but I once owned a '68 convertible with a removable hardtop

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Randy Balough
Age: 50
Corvette: '63 roadster
Sponsor(s): Uncle Joe Benson from KLOS radio in Los Angeles
Years racing your Corvette: Six (Prior to that, Balough raced a '57 Vette in S/G)
Body/chassis: Suncoast/Sarmento
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 600ci
Horsepower: 1,100
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 168
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 7.40/173
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: NHRA Division 7 Super Gas Championship (2004) and multiple national and divisional races
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? Aerodynamics, visibility, and nothing is cooler than a Vette
Other Corvettes currently owned: None

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Shannon Brinkley
Age: 43
Corvette: '01 roadster
Sponsor(s): Spookers Halloween
Years racing your Corvette: Nine
Body/chassis: Suncoast/Undercover Chassis
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 598ci
Horsepower: 1,150
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 157
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 8.40/165
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: Multiple NHRA divisional wins
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? Aerodynamics and the sheer coolness of the car
Other Corvettes currently owned: '04 Medium Spiral Gray coupe

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Dave Connolly
Age: 27
Corvette: '63 roadster
Sponsor(s): Ron Erks (owner), American Racecars, Dart, Hoosier, VP Fuels, Jegs, Moser, Sparco, Moroso, and Abruzzi Transmissions
Years racing your Corvette: One (Connolly previously raced another '63 Vette in 2002 to win the NHRA Division 3 Championship)
Body/chassis: Suncoast/Undercover Chassis
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 598ci
Horsepower: 1,000
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 170-plus
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 7.70/175-plus
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: NHRA Division 2 race, Gainesville Raceway, 2010 (This Corvette won the 2003 NHRA World Championship in S/G class with Bryan Robinson driving)
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? The '63 Vette makes one of the nicest roadsters out there. It is a beautiful body style
Other Corvettes currently owned: None

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Jay Costales
Age: 35
Corvette: '67 coupe
Sponsor(s): Houston Engine and Balancing Service
Years racing your Corvette: Seven (Costales' father, Tommy, previously drove the Vette to the 1984 NHRA World Championship in the S/G class and was Runner-Up at the NHRA U.S. Nationals that same year)
Body/chassis: Factory/Factory
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 540ci
Horsepower: 920
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 146
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 8.80/156
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: NHRA Houston Raceway Park "King of the Track (2008)
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? I love the nostalgic value of racing my dad's World Championship factory-bodied Corvette
Other Corvettes currently owned: None

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Ray Connolly
Age: 47
Corvette: '63 roadster
Sponsor(s): American Racecars, Dart, Hoosier, VP Fuels, Jegs, Moser, Sparco, Moroso, K&N, Auto Meter, and Hughes Performance
Years racing your Corvette: Seven
Body/chassis: Worthy/Worthy
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 582ci
Horsepower: 1,050
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 170-plus
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 7.90/170-plus
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: 2004 NHRA Chicago Nationals, 2007 NHRA St. Louis Nationals, 2008 NHRA Bristol Nationals (Ray's son, Dave, won Pro-Stock at all three of these events, too), 2009 NHRA World Championship, 2009 NHRA Division 3 Championship
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? The '63 Vette is a phenomenal car, both in appearance and recognition
Other Corvettes currently owned: None

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Tommy Costales
Age: 58
Corvette: '66 coupe
Sponsor(s): Houston Engine and Balancing
Years racing your Corvette: 24 (Costales won the 1984 NHRA World Championship in the S/G class and was Runner-Up at the '84 U.S. Nationals driving a '67 coupe, which is now raced in S/G by his son, Jay)
Body/chassis: Factory body, except aftermarket fiberglass front end and hood/Joe Smith Racecraft
Engine brand: Dart BBC
Displacement: 565ci
Horsepower: 1,000
Best mph in S/G 9.90 index: 168
Best e.t./mph (no throttle stops): 7.84/178
Biggest win(s) in your S/G Corvette: Five NHRA national events and two IHRA national events
Why did you choose Corvette over other bodies? I raced a '67 coupe in high school in C/SP class
Other Corvettes currently owned: None vette

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