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What a Drag!

Michigan's Pure Stock Musclecar Drag Race has carved out a niche within the hobby as a car show where the owners race their vehicles down the 1,320.

The Pure Stock Musclecar Drag Race has carved out a niche within the hobby as a car show where the owners race their vehicles down the 1,320.

The event was started by Michiganders Bob Boden and Dan Jensen, two Pontiac enthusiasts who remembered the good times when the muscle car hobby was growing in the 1980s. Back then, people were driving their cars and attending events like the Supercar Showdown and the Musclecar Nationals. Car Review magazine’s “50 Fastest” issue also fanned the flames in everyone’s desperate attempt to show their favorite muscle car was the fastest. New rivalries were created (Hemi Mopar versus 1970 Buick GS Stage I), cars were protested (1968 Ram Air II Firebird 400; 1971 455HO T-37), but overall, it was a renaissance that would not be equaled... until now.

This ‘68 Buick GS400 was a good example of the cars that could be found in the spectators’ parking lot.

4785 1968 Buick GS.jpg

Bob and Dan decided to bring those days 12 years ago. Starting out with 20 cars, the event has grown to 150 strong at this year’s event, held Sept. 14-15. Where else can one find a precious Yenko Camaro racing against a supercharged Studebaker? This event brings out a great cross-section of the quintessential, the obscure and the “everyman’s muscle car” — cars like 1969 A12 Six Pack Super Bees (five at this year’s event), a 1971 Torino Brougham with a 429 CJ and four-speed and a 350-horsepower SS396 Chevelle.

In many ways, this car is not special: basic four-barrel 350-cid V-8 in a Cutlass S. But this car is documented with a four-speed and the W-25 hood, making for a Rallye 350 incognito.

4785 1970 Olds Cutlass.jpg

What sets this two-day event apart from others in the past is that the cars are paired based on similar elapsed times. Not everyone can own Hemi Mopars or L88 Corvettes, and not everyone’s favorite marque had a competitive entry for the fastest vehicle. Likewise, just because someone owns a Hemi doesn’t mean he or she is going to be competitive — a sad fact learned in the past when car show guys tried their hand in the track and ended up embarrassing themselves and their cars’ reputations.

Participants are encouraged to learn more about the inner workings of their engines and how to tune them. This achieves a few things: It can uphold a car’s reputation (is the Hemi really the king?); it can establish a new reputation (as it did for the Studebaker Lark Challenger with the R3 engine); it can improve a car’s reputation (can a 1969 Torino GT with a 390 be competitive with 400-cid GTOs?); and it’s cool for the owners who beat their personal best times.

The Studebaker contingency was eight strong, and this ‘63 Lark showed that it had the suds to compete with some big iron... er, fiberglass, like this ‘66 L72 427 Corvette.

4785 Stude vs Vette.jpg

When it comes down to it, it’s all for fun, and everyone learns and appreciates marques that may not normally be part of their paradigm. It is this purist’s thinking that brings folks from as far away as Louisiana to trailer their cars to this little town in west-central Michigan.

Friday is the day for registration, tech and test-and-tune. Run a few times, make some tweaks in the process and run some more. These time trials will result in matching racers with competitive times for the next day’s shoot-outs. For Friday evening, there’s a casual banquet where people munch on finger food, drink beer and bench race. In the past, speakers like Jim Wangers of GTO fame and Jim Mattison of Chevy COPO and Pontiac Historical Services have talked about Detroit and the muscle car era.

This Pontiac T-37 is one of 41 built with the 400 four-speed in 1971. The original owner wanted a GTO and was ready to buy one with his new bride, but the insurance was insane. Going through the catalog, he figured out he could get this cheapie T-37 (the successor to the Tempest) with the GTO’s engine and his insurance would not blink.

4785 T-37 Pontiac.jpg

For this year’s Saturday show, the weather could not have been better. This part of Michigan gets cold quickly, but with clear afternoons in the 60s, it makes for a great day of racing. Slowest cars go first, so the first pairing of a 1963 Studebaker Lark R1 going against a 1969 Cougar Eliminator with a 351 resulted in a best of 15.57 for the Merc, but gave a best-of-three win to the compact from South Bend. Fastest time for the day went to Jimmy Johnson’s L88 Corvette (racing a ZL1 Camaro, no less) with an incredible 11.66 at 122 mph.

Now what’s so “pure stock” about that, you may ask? As the event has evolved, so have the cars. The Web site states cars “must be factory correct for the year, model and horsepower claimed. Dealer-installed engines and dealer-performed engine modifications are not allowed. Casting numbers must be correct for the year and horsepower claimed including intake manifold, heads and exhaust manifolds. Modifications to the intake and exhaust manifolds are prohibited. Modifications are prohibited. Blocks do not have to be ‘numbers-matching,’ but they must be the correct displacement. Overbores up to .070 inches are allowed. Stock cranks only. NO strokers! Random P&G checks are possible. No lightweight connecting rods or pistons allowed. Pistons must be of the original design for the year and horsepower claimed. Replacement forged pistons are allowed as long as they do not increase compression. Torque straps are allowed. No aftermarket blocks allowed.”

From 1965-’67, the 2+2 was a performance package. In its first year, however, it was a trim package. This one is 421-cid equipped.


A few participants in the past have pushed the boundaries of the rules, which has led to the evolution of FAST racing, which is Factory Appearing Stock Tire. That’s another whole ball game, but overall, you can see how a “stock” car can get into the 11s. As the participants understand what a special event this is, few try to compromise the integrity of the rules.

The ‘70 Torino Cobra was Ford’s Road Runner competitor, while the ‘70 4-4-2 W-30 was a bit more upscale. Both cars are rated at 370 horsepower.


Here are some of the more memorable races from the event:

• 1970 Olds Cutlass S vs. 1971 Pontiac T-37:

The Olds was a rarity with the 350-cd/310-horsepower, four-speed and air induction – a documented car that was basically a Rallye 350 without the monochromatic yellow paint. But the Pontiac was 1 of 41 equipped with the 400 four-speed – a GTO in all but name and weight. The Poncho won the shoot-out with a best of 14.56 to the Olds’ 14.68.

• 1958 Mercury Monterey vs. 1974 Trans Am Super Duty 455:

It was Mercury, not Chrysler, that broke through the 400-horsepower barrier. Brian Stefina built this car for that very reason. What’s better than racing the acknowledged bookend of the muscle era, the Super Duty Firebird? Would you believe the three-speed 430 Merc went 14.01 for the win, beating the Poncho’s 14.09? Sure, 4.56 gears do help, but who knew?

• 1964 Catalina 2+2 vs. 1964 GTO:

The GTO’s big brother was not quite the performance machine, being a buckets-and-console package (much like an Impala SS) till the ’65 version made it a proper Big Brother to the GTO. However, that didn’t mean it couldn’t be equipped with a Tri-Power 421-cid to beat up on pesky “proper” muscle cars. Both cars had a personal best of 13.37, but the GTO won the best of three.

• 1968 Ram Air II Firebird 400 vs. 1973 Formula 455 Super Duty:

The first of the “round-port” head Pontiacs, the RAII started a tradition of the top-dog Pontiac engines during the muscle car era. The end was the Super Duty 455 from 1973-’74. Jim Mino was the guy who started making believers way back in ’85, and his RAII is still doing that. But what will win? High compression or more cubes? In this case, the latter – the ’73 turned a best of 12.77 to the ’68’s 12.82.

• 1967 Dodge Hemi Coronet R/T vs. 1969 Dodge Super Bee 440 Six Pack:

The Hemi is the engine in which all other engines are compared, but talk to Mopar fans, and some will claim that the A12 lift-off cars are the fastest Mopars. Bob Karakashian is the original owner of this Bee and made a name for himself in the mid ’80s. By turning a 12.09 to the Hemi’s 12.33, he has shown that he ain’t called “Mr. Six Pack” for nothin’!

Taking advantage of the rules, this 440 6-barrel ‘70 Road Runner has received a Hemi transplant.


It’s no surprise that muscle cars are the biggest draw in the automotive hobby these days, as the Baby Boomers’ nostalgia grows stronger as they grow older. With all the glitz and glam of the auctions these days, a race such as this is a refreshing reminder that trailer queens are nice, but trailer queens that race are nicer.

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