Date published: September 7, 2012
When Chris Hess wanted to turn his '68 Camaro into a beautiful Super Gas car, he wanted to do it right. The automated welding technician had bracket raced for many years and found himself wanting to go faster and faster to the point it was time to chop up his beloved 1970.5 Camaro or get a new car. He chose the latter.
He purchased his new Camaro about five years ago. The car had already been backhalved but wasn't exactly what he wanted, so he took it to prominent Sportsman racer and chassis builder Daren Erickson's shop in Bagley, Minn. Over the next couple of years, the car was completely redone.
"I was going to [backhalve] it, and I ended up going kind of overboard," said Hess. "It's a complete, chromoly, round-tubed car. It's a fullfiberglass front end. He redid the front end and closed the wheel openings. Daren did the rear end and such. That's all fab housing. Every piece on that thing is about custom-built, including the chop on it. He chopped about 2 inches out of the front and an inch out of the back."
The steel-bodied Camaro, which Hess said most people assume is fiberglass, was painted by Kent's Auto Body in Willmar, Minn. The top is synergy green and silver on the side with dark gray graphics with skulls stenciled in.
For horsepower, Hess runs a 565-cid big-block Chevy that is just shy of 1,000 horsepower. Mike Anderson of Thunder Valley Automotive in St. Joseph, Minn., pieced the engine together, starting with a Gen IV block and Brodix cylinder heads. The motor is topped with a carburetor built by Richard Larson, who is well-known for his carburetor work on race cars that use throttle stops. The motor looks clean with polished valve covers. The power is put to the ground through a Reid Powerglide transmission.
The car was worth the anticipation and buildup for Hess. With Erickson driving it during its maiden voyage, the car ran dead on the 9.90 dial at 158 mph. Hess then earned his competition license in it and the Neil & Parks Best Engineered Car trophy at the Division 5 NHRA Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series event in Brainerd in June.
"We tried to do everything right," said Hess. "I didn't want to cut any steps so we don't have to go back to it. The thing is just flawless. It goes perfectly straight and runs right on the number. It's a lot better than the driver."
Sitting in the staging lanes, the car looks like something you'd see in the Top Sportsman class, which is where Hess would eventually like to end up.
"I get that all the time," said Hess. " 'Why are you racing that in Super Gas?' A guy can only take one step at a time, you know. That's kind of what we built it for. It probably won't be next year, but in two years, it will be in Top Sportsman."
Hess is joined by a large group of friends and family at the races, which includes wife Michele and children Dedin, Morgan, and Lauren. Though he has found that competition is fierce in his first year of NHRA Sportsman racing, Hess enjoys the friendly environment that takes place before and after each run.
"Until you're on the line, you're best friends," said Hess. "I'm an old bracket racer, so I'm new into the Sportsman stuff. The competition is killer, but the people are just great." ND