Those big-ass Hoosiers, droop-snoot stance, and the way the wheels are sucked neatly up under the fenders make Phil Cooper's '66 Nova a nasty-looking proposition, so you gotta hand it to him for driving it every chance he gets, wheelie bars and all. Not racing. Driving. Yes, this is a real racer that's been driven thousands of highway miles, sometimes towing a 2,200-pound trailer! How's he do that?
Phil's a hot rodder, no doubt, having run Stock and Super Stock cars when Bill Jenkins was setting these realms on fire in the late '60s and early '70s. That was pretty early on, when the Old Man ran Jenkins Competition out of a Sunoco gas station on Route 30 in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. He, engine-builder Joe Tryson, Pete Preston, and a couple of slavishly driven others built and dispersed their magic amulets to dozens of racers. Phil was one of them, but he sure wasn't a local. He wasn't even from the NHRA Northeast Division. He was from the middle of Illinois, about 800 miles west of the Berwyn breeding ground. He made the pilgrimage, though.
"I'd driven all day, and when I got there we all went to the bar to get something to eat and have a beer. It was late when we got back to the shop so Tryson and the others went home. Jenkins was in a chatty mood, but I could barely keep my eyes open. Who wouldn't have liked to hear what he had on his fertile mind?" Apparently not Phil the Young Man. "I excused myself and found a room."
Soon it got to the point where our protagonist had to travel too far to run the eliminator on an average weekend, even if all you wanted to do was have some fun and break even. It was enough to make him quit racing for 30 years. But fast street cars he couldn't quit. He'd bought a 301 four-speed '66 Nova hardtop in California in 1999. It was cherry and uncut. He wanted something quicker. Phil hankered to do a big-tub Pro Streeter but couldn't bring himself to saw up the red Nova. He whizzed around the Internet for six months looking for a suitable guinea pig. He found it in St. Louis in the spring of 2004. It was the basis for the car you see here-but it didn't look anything like the car you see here.
It had a fake, very ugly convertible top on it, but it was tubbed and had big tires, a 9-inch Ford axle, rack-and-pinion steering, Mustang-type front suspension, and a Turbo 350 transmission. The motor was a 383 stroker capped with a B&M blower. It was faster than anything he'd driven. The absolute first thing he did was drop it off at Central Illinois Auto Body and had them peel off the tar-paper roof.
"It ran well but it was probably a low-11- or a high-10-second car at best...Then early in 2005, I had this bright idea to enter the car in the HR Pump Gas Drags...It was an invitation-only meet...I thought the chance of me being accepted was rather slim...I was notified that the car was one of 50 accepted. That was great, but here I sat with an 11-second car and an invite to a race that would be won by a car with a 9.40 average."