It’s going on 20 years now that Nick Strohbeen has had the same hot rod, thus giving credence to the homily that such projects are never really finished. On the face of it you could argue that the status of Nick’s keeper is purely controlled by natural progression. In 1993, Nick began with a ’72 Chevelle, brought it to several distinct levels of improvement, and just yesterday it seems he wound up with something quite different. Rather than flit from one car to another, he gave his old friend a warm embrace and the promise that the journey would continue for the foreseeable future. In a word, he loves this car.
Nick did it right. He made his changes. He developed his changes until they would yield no more then continued to move beyond. And to that end, he’s lavished the chosen one with textbook accumulation of goods and services necessary and appropriate for a low 8-second kidney disturber. Heady stuff this.
The Chevelle was first painted in 1994 and has hosted fat-block combinations ranging from a stock 454 to the current 565-incher. The latest paintjob was applied a little over a year ago. On the surface, the Chevelle doesn’t appear bloodthirsty; no, it comes on more like a schizoid wannabe, decked out in bright, clean livery and race wheels but there’s very little else to give it away—until you glimpse that rollcage. Wait a minute. Skinnies and fat Hoosier drag radials? An exhaust that booms like a street car racer’s dream? A smiling 37-year-old behind the wheel? A Real Street Unlimited champion? All of it is true.
But Nick’s stingy with his car, advancing the odometer by maybe 200 miles a year and visiting the quarter-mile three or four times. “I attend the three yearly Brainerd International Raceway events,” Nick says. “Now I’m trying to do more Cedar Falls Raceway 10.5 events as well as the annual Midway Shootout there.”
Our protagonist was a hapless victim of circumstance, of learned behavior. “I’ve grown up with a passion for cars. Working in the family business [www.normstiresales.com] with my grandfather, Norm, father, uncle, and aunt since I was roughly 8, I have been around numerous street rods and muscle cars, which I gravitated to.” His mentor, Dan Larson, was the father of a friend. Larson introduced him to drag racing and under his tutelage transformed the Chevelle from a street cruiser to a serious street racing entity.
He built an obnoxious 540 juice motor that blew 750 hp on pump gas. He got married, had a son, and soon reasoned that the street race vibe was becoming more dangerous than ever. He shelved everything and that’s how it stayed for 10 years. When his marriage decayed irrevocably, what he still had in his heart would not let him rest. He spent the next five years becoming intimate with the technology and tuning changes that had evolved since.
Then, acquaintance with a customer more or less changed his life. Dan Hennum was the man. His car-building experience, knowledge of racing, and inside connections spurred the combination. His tuning prowess helped Nick win races and got his 3,600-pound pig to run its best. Nick’s extended racing family also includes the tire shop’s irreplaceable brake tech Greg (aka Hippy), the team’s de facto crew chief. On a 300-shot, the 565 produced a best 60-foot of 1.25 seconds and collective 8.35 seconds at 166 mph. Yeah. See you at the drive-in too, bro.
Nick’s powder keg is rife with the best equipment the industry offers, and Gary Schmidt at Wheeler Racing in Blaine, Minnesota, directed its construction. Wheeler machined (align hone, a 4.60-inch bore, cylinder hone, decked, squared, internally balanced) the Dart Big M cylinder case. Assembly began with a Callies Stealth crank (4.25-inch stroke) then assumed 6.385-inch-long Oliver billet connecting rods and tricked-out 13.5:1 Diamond pistons (1.265-inch compression height—distance between the centerline of the pin bore and the top of the piston—and 0.990-inch diameter pins). Ring packs (0.043-, 1/16-, 3/16-inch) are Hellfire. The bottom end was closed with a Milodon 8-quart steel sump and requisite oil pump. At 0.050 inch, the COMP solid roller (with Jesel 0.937-inch diameter lifters) is endowed with 218/302 degrees duration and 0.889/0.990-inch lift. A Jesel beltdrive system ties the crank to the cam. The breathing apparatus is no less formidable: Race Flow Development in Virginia Beach, Virginia, furnished the CNC-ported cylinder heads, complete with Victory 2.35-inch titanium intakes and 1.9-inch stainless exhaust valves. Valvesprings are PAC Racing Springs triple-coil with companion PAC titanium retainers and locks. The heads are equipped with T&D guideplates that monitor Trend pushrods, which forcefully nudge T&D 1.8 and 1.7:1 shaft rocker assemblies. From the bottom of the stack, the carefully chosen components include a ported Edelbrock Super Victor manifold and a lightweight, low-profile, 1,100-cfm Pro-Systems SV-1 carburetor that’s copasetic with E85. Steve Johnson at Induction Solutions in Spring Hill, Florida, put one of his infamous two-stage juicers together and flowed the system for posterity. An MSD programmable 7531 digital ignition, coil, and Pro Billet distributor supply vibrant, unwavering spark. To help the leftovers out the door, Nick specified Lemons stepped race headers with 21/4- to 23/8-inch primaries, a 4-inch collector and 3.5-inch diameter back-system merging with Borla XR1 “mufflers”. Output has been dyno rated at 855 lb-ft and 990 hp. An equally potent drivetrain awaits. The Reid-case Powerglide was built by TSI with a 1.80:1 low gear and a 10-inch converter. A PST carbon-fiber driveshaft whips grunt to the fabbed 9-inch housing as massaged by TNT Raceshop in Blaine, Minnesota. Amendments include a Moser centersection, 3.50:1 gears on a spool, and 33-spline shafts fitted with 5/8-inch studs.
Wilwood drag racing brakes reside at either end of the Chevelle. They sport 11.4-inch-diameter discs and four-piston calipers. If they need a little help, there’s always that parachute jutting from the rear. Shiny, sexy Billet Specialties wheels make a visual as well as functional statement. Lightweight by nature, the Street Lites are 15x3.5 and 15x10 (with Champion beadlocks) and a 5.5-inch backspace. The rubbers are minimal 205/70 Kelly-Springfield and those gummy 275/60 Hoosier DOT Drag Radials.
TNT brought it on, building a certified 8.50 mild steel rollcage and reinforcing the stock suspension mounting points. TNT installed a modified four-link rear suspension with TNT double-adjustable chromoly upper and lower control arms, free-standing QA1 springs with an adjustable perch at the front of the axletube and a similar arrangement for the double-adjustable shocks mounted behind the axletube. TNT finished up with a custom antiroll bar setup. At the leading end, they reduced weight with the addition of a TNT rack steering system and TRZ tubular control arms and billet steering arms. Spindles are original equipment manufacturer and wheel damping is the province of Santhuff coils over adjustable QA1 bodies.
The body was plied, straightened, and paid for years ago and is still pristine. Nick replaced ferrous-based components with Glasstek fiberglass bumpers, a 4-inch cowl hood, and a skinnier decklid. Next stop, Mike Bighley at Bighley Auto Body in St. Paul, Minnesota. Bighley mixed and applied DuPont Waterborne Chromax Pro in Venom Red and Bright Silver, Chrysler factory colors both.
Bare metal floor. Naked and a little bit chilly here, and one look at those seats and you know Nick won’t be tripping to Los Angeles any time soon. But the place is really about function and to meet that obligation Nick employed skeletal Kirkey buckets, a G-Force five-point harness, Grant Collectors Edition steering wheel, a squad of Auto Meter instruments, and a FAST dual-band air/fuel ratio meter. Meanwhile, Nick palms a B&M Quarter Stick shifter. All door and side panels, dashboard, and so on, are original equipment. CHP