It’s true. After 3 ½ years, my beloved Vega is officially BACK on the race track!
Legislation surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic loosened enough here in the state of Illinois for World Wide Technology Raceway (formerly known as Gateway International Raceway) to open last Saturday for a small “private” test session (it was limited to 30 cars). Saturday, by the way, was my 39th birthday. Needless to say, making a lap in my Vega after all this time… All this work… Let’s be honest: all this money spent… Well, it was the best birthday a guy could ask for.
Best of all? The day actually exceeded my expectations. In fact, the performance of the Vega blew my expectations out of the water! I’ve debuted several new race cars over the years. Enough to know that things rarely go perfectly. Specifically something like this project: there is not a lot on the Vega that I’m particularly familiar with. From the new 383 SBC combination, to the full exhaust, to a new 9” Ford setup (from the previous Olds/Pontiac rear end) to the added weight of steel doors and factory glass, and all of the latest technology I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I also felt virtually certain that despite our best efforts, something unforeseen would go wrong.
Surprisingly, thankfully, nothing went wrong! The test format was absolutely perfect for what we needed to do: About 20 cars showed up. That was enough participation to keep the track clean and warm, but not enough that we spent any time waiting to run. I made 13 passes in 6 hours with the new whip!
We tweaked and twisted, tinkered and tuned throughout the day – but nothing really needed attention. The car went straight and drove great from the first run (err… From the second run. On the first run, the steering wheel came off in my hands when I hit the throttle!). If you’ve been reading along, you know that my target ET is in the mid-6.40’s. To be honest, nothing between 6.20 and 6.60 would’ve shocked me!
I ran a best of 6.30 @ 109. After some tweaks and added weight, the last three runs landed between 6.399 and 6.405. I’ll take it! I even aired it out to the ¼ mile on one lap (possibly the only time it will EVER get that treatment), and recorded a 10.04 @ 133.
Opening day doesn’t typically go this smoothly. When it does, I think it’s only proper to give credit where credit is due. You’ve read about a lot of the manufacturers and individuals who’ve played a major role in making this car what it is. I want to spotlight a few here. First and foremost: Chris Estep. Chris keeps the ball rolling here at headquarters and put countless hours of blood, sweat, and attention to detail into this machine. I think he was more nervous than I was for the maiden voyage!
Charlie Stewart and Nathan Martin at Charlie Stewart Race Cars not only built the bitchin’ stainless steel exhaust, but they also did the initial suspension setup and alignment. Believe it or not, I never turned a bar or adjusted a shock on Saturday (that’s not common in anything… Much less with me – I’m pretty picky… Much less in an oversized golf cart, I mean Chevrolet Vega). It went straight and drove great right from the jump.
Thanks to my father-in-law Jack Camden, Jr. for pushing me out of the way and building a “damn small block” that exceeded my expectations.
Thanks to Shawn and the staff at T2G Customs for the incredible paint and body work – you’ve literally got to see this car in person to appreciate it. Come to think of it, I’m still not sure if I should thank Shawn or cuss him: when we saw the finished paint product, it elevated the level of the entire car. Everything had to live up to the perfection that is the body and paint. In the end, that cost me a lot more money than the initial budget called for!
So many people had a hand in this, and I’m sure I’ll leave someone out. You can scroll back through these blog entries and read about most of them. Thanks to Jeff Hayes, Rick’s Powder Coating, Dean and the crew at McIlvain Race Cars, and all of the manufacturers whose quality products help to make this the car that I’ve always dreamed of.