My favorite race car is a 1974 Vega originally built by Don Hardy Race Cars (Hardy built many of the Pro Stock cars in that day). It’s been a race car since 1974 – originally built not for Pro Stock, but for Modified Eliminator. The Vega has a long and storied racing history; far too long to list here. Let’s just say it’s been on the race track, almost non-stop, for 45+ years.
My favorite race car came into my life in 2004, when I traded a dragster chassis I’d won at a bracket race to my longtime friend Blake Allen and received the Vega in return. I honestly thought the turnkey Vega would be easier to sell than the dragster chassis (and I could have a little fun in it in between). I had no intentions of keeping it forever. I had no idea I’d fall in love.
The cash side of my transaction with Blake was $3,000. The weekend I picked the car up, I won a $2,500 race. In my mind at least, it was essentially paid for. And the rest is history. Over the course of the next decade, the Vega was my go-to. It got raced nearly every week, 40+ weeks a year, often 2, 3, even 4 or 5 days a week, and typically in EVERY class that it would fit in. We logged some serious laps together. It was a workhorse.
I can’t say she was a creampuff when she came into my life. Thirty years of racing has a way of weathering a car. I can also promise that I didn’t do it any favors. For twelve years, I don’t ever remember wiping it off. A battery once came loose and knocked out a tail light. I used ISC Racer’s Tape to secure it back into place. That same tape adorned the back panel for years. One winter day I got bored… One box of Tide, a slew of Scotchbrite, and a case of Krylon later my Vega was flat black. It rolled that way for years, and never once saw spray cleaner, much less wax. For much of our time together, I hauled the Vega and a dragster in a trailer that they didn’t really fit in together. I would back the dragster in, hoist the front end up to the ceiling, then literally drive the Vega in until the roof hit the dragster. Then I’d close the door and hope for the best. The roof was noticeably caved in as a result.
At the end of the 2016 season, I decided the Vega was far overdue for some attention. I’d made the decision that I could never part with the car. After 12 years, we’d been through a lot together and my love was still strong. I figured I’d own it forever. I still assume that if and when my sons decide to get into racing, they’ll drive it. And if I was going to keep it forever, it was time to repay my prize possession for all that I’d put her through. It was time to make the Vega into something I could be proud of. So in November 2016, the Vega Resurrection officially kicked off.
I had no idea what I was getting into.
It started harmlessly enough: I stripped every nut, bolt, wire, and fitting from the car. I drug the hull out into the yard, set it on its side, and pressure washed 42 years of grit and grime away. From there, it went to my friend Jeff Hayes’ shop here in Southern Illinois. Jeff replaced the firewall, installed steel doors (with roll-up windows!) and a steel rear hatch. He mounted a fresh fiberglass front clip and hood, and performed countless other updates.
One the biggest (and most necessary) upgrades was the rear end. The Vega had an Olds/Pontiac rear end setup – no doubt state of the art in 1974 – that had become outdated. Replacing gears and/or cases was often a twice annual event (one time I left the Pinion gear on the starting line at Music City Raceway… With the driveshaft attached). So I had Moser Engineering build a custom M9 Ford 9” housing and filled it with their entire package: 3rd member, axles, and brakes.
From Jeff’s shop, the Vega went to Rick’s Powder Coating in Memphis before being whisked away to T2G Customs, another Southern Illinois facility run by another local racer friend, Shawn Johnston. Admittedly, this is where things really began to get out of hand. I knew that Shawn and his crew did good work. I knew they would treat my beloved Vega like one of their own. What I didn’t fully understand was just how well they treat their own!
The good news is that my Vega is nice. REALLY nice!
The bad news is that the paint elevated the entire project (In other words, it cost me a lot of money)! The goal of the build went from “nice” to “show quality” immediately after leaving the T2G shop.
Rather than typical aluminum interior, we had to go Carbon Fiber. So she spent some time at McIlvain Race Cars with Dean McIlvain and crew to get outfitted.
Rather than regular steel headers, it now had to have polished stainless. So off she went to Texas for a stop at Charlie Stewart Race Cars. Charlie and Nathan Martin built a slick set of stainless headers, into full stainless exhaust and mufflers (I can hear the radio – yes it has a radio – over the engine at idle).
The powerplant in the Vega is nothing extravagant: just a mild 383 SBC. My goal was to run in the 6.40’s in the 1/8th mile, and we’ve surpassed that with a best E.T. of 6.34 to-date. It’s literally got every gadget I could ever need (in addition to some that I almost certainly will not). Along with the people I’ve pinpointed above who played a critical role in the Vega resurrection, I want to also recognize Chris Estep. Chris is my guy here in the shop and he did most of the tedious assembly work with great care (including 2 days-worth of sanding/polishing on the aforementioned exhaust!).
While I don’t have the space to recognize every manufacturer whose products we depended on to complete this build, rest assured that anything you see bolted to this car is there for one reason: I think it’s the best piece available!
Three and a half years later, the end result is nothing short of unbelievable. I LOVE the way Vega 2.0 turned out (well, let’s be honest.. It’s more like version 11.4)! I’m riding to the lanes with the windows down, the hatchback up, and the radio blaring. If it’s possible for a Vega to be cool, I’ve got a cool Vega! It’s awesome, and no… It’s not for sale!
If you’re intrigued and want more details and/or photos, I’ve been relatively vigilant in blogging through the Vega Resurrection process since day one. You can check it out at thisisbracketracing.com/vega-resurrection.