Hot rodding is a lot like life: you pretty much get out of it what you put into it. Go to any event and check out the car show to see what I mean. In no time flat, you'll be drowning in a sea of highly polished restos with Cabbage Patch Kids Velcro'd to their grilles-none of which could lay down rubber before incurring coronary blockage in its owner. For the rest of us who prefer to enjoy the hobby while awake, drag racing is the preferred venue. But drag racing can take its toll in the payment of lost "utility" for its owner. To some of us, it's hardly fun drag racing if it means taking your pride and joy off the street. Building a dedicated race car can have certain rewards, but this by nature excludes such high jinks as toying with fart-pipe Hondas at the stoplight on your way to the Frampton concert; or lighting your plant in a crowded parking lot and hearing car alarms go off; or yanking Third and sucking the weather stripping out of a Porsche turbo.
Having a car that's capable of mundane street duty and straight-line track work is the only answer, and it's the reason why I created the True Street class 13 years ago. The problem with such dual-use cars was that at the track, they got much less respect than they deserved. A guy with a gutted Camaro and a 13:1 big-block running a 'glide and 31-inch slicks is going to make short work of an 11-second 5-liter Mustang that made the trip to the track on its own power. That Super Pro Camaro wouldn't get 100 yards down a real road-even if it were legal for the street. It was time for someone to come in and level the playing field, so True Street was born.
For the uninitiated, the MSD True Street class is open to any street-legal, registered, insured car. There are a few rules prohibiting racecars from competing (no full tube chassis and carbon fiber bodies for instance), and even 13 years later, the class remains remarkably pure. All cars must drive a 30-mile escorted route without breaking down, then make three full-out back-to-back drag strip passes without puking. And during all of that, to keep it street legit, none of the cars can pop the hood for tuning. When it's all over, we average the runs, and rank them from quickest to slowest. The guy with the quickest average is crowned the King of True Street, while guys in the middle of the pack can also take home cheddar with awards going to the cars closest to (but not quicker than) 10.0, 11.0, 12.0, 13.0, 14.0 and 15.0 average ET. Interested? The full set of MSD True Street rules is available online at the National Muscle Car Association's Web site, www.fastesttreetcar.com.
So here we are in Atlanta for the 5th Annual Nitto NMCA Hot Rod & Muscle Car Nationals. The Atlanta area is known for its hardcore street element, and a stout contingent was indeed on hand to battle it out, but the winner came from Memphis, another hotbed of supra-legal street action. Frank Savage was crowned the King of Atlanta, thanks to a car that can best be described as looking like a refugee from a retirement home. Savage's '86 Caprice wowed onlookers with outrageous launches and ETs deep in the nines. Competition only came from the unlikely '39 Ford coupe of Sonny Smart, who fell well off his low 9-second pace on his last run, leaving Savage to soldier on to victory.
Nine-second street cars aside, there was lots of impressive action brewing within the ranks. Take Jim Williams' budget-oriented Starsky and Hutch '76 Gran Torino. Williams has just $14K into his disco-era Ford, but it cranks out 11-second ETs on motor with the reliability of an Osterizer. Savage's Caprice and Williams' Gran Torino weren't the only big gunboats in attendance either. Regular True Street competitor Robert Wilson of Parrish, Florida, was also in the house with his '65 Impala, which was fitted this time 'round with his back-up 327 mill (how many thousand runs are on it?) and running 15s. If there's a guy out there having more fun with less, we haven't met him. The father-and-son team of Matt (34) and Chip (62) Leetch of Buford, Georgia, might give Wilson a run for having the most fun, however. These guys run Fords and have a blast doing it. Matt's twin-turbo '93 Mustang is the faster of the two, but dad has fun with his stock '04 Mach 1-a 14-second index win (good for $100 and a set of MSD plug wires) showed the son that sometimes the tortoise does indeed win.The range of emotion also included heartbreak, which was felt by Tom Heatley Jr. and his '69 Camaro. A strong early favorite to win, Heatley experienced sudden loss of boost with the ejection of a Kevlar blower belt from his Procharged big-block on the first run. It painfully illustrates the tough boulevard-like conditions of True Street that regular drag racers just aren't exposed to: unable to open his hood to put another belt on, Heatley could only watch from the sideline as Savage's proven street combo took top honors.
After Atlanta, the season ended with the Nitto NMCA World Finals in Memphis on October 7, where William Slavely took the MSD True Street win in his Mustang with a 9.292 average. We've had a great time covering True Street in 2006, and we plan on bringing you more of the world's most legit street car class next year. See you there, and hang on for the ride!
Every MSD True Street event...
Every MSD True Street event begins with a driver's meeting prior to the 30-mile tour. Here, technical director George Carey (in yellow shirt) gives instructions for the drive and the drag race. Carey, a True Street race regular, was featured with his '85 Corvette in our December 2005 issue, and decided to help out on the NMCA side this time around.
We dug Tom Heatley Jr.'s '69...
We dug Tom Heatley Jr.'s '69 Camaro (Gleason, TN), which packs an 8:1-compression 477-inch big-block with an F1R Procharger and ACCEL Gen 7 DFI. So far, it's run a best of 9.30, but that was before his new Romar air-to-water intercooler. Heatley told PHR: "I'd like to see it go 8.40 with the new intercooler, but we have a belt issue. It's throwing belts for some reason."