One of the key ingredients in cleaning up the engine compartment was relocating the radiat
Since Bill Wood started building brake systems for stock cars back in '77, his Wilwood Brakes have been a staple on just about every high-performance build since, so it is no surprise that Nelson took full advantage of their technology when choosing a system that would stop on a dime after jumping a Coke bottle.
Playing lead in this ensemble of speed is a '69 440 engine that has been treated oh-so right. The block was align-honed and fitted to a set of JE pistons and Eagle rods once the factory steel crank was balanced to them. With 10:1 compression and a solid-lifter cam, a pair of port-matched Edelbrock Performer RPM heads was really able to scream. The engine was originally built by Jim Wise, who also spec'd out an Indy single-plane intake manifold pulling air through a Holley double-pumper.
Nelson wanted to make sure that the engine was the showstopper here, so he thoroughly detailed and cleaned up the engine compartment. Tucking away wires and smoothing the firewall was only the start of that process. He hid the ignition box, and rather than leaving ugly holes where the factory shocks stood, routed the crankcase evac tubes down to the headers through those holes. On the back side of those tubes, Nelson ran a pair of TTI 2-inch underbody headers ready to make sweet music. All of the power created by that combination passes through a Cope Racing Transmission 727 TorqueFlite via a 3,800-stall converter.
Try as he might to make the engine the star, the interior really steals the show. Robert Beauchamp Upholstery of Highland, Indiana, was responsible for making the package really sync. They wanted to stick with the black and green theme for the interior, so Beauchamp covered a set of aluminum Kirkey racing seats and had custom "DART" patches embroidered to be inset into the seat covers, center console, and dash. He took care to make sure that there was plenty of room inside once an NHRA-approved six-point rollcage was installed with swing-out door bars for easy access. They built a custom center console to house a Cheetah Turbo Action shifter and the controls for the power windows. Yes, power windows. Machine-turned aluminum was used to give the dash, glovebox, and center console a little more flair, and they kicked it up a notch by adding Auto Meter Carbon Fiber Ultra-Lite gauges to the mix. While sitting like an engineer in front of a mixing board, Nelson controls the direction of the music by way of a Flaming River Waterfall steering wheel. Ironically, the one thing blatantly missing from the interior is a stereo system. Nelson jokes he couldn't hear it if it had one anyhow. He is also a fan of the 2-60 air-conditioning system. That is, two windows at 60 mph. This is a fairly lightweight street/strip car after all, and weight slows you down.
While Beauchamp was busy getting the interior to settle into harmony, he just couldn't find the right color thread to really pop on the black upholstery. "Nobody seems to make a nylon thread that is fluorescent green. So I was at Gander Mountain one day, and I called my buddy up who does the upholstery work and said, 'Hey, can you stitch with fishing line?' He said, 'I don't know. I have never tried.' So I bought a spool of 20-pound test fluorescent green fishing line, and that's what we stitched the interior with." The sewing machine didn't fight it and it turned out to hit just the right note, making the interior complete.
With the final notes written in this composition, Nelson couldn't wait to hear its sweet song. In fact, he's been listening to it now for over 2,500 miles of clear days and warm summer nights. He's yet to take the car to the strip but estimates a pretty lively performance. "I know that the guy who I bought the motor from was running the same drivetrain and same gear, and was running 10.80s in a car that was about a thousand pounds heavier than mine. That was before the roller rockers and Indy intake. I would say low 10s would be feasible," he says.
Though his life for the most part now revolves around helping young musicians find their glory, on those days that he takes the bright green Dart on the streets of Highland, it is that car that relishes in the limelight.