There’s a certain sense of pride and accomplishment that goes with building something with your own two hands. Nevermind that you can save a lot of money in doing so. In drag racing terms, the do-it-yourself approach is more feasible and economical than ever before, as world-class chassis builders like Jerry Bickel Race Cars have made available a wide array—virtually every last chrome-moly tube, handle, nut, and bolt—of ready-to-install parts and pieces to assemble a racecar, with all the same quality, function, and design of that used on their high-dollar shop-built cars. The only thing they can’t sell you is their level of craftsmanship and the knowledge they’ve gained from decades of experience and refinement.
Or perhaps they can.
Jerry Bickel, one of the sport’s most esteemed chassis builders, with enough accolades at the professional level from his customers to fill a museum, partnered with author and publisher Jim Barfield of ETC, Inc. to produce a two-part guide to professional drag racing chassis construction. Barfield, who created the popular 4-Link Wizard software and has published engine-building books previously—in addition to his work in educational training and industrial design—was the perfect man for the job.
This is what we build here … we aren’t holding anything back. – Jerry Bickel
Bickel and his crew of uber-talented fabricators allowed Barfield complete and unfettered access to the company’s Moscow Mills, Missouri facility to document the construction of a Pro Modified-style doorslammer in great detail over a period of six months. As it’s noted in the introduction in each of the two books, Bickel held nothing back, covering the entire build process and providing a rare glimpse behind the scenes at a process which would previously been shielded behind a cloak of secrecy.
For Bickel, this was an opportunity to both better educate the customers purchasing parts from his catalog and to grow the knowledge base of the do-it-yourself racer and chassis builder at home. Owing to the level of access provided in thee books, Bickel notes that all of the tricks of the trade that existed at the time were disclosed, and if you were Rickie Smith or Pat Musi calling to order a new state-of-the-art racecar, what’s is documented here was, by and large, what they took home.
“This is what we build here … we aren’t holding anything back,” Bickel comments.
While other chassis books have been published before, Bickel is quick to attest that “it’s the most complete such book that I’ve ever seen. Jim is really good at this, having written books for schools and colleges, and I knew he’d do a great job.”
Bickel and Barfield have broken the build into two books: Tube Chassis Fabrication (Volume 1) and Body & Interior (Volume 2).
Volume 1 opens with a look at the required tools and equipment for constructing a tube chassis racecar—from tube benders and notchers to bench grinders, TIG welders, Cleco fasteners, and so on. If it wasn’t already a given before turning back the cover, a look at the tools for the job indicates well that this is by no means a simple undertaking that can be accomplished with ordinary tools from hardware stores, and should not be treated as such. Conversely, it takes a certain level of pre-existing fabrication knowledge to tackle something like this, but if you indeed have that experience, this book is one of the most valuable assets you can have at your disposal.
Bickel’s team begins with the floor, which serves as the basis for measurements and for which the rest of the chassis will be built around, getting into ground clearance, x-bracing, and the main framerails and front and rear crossmembers. From there, the dimensions of the body begin to factor into the equation as the main hoop, dash and window bars begin to take shape.
Two of the most important parts of the chassis—the roll cage and the 4-link brackets— follow as Bickel wraps up the cockpit by covering in detail the Funny Car-style cage and various bars that protect the driver, before moving on to the rear section of the chassis, focusing on the sway bar brackets, upper crossbars and supports, and wishbone mounts.
Focus then shifts to the front of the car, including the steering rack and mounts, engine placement, mid plates, and the control arm mounts. The upper framerail and mid plates are then covered, with attention on the engine supports and transmissions mounts. The book wraps with a number of finishing touches that cover the car nose to tail, including brake master cylinder mounts, the driveshaft loop, parachute levers, driver’s seat, tie rods, and window net.
With the basic chassis complete, the process then moves to the body, interior, and the many elements that remain to complete a fully-functioning and sound racecar.
Beginning right where the previous edition left off, Volume 2 likewise opens with a rundown of the tools needed for the interior, body, and other assorted projects remaining on the to-do list — this includes a sheet metal shear and brake, a bead roller, band saw, epoxy resin, and a range of other tools and materials. The text then turns to the many intricacies of the floor, with a walk-through of carbon fiber and sheet metal options and how to create the templates for each panel. From there, we’re led to the steering an body placement, the mounting of the doors, window installation, front end mounting, installation of the transmission tunnel and wheel tubs, brakes and fire line routing, and wrapping up with the fitting of the hood scoop.
The volume, at 239 pages, covers an immense amount of detailed information, all of which is incredibly valuable to the newcomer to racecar-building or those interested in learning some new tricks and methods to do the job.
“With these books, we wanted to take the home builder or the self-builder and provide them with some of the professional methods of building a racecar. As much as it costs to build these cars, you hate to see someone build one and make some mistakes and not get the value out of the money they spent. So this gives them an opportunity to do the job right and protect their investment.”
Bickel adds that while the book documents building a chassis their way, it doesn’t necessarily require one of their chassis kits or building a car start to finish identical to how they’ve done it — rather, readers can reference any number of parts of the book to complete their own project.
“There are so many things that are not really secrets, but procedures that save you time, save you materials, and save you from having to re-do things, and that’s what these books really do is give you the proper procedures to do the job right. Now there may be other procedures for how to do the job, but this is just the way we do it here and how we found it best to do it. It’s not the only way, but it’s our way.”
As much as it costs to build these cars, you hate to see someone build one and make some mistakes and not get the value out of the money they spent. So this gives them an opportunity to do job right and protect their investment. – Jerry Bickel
Jerry Bickel’s Complete Guide to Pro Chassis Fabrication book set is available online at www.jerrybickel.com. Volume 1, at 144 pages, is priced at $79.95 (Part#: RT-2016), Volume 2 at 256 pages $99.95 (Part#: RT-2017), or they can be purchased together at $149.95 (Part#: RT-2018).