When you think of going drag racing, most immediately imagine the cars — they think of Fox Body Mustangs, Camaros, Chevelles, Challengers and the like. John Dittmer only thinks of one body style to satisfy his need for speed: a Chevy Luv Truck.
It wasn’t always about the Chevy Luv, though. It all began for John with taking his daily drivers to the track.
Just out of high school, John acquired a 1969 Firebird that he drove for a few years. Feeling like the odd man out, with most people at the time driving Chevrolets, he traded the Firebird for a 1967 Chevelle. The Chevelle was a good 13-second car when John traded for it and it continued to be his daily driver and weekend drag car.
“Over the years we tweaked things here and there and were able to make the Chevelle a solid low to mid 12-second car,” John says.
Around this time, a friend of John’s offered up a truck so that he could make the Chevelle a weekend fun car that he could take to the track and the truck could serve as his daily. That truck was a Chevy Luv. The truck had a four-cylinder engine, four-speed transmission, and was white with brown primer spots. It was straight and fairly clean — a perfect daily driver, and for only $500.
All of John’s buddies were hot rodders so the choice was made to go with a small-block 350 Chevy and a Turbo 350 instead of trying to fix the four-cylinder engine in the truck. The Chevy Luv remains the only vehicle that John owned and was still his daily driver over the next year. As time passed a couple of motors had been swapped into the truck to make a little bit more power and it got to the point where the rearend just couldn’t handle the power that was getting pushed to it. To remedy this issue John decided to make a change to the back half of the truck.
John was working as an Automotive technician at Brumbelow Automotive where he mentored under Mike Brumbelow. Mike was very successful in NHRA Stock, Super Stock, and Stock Eliminator. He was just a guru on cars and motors and transmissions and how to make them fast. Mike convinced John to back-half the truck in the shop, so Mike and John rolled it into the shop and chopped the back half of the Luv truck right at the cab.
Three months later the Luv truck had new framerails, a four-link, big tires, a nine-inch rearend, the bed had tubs added to it. Now, John, had a back-halved small-block Luv truck after three months of work and was driving it on the daily. Back then in the late 80s and early 90s, it was the thing to be driving around a pro street-style car or truck.
“Over the next couple of years we started doing bigger engines, as I wanted to go faster and faster. We were all chasing that 9-second street car number in the 1/4-mile. Back in the early 90s, 1/8mile wasn’t really a thing” John says. In the pursuit of that 9-second number, John purchased a 406-inch Reher Morrison small-block which put the Luv truck right into the 9-second zone.
With speed comes the concern for safety. John wanted to make sure if something bad happened he would be safe. The truck was taken to Austin, Texas and over the next year was transformed with a new front half, a chrome-moly roll cage, 2×3-inch frame rails, steel A-arm suspension, and updated four-link. The 406 at this time was making around 700 horsepower with a big shot nitrous kit typically pushing 1100 to 1200 horsepower total, and the truck was a legitimate 8.50 track terror. The truck was painted Johns favorite color — 1970.5 Hugger Orange, with the current yellow and white with checkerboard graphics.
After running a small-block for four to five years, John kept hurting the engine. A friend of his had told him that he would stop hurting engines if he updated to a big-block, so taking that advice, he updated the engine to a big-block 496 and raced the truck for another five years without a hiccup.
After 19 years of drag racing, John encountered a major lower back issue that abruptly halted his racing endeavors, forcing the sale of his beloved Luv truck.
“I couldn’t stand or walk for more than four hours per day and it was too painful to get in and out of the truck. I could hardly work and my money was running low, which forced me to sell it,” John said. The truck sat in his garage for a year and he decided to put it on the internet to try selling it. “I hadn’t run the truck in a year. It was just sitting in the garage, so I was going to let someone else enjoy it,” John says.
After being posted on the internet for two hours a father and son out of Houston, Tyler and Tommy Stubbe, bought the truck sight unseen as a roller. The two had raced John three times prior in Houston and John had beaten them all three times. They knew the truck, they knew it was a solid performer, and it looked great. They knew all they had to do was pull the drivetrain out of their own racecar and put it in the truck and they could be racing by the next weekend.
Tyler and Tommy ran the truck in a 5.80 index class, but after some years of racing it, they had moved on to other types of racing and the truck was once again sitting in a garage not being utilized for what it was built for. Tyler had married and was looking to buy a house, so, they had to put the truck up for sale. Tyler personally contacted John and asked if he wanted it back. Every four to six weeks Tyler called John and asked if he wanted the truck back and every four to six weeks the price was lowered.
After ten months of back and forth, John bought the truck back. It wasn’t to go back to racing, but it was having the chance to purchase something that he spent 20 years of his life building.
“I wasn’t itching to go racing…what I was itching to do is get something that I had poured my heart and soul into and get it back. Racing was in the back of my mind, not in the forefront,” John said.
The Luv truck sat in John’s shop for two and a half months while he touched every nut and bolt. He wanted to familiarize himself again with the truck and be sure that everything was the way it needed to be if he got back in it again to race. Tyler hadn’t changed anything on the truck — it was as if John had never gotten rid of it. Everything was the same as when John originally owned it; there wasn’t a nick, a scratch, or anything changed in the chassis. Tyler treated the truck exactly the way John had treated it — like his baby. The only things that were changed were components that had worn out, shocks, new wheels, and new electronics.
The first time back out in the Luv truck, it wasn’t performing as John had hoped. One call to Tyler and they had found out that the MSD Digital 7 box had defaulted all the settings. Tyler was able to get the truck set back up as it should be and John made a solid pass with the issue resolved.
“You would have thought that my hair had been set on fire! I hadn’t been that fast in ten years. My immediate thought was, ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t know if I can do this again.’ It was too fast, everything was a blur. I can’t remember what happened from the time I let it go of the button to the time I crossed the finish line. Everything was happening so fast because I had been away from it for so long,” John explains.
The truck was clearly more capable with the larger engine, so John took out some timing and turned down the nitrous a bit to get a feel for going that fast once again. Once John got used to the speed again, they started turning it back up.
Over the next couple of years, John took the truck to events around Texas to get reacquainted with drag racing. In 2017, he started talking to Shannon Morgan, promoter of the Redemption No Prep Series about doing some no-prep racing. After numerous phone calls and discussing John’s background in racing, Shannon agreed to let John run at Texas Motorplex at one of the Redemption races. “We ended up winning that race and I was hooked. I loved it. It was competitive. This is the kind of racing I want to do,” John says.
“I love to race, I love the camaraderie between the guys I race with, and I have a couple of great guys and their wives — John and Allison Cryer that own JC Auto Repair in Belton, Texas and Tim and Tamara Wilson that own TNT Automotive in Temple, Texas — that help make this team successful. We all have a huge passion for this. A special thanks goes out to my wife, Ashton Drollinger, my business partner, Carl Johannsen, and my other sponsors, Mark Martin at Salado Premier Builders, along with Steve and Sandra Nagy at Nagy Plumbing. They make it a lot easier for me to do this with having a support system and a team that loves racing” John said.
You can see John and his Luv truck in action during the Redemption 16.0 World Finals at Xtreme Raceway Raceway Park November 9-10. SpeedVideo.com will have the live broadcast of Redemption 16.0 RIGHT HERE for you to enjoy. This broadcast is brought to you by presenting sponsor Lunati, along with ProCharger, FAST, Moser Engineering, Flying a Motorsports, Neal Chance Racing Converters, Baer Brakes, Aeromotive, and Firestone.