If you’re going to be late, be fashionably late.
So that’s precisely what father-daughter drag-and-drive stars Dennis and Alex Taylor did at Rocky Mountain Race Week a month ago. Dennis, who has campaigned a turbocharged Nova and Alex a boosted Camaro for many a years at such events — enough so to be shoe-in hall of famers if there were such a thing — had spent the brunt of the prior month sleeping barely an hour or two a night in a mad thrash to get their new 1955 Chevrolet running. The build, a four-month process in all, didn’t even exist on paper, much less in any physical form, in January. When it was finally complete — admittedly minus a few small corners cut for the sake of time — they didn’t step back, admire their work, and get some much-needed rest as an ordinary, non-automotive person might expect…no, they had somewhere to be.
Alex, one of the sport’s bright young female competitors and influencers, had just about done it all in her familiar orange 1968 Camaro, clocking low 8-second runs compliments of the twin-turbo, 427 LSX under the hood, and she was ready to go faster. It was that desire — and the desire to set a true performance goal for the first time in her career — that led to this most unlikely of missions to build a world-class car in record time.
“I’ve raced the Camaro for seven years now and I was ready to upgrade and go faster, and we didn’t exactly know how to do it. I didn’t want to take the Camaro out of that 8.50 certification….I didn’t want to cut it and put a Funny Car cage in that car, but I was willing to do it to make that next step. We were going to put the cage in it, put a tubular front suspension under it, and totally change it all up. It was going to be quite a bit of work and it was going to ruin the car for what it is,” she says.
The Taylor’s had met with their sponsors regarding the Camaro’s planned transformation and were all set to start moving dirt, figuratively speaking.
I’m so proud of this car. Every time I pass by it I just think, ‘dangit that car looks good,’ ‘oh my gosh that car looks good.’
“Literally at the end of January, dad calls me one morning and says, ‘hey, come to the shop, I have an idea, but it’s only going to work if you’re onboard.’ There’s been this ’55 Chevy that was sitting behind the shop that he had traded one of his cars for, and it ended up being a lot rougher than he anticipated, so it had just been sitting down there getting even worse over the past five years or so. I get to the shop and he says, ‘I had this idea…let’s pull everything out of the Nova, we’ll put it in that ’55 Chevy, we’ll build it in a couple of months, we’ll go racing, it’s so much lighter, you can’t help but go sixes,’ ” she explains.
“So that’s how the quest for the sixes came about, because he said, ‘let’s go fast, let’s go with intention.’ We’ve never built a car with intention…we’ve had my car and his car, and they’ve been truly street-able cars and the racing was secondary, whereas this is a racecar that’s street-able,” she continues. “We decided right there that was our goal: we’re going after the sixes, and then it hit me…we have like four months. This sounds absolutely insane.”
The Taylor’s had planned out their season to attend all of the major drag-and-drive events, beginning with the Summit Midwest Drags in June, meaning they’d have to build a complete car from scratch faster than they’d ever done it before. And while others pitched in, including mother Debbie and sister Megan, the project was undertaken almost entirely by Dennis, Alex. This was the ultimate in father-daughter quality time.
Alex spent the first month of the project on her computer, communicating with sponsors to ensure she had the funds and parts to take on such a lofty project. “The plan came together so much better than we anticipated — it was truly supposed to be a very, very ratty ’55 with all of the borrowed parts from the Nova, and when we were done, we’d move all the parts back to the Nova and push the ’55 back outside and let it rust away. But we ended up having enough parts that the ’55 is totally independent from the Nova, with the exception of the engine and transmission,” she explains.
The ’55 features a full tube chassis — in the same vein as the many Unlimited-class cars that have competed at these events — that meets 6.50 e.t. certification. The well-weathered factory shell was draped over the chassis, and the Taylor’s made custom molds to create a fiberglass trunk lid and doors and a removable nose out of a combination of carbon-fiber and fiberglass.
When it was all finished, Dennis and Adrian Berryhill touched up the paintwork to make the natural patina flow to the new composite parts to complete the look. A set of Billet Specialities wheels were sourced for the project, and their team applied the unique brushed magnesium coating that perfectly compliments the styling.
After working nearly around the clock on the ’55, in the end, they missed their target of attending the Midwest Drags and came “devastatingly close” to being done in time for Rocky Mountain Race Week. So close, in fact — Alex says about eight extra hours in the bank and they’d have made it — that the car was finished after the event had begun, so the Taylor’s took the car and joined the convoy on the top through the Rockies anyway, despite not being credited with any official participation. In all, they put 750 mountainous highway miles on the car, and a pair of hits on the dragstrip, to break it in right.
The engine, a 509 cubic-inch big-block Chevrolet, sports twin 88mm Precision turbochargers, and is backed by a Turbo 400 from Jake’s Performance and a converter from ProTorque. A carbon-fiber driveshaft was sourced from QA1, transferring the power back to a rearend housing from Rhodes Race Cars that Dennis completed fab work on. The Baer brakes on all four corners performed flawlessly going up and down the mountains.
The Taylor’s intend to eventually build a fresh, new engine for the ’55 that’s more capable of reaching their goal of running in the sixes than the present one robbed from Dennis’ Nova.
The big-block has belted out 2,500 horsepower on the dyno, and based on calculations by the Taylor’s, they believe it can reach 3,000 with the right tune-up — that, in combination with an 800-pound lighter car versus the Nova, and mathematically it can go 6.99 or better, they’ve determined.
We’ve never built a car with intention…we’ve had my car and his car, and they’ve been truly street-able cars and the racing was secondary, whereas this is a racecar that’s street-able.
Though their experiences piloting a pseudo-racecar hundreds of miles at a time on the road, the Taylor’s have learned how to make their lives a little easier — so they’ve added or intend to add some creature comforts, including phone charging ports and cell phone mounts, inverters for charging their laptops, pockets for carrying the laptops for tuning the car, cupholders, and other organizationally-minded features.
Unlimited-class cars like this one have a reputation for necessitating significant transformations to go from track to street trim, giving some nay-sayers a louder voice, but the Taylor’s set out to streamline this as much as possible.
“As of right now, we don’t know if we’ll have to take wheelie bars on and off…we’re going to try to modify the trailer to work with them and hopefully we can leave them on. But the main thing is we swap our race tune, and swap the fuel systems, which just consists of two Waterman valves that are flipped in opposite directions (they’ll use pump gas and methanol); we also add on the belt for the mechanical fuel pump and the belt for the vacuum pump. And we’ll change the tires for the street. For Rocky Mountain Race Week, dad and I were just beat-dead tired and dad said, ‘I absolutely do not want to change tires on this thing,’ so we took the street tires in the trailer in case it rained, but we did drive on slicks the entire time. I’ve never had a slick-tire car, but they did super well on the road.”
The ’55 will serve as Alex’s entry for at least the rest of this season and 2022, but she says there’s another car she eventually wants to build for the drag-and-drive races. “I’d like to take this ‘55 to some other events down the road, where I could truly compete and race. I would love to hone my skills, because I don’t get to do that as much as I’d like. to This car is just purpose-built enough that I feel confident in taking it to something like that.”
“I’m so proud of this car,” she says of the ’55 in closing. “Every time I pass by it I just think, ‘dangit that car looks good,’ ‘oh my gosh that car looks good.’ I absolutely love it even more than I anticipated. I’m just happy with how it all turned out and out it to its use and make some fast passes.