Having had a hankering to build a naturally-aspirated combination for some time, Alan Pennywitt decided in ’99 to buy a ’69 Chevelle to restore and race in the All Motor ranks at Milan Dragway in Michigan.
Even though its eleven-second elapsed-times weren’t competitive, it served as an entry into heads-up racing, and it wasn’t long before he committed to stepping up and bought the ’69 Chevelle he has now as a roller in ’05. After repeatedly referring to it as a “hoopty,” he stripped from it everything but its roof, firewall and rocker-panels.
Upon securing all-steel replacement pieces from National Parts Depot and a hood from Harwood, and making a mold for a carbon-fiber front bumper, he delivered the car in shell-form to Skinny Kid Race Cars.
“Keith Engling at Skinny Kid Race Cars basically built the entire chassis, including the 25.2 chrome moly Funny Car cage,” said Pennywitt. “To be in accordance with the class rules, the car had to have stock framerails from the firewall forward, and the framerails were moved way up to get the car to sit low. He also fabricated the rear suspension, including the four-link, and the front suspension, including the control-arms. It has Strange shocks up front and Strange brakes all the way around.”
In addition, Engling fabricated the headers, set up the engine’s front and mid plates and radiator mounts and situated the car’s fuel cell and fuel pump as well as brake and gas pedals, steering column and shifter mount. Throughout the process, Pennywitt would visit the shop to behold the build.
Meanwhile, he had contacted former NMCA Pro Stock champion Chris Uratchko of Uratchko Racing Engines about the designing and building of an engine.
I was only expecting to make 1200 horsepower and we made 1,250 horsepower on the first pull and then 1,380 by the end of the day, so I was totally happy.
To help lead Pennywitt into battle, Uratchko chose a Dart Race Series block with a 10.2 deck and outfitted it with a custom lightweight Callies crank, MGP aluminum rods, Diamond pistons and an LSM cam. He topped all of it with Reher-Morrison Raptor spread-port heads, an Edelbrock 2802 intake and a CFM carburetor.
Helping to plant the power would be a Coan three-speed transmission maintained by Joel’s on Joy and an Ultimate Converter Concepts converter.
“By this time, it was the beginning of ’07, and we put the engine on the dyno,” said Pennywitt. “I was only expecting to make 1200 horsepower and we made 1,250 horsepower on the first pull and then 1,380 by the end of the day, so I was totally happy.”
Not long after, Pennywitt picked the car up from Skinny Kid Race Cars and began the six-month-long body work process — which included some body-filler and some block-sanding — and then applied the glossy black paint which appears completely free of flaws at Manchester Collision and Towing, where he works with his brother-in-law, Bill Kerns.
Then, he and his brother, Steve Pennywitt, introduced the engine to the car and rolled the stunner out of the trailer at Milan Dragway in August of ’08, at which point engine-builder — and now friend — Uratchko climbed into its driver’s seat to make a series of shakedown passes and to help dial-in the combination and the chassis. While he was in it, he posted a series of 8.30’s, consistently qualified in the top spot in the All Motor ranks, and advanced to the final round at every race.
The following season, Pennywitt took over, tackled 8.20’s and was competitive from the get-go. Soon he was trapping 8.0’s, qualifying number one, winning rounds and winning races, and finished just outside of the top spot in points in ’09 and ’10.
“Every winter, we would tweak something, play with the heads or try various valve sizes or various camshafts,” said Pennywitt, who’s remarkably reserved off-track but relentless on-track.
His program continued to improve in ’11, and when it was all said and done, he was on a stage at an awards ceremony being named All Motor champion for Milan Dragway. He continued to win races in ’12, and in ‘13, he moved to a Neal Chance bolt-together converter that could be tightened or loosened during a race, as well as a Marcella sheet-metal intake, after rules were opened up to allow them. In addition, his combination’s valvetrain — consisting of T&D rockers, Jesel lifters and Trend pushrods — was put on a SpinTron at 3V Performance to help keep it happy and as a result, he popped off a 7.954 at 172.48 MPH, making him the second driver in the class to do so, as Van Geibel was the first in ’12 with a 7.979 at 170.40.
“We tried really hard to get into the sevens for a few years and to finally do so was weight off of our shoulders,” said Pennywitt, whose dad, Alan Pennywitt, Sr., also is part of his team. “It was a personal goal because the car is so big and so heavy, and because the engine block is a standard 4.84 bore while others are running a 5.0 bore and because the car weighs 3,400 pounds. We had something to prove and we’re proud that we’re running as fast as we’re running.”
At this season’s All Motor race at Milan Dragway in June, he qualified in the third spot with an 8.05 and 171 MPH and laid down a 7.98 at 170 in the first round for the win but couldn’t make the call for the second round because of parts breakage. At the July race, he qualified fourth with an 8.05 and 169 mph, rocketed to a 7.95 at 169 mph in the second round of eliminations and advanced to the final.
Now, Pennywitt, who asserts that he hasn’t done much to his 638 cubic-inch engine through the years other than offer it small tweaks here and there, has his sights set on 7.80s in a class that he never thought would be that fast, and being armed with a quiet confidence and a quick combination increases his chances of accomplishing that sooner rather than later.