Family Tradition: Don Barton’s 1955 Chevy Bel Air

Racecars are more than just machines that go fast, they can be an important part of a family and its history. Don Barton’s 1955 Chevy Bel Air is one of the coolest Super Gas cars you’ll ever see, and it’s also one of the first cars that helped pioneer the class. The Barton family’s special bond with this car goes well beyond time slips and win lights.

Barton’s father had a garage where all of his friends would gather to work on hot rods and have a good time. That garage was a place that Barton spent a lot of time as a kid — he learned a ton about cars there, and it’s also where he discovered drag racing. Barton would work on his 1957 Bel Air in the garage so he could go race it each week at the legendary Lions Drag Strip.

Eventually, Barton wanted an all-out racecar and that’s where the ’55 comes into the picture. Barton built the car himself and proceeded to race it anywhere he could all over the state of California.

“I built the car back in 1970 and raced it at Lions, Orange County, Freemont, Carlsbad, and Irwindale. The car has made countless passes down the track since I finished it. I raced the car exclusively until my son Todd turned 16, then he started racing it too. We bracket-raced the car until the NHRA introduced Super Gas and we decided to give that a shot. This car was actually part of the group that started the Super Gas class and has been class-raced ever since,” Barton says.

When the Bel Air needed an update to its chassis, Brian Pearson was selected to bring the steel roof and quarters car into the modern racecar era. Ray Zeller built the 598 cubic-inch big-block Chevy that’s backed by a Powerglide transmission and torque converter from Abruzzi Racing Transmissions and Torque Converters. The Bel Air will run deep into the 8.20s when Barton turns the throttle stop off.

These days, Don’s son Todd is the main wheelman of the Bel Air, keeping the car in the family and adding to its racing legacy.

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“It was great to start racing this car when I was a kid. The most memorable moment for me with this car was the first time I was able to pick up a national event win behind the wheel at Phoenix. I had won a national event in our Super Comp car, but to win one in the car I watched my dad race as a kid was really cool. We’re at a disadvantage against all the topless cars, but that’s what makes it so special when you’re having a good weekend and going rounds,” Todd says.

The cool thing about drag racing is you could line up and race a piece of the sport’s history on any given Sunday. The Barton family doesn’t plan on retiring the Bel Air anytime soon, and there’s a good chance you’ll see a third generation of the Barton family behind the wheel in the near future.

About the author

Brian Wagner

Spending his childhood at different race tracks around Ohio with his family’s 1967 Nova, Brian developed a true love for drag racing. When Brian is not writing, you can find him at the track as a crew chief, doing freelance photography, or beating on his nitrous-fed 2000 Trans Am.
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