In the entertainment industry the term “power couple” gets thrown around a lot when two high caliber stars get together, but in the racing world that phrase takes on a whole new meaning. Chuck and Daniella Stefanski share an interest not only in racing, but in high-powered Pontiacs. Between their two Trans Ams, you’ll find three turbos and a whole lot of LSX horsepower.
Chuck and Daniella met at the track, so it’s no surprise they both enjoy flogging their rides one 1/4-mile at a time. For Chuck, that means wheeling his 2002 Trans Am known as the “Night Train”, and for Daniella, she gets her kicks behind the wheel of her 2000 Trans Am that goes by “Betty White”.
All Aboard The Night Train
To say that Chuck has a thing for Pontiacs is really an understatement — he’s owned over 30 different Pontiac vehicles in his lifetime. The majority of those cars have been either Trans Ams or Firebirds, but there have been a few GTOs mixed in, as well. Of course, none of the vehicles were ever left stock and had a wide range of modifications done to each one.
Chuck was first exposed to drag racing by his uncle, who would take him to big events around the state of Ohio. A friend took him to the track while they were in high school and that set the hook even deeper. After that initial trip to the drag strip, Chuck purchased his first Trans Am and began racing it weekly. Chuck kept doing little things to the car to make it faster with the budget at his disposal.
Chuck enjoyed spending time at the track and modifying the Trans Am, and he decided that he wanted to make a career for himself in the automotive world, so he took an auto class in high school before enrolling in his local vocational school’s auto tech program. After high school, he attended the University of Northwestern Ohio to learn more, and he eventually started Big 3 Racing with three of his friends.
The Night Train rolled into Chuck’s life while he was actually building another car; after that it just made sense for him to concentrate on turning the Trans Am into a wicked streetcar.
“I found Night Train on Facebook in Wisconsin as a rolling chassis. At the time I found the car I was actually building a turbocharged 2004 GTO and decided it wasn’t the best platform for my goals. I had owned many fourth-gen Trans Ams before, so I knew that it would be a better fit, and the style of the car just speaks to me,” Chuck says.
Since Night Train was purchased as a rolling chassis, it gave Chuck the perfect blank slate to create what he wanted. Under the hood is a 388 cubic-inch LS that was built in house at Big 3 Racing by Bob Hess. All of the machine work was done by Gressman Motorsports. The rotating assembly consists of a billet Callies crankshaft, Callies billet connecting rods, and Wiseco pistons. Everything was balanced by RPM Engine and Machine.
The boosted air comes into the LS engine through a Holley Hi-Ram intake and is sent through a set of Trick Flow cylinder heads. A custom Brian Tooley Racing camshaft and Crower rocker arms round out the valvetrain. A full Holley fuel system that uses 160 lb/hr injectors, a brushless VR fuel pump, and a VR regulator keep the engine flush with fuel. The engine is controlled by a Holley Dominator EFI system with Rick Trunket and Chuck teaming up on the tuning duties.
If you’re going to build a turbo street car with lofty goals, you’ll need to bring all the boost to the table, and that’s exactly what Chuck has done. The custom turbo system was built at Big 3 Racing using materials from Stainless Works. Generating the boost is a 106mm Precision turbo that works with a Precision 64mm BOV and twin 60mm Precision wastegates. When you mix all of these ingredients together the final product is 1,800 horsepower on the dyno and a 7.51-second, 193 mph time slip.
Behind the engine is a Powerglide built by Brian Tiffie and a bolt-together ProTorque converter from Perfect Converter. The suspension of Night Train uses parts from Midwest Chassis, Viking Shocks, and TRZ. TBM Brakes bring the Night Train to a stop after each 7-second pass as it rolls on WELD Wheels in the front and RC Components wheels in the rear. Chuck’s tire of choice is Mickey Thompson’s at all four corners.
The Badass Betty White
Daniella has been working on project cars since she was a kid — her childhood was spent in the garage handing parts to her father as he worked on different vehicles. While other kids with short attention spans might have grown tired of these activities, Daniella became infatuated with mechanical things and wanted to learn more.
“My dad started building a third-gen Mercury Cyclone and that was really my first introduction to a racecar, as well as the first time I really got to get my hands dirty. He still has it and I’m working on convincing him to let me take it down the track,” she says. “My grandpa also had a couple of cool old cars as I was growing up, so I was pretty much surrounded by project cars from a young age.”
Seeing the different kinds of builds that enthusiasts put together captured Daniella’s interest and drew her deeper into the car culture. There’s something about getting to witness what people have put so much effort into creating come to life that interests her. Traveling to different events and races is another aspect of the racing life that Daniella looks forward to each season, and she loves getting to see her track family.
Drag racing is another activity that was introduced to Daniella by her father — it also led to her meeting her future husband, Chuck.
“I went to Dragway 42 with my dad a few times, and I loved it. When I met my husband, he raced regularly at the track. Our first road trip together was to an NMCA race in Indy where it rained almost the entire weekend and was freezing cold. It wasn’t the greatest first experience, but we made the best of it. I started going with him more often, and eventually just going to races wasn’t enough for me…I wanted to participate and be part of it,” Daniella says.
Daniella started her racing career behind the wheel of a bone-stock Pontiac G8 GT. Now, the car only ran 13s at the track, but that didn’t matter to Daniella, as she was having fun driving the car and soaking up as much as she could to improve her skills. Like any racer, Daniella wanted to go faster, so Chuck helped her bolt an LSA supercharger on to the G8, along with a host of other upgrades to push the car into the 10-second zone.
As it tends to go, Daniella eventually needed more speed in her life, so the search began for a suitable replacement for the G8.
“We found Betty White on Facebook Marketplace in Dayton, Ohio. We were looking for a Trans Am roller to build into a car that I could both race and comfortably drive on the street. I love to race, but I also want to be able to enjoy the car and drive it on a regular basis, whether that’s going to work, or taking my dog for a cruise,” Daniella explains.
Don’t let the name of Daniella’s Trans Am fool you — this car has been built to be a brute on the street and track. Under the hood is a 5.3-liter block that has been bored out to 3.898-inches by RMP Engine And Machine. Bob Hess at Big 3 Racing assembled the engine using a stock crankshaft with aftermarket pistons and rods. A set of ported 243 GM heads work with a full valvetrain from Brian Tooley Racing and Enforcer intake to bring air into the engine. Just like the Night Train, a full Holley fuel system keeps the LS going under the hood of Betty White. The Trans Am is also controlled by a Holley Dominator ECU that Rick and Chuck tune.
Betty White uses a custom turbo system built at Big 3 Racing, but instead of one big turbo, the Pontiac sports a pair of 67mm Garrett snails. Boost is controlled by a Tial 50mm blow-off valve and a pair of TurboSmart Comp 45 wastegates. On regular pump gas Betty White makes just 640 horsepower, but when you fill her up with E85 and put the spicy tune-up in, the car lays down an impressive 930 ponies.
The suspension under Betty White uses a mixture of stock parts with products from Racecraft, UMI, BMR, Team Z Motorsports, TRZ, and Viking. For dancing shoes at the track or on the street, the Trans Am has been outfitted with WELD RTS wheels and Mickey Thompson tires.
So why would you name a racecar after an iconic actress?
“Well, obviously the name is partially due to color, but also because Betty White is one tough lady, and as a woman in the motorsports world, you have to be pretty tough. She once said “I just laugh — have I got them fooled,” and I feel like that’s something women in racing can relate to. We’re underestimated and often not taken seriously, but we don’t let that stop us from showing up and doing what we love,” Daniella says.
Racing is truly a family sport, and you can see that on display at any drag strip across the country. It helped Chuck and Daniella Stefanski meet, and it’s easy to see why these two are such a perfect match for each other, and that has helped them build a pair of wicked Pontiacs. One thing’s for sure, this isn’t the couple you want to challenge to a race any day of the week.