There are a myriad of reasons for the keen interest in Nostalgia Top Fuel Dragsters (N/TF) these days. Some enthusiasts have a blinding interest in nitromethane, but a state-of-the-art NHRA fueler is out of reach. Others love N/TF for its own heads-up merits. Or, for Bob McLennan, it has just been a meaningful part of the family legacy.
“My dad, Jim McLennan, opened up Champion Speed Shop in 1958 in south San Francisco and then started Half Moon Bay Dragstrip when I was four years old,” McLennan recalls. “I was towed to the dragstrip every weekend, which quickly expanded to owning Cotati Drag Strip.”
As Bob grew up with his father, he was all about the motorsport business. They ran the McLennan-owned Champion Speed Shop/Machine Shop, Fremont Dragstrip, and Champion Speedway. Jim also had his hand in nearly every Nor-Cal racetrack and car club, plus plenty of other speed-related businesses, not to mention having his son in tow during it all.
“During those years, I was in dragstrip operations,” McLennan says. “We ran the three tracks, and I was either running the ticket booth, building a new ticket booth somewhere else, cooking hamburgers, or taking tickets…you name it. It was wonderful.”
With all this involvement in the sport, Jim was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, and their Champion Speed Shop Top Fuel dragsters are a key part of that drag racing history. We could more than fill this single article with the family history around everything McLennan and drag racing, but we’re showcasing the present day and where Bob “Bobby” McLennan has carried the Champion Speed Shop name.
This generation of Bob’s dragster is a leading example of today’s Nostalgia Top Fuel combined with some of his father’s history. Most noticeable among the population of Hemi dragsters in the class, Bob still competes with a small-block Chevrolet engine combination, which his father exclusively believed in for a Top Fuel powerplant.
“It’s the power-to-weight ratio with the small-block inherently lighter than a Chrysler. It’s something my father highly believed in,” Bob says. “The rules today are 4.6 pounds per cubic inch, and we’re probably about 100- to 110-pounds under the rest of the cars, so that helps us.”
The small-block combo that Bob competes with today uses a CN billet block that adds up to 377 cubic inches. They use their own Champion Speed Shop-developed head design implemented by Alan Johnson Racing and Lance Osborn at CNC Center machining. The valvetrain combination consists of a Bullet Racing cam, Jesel lifters, Smith Brothers pushrods, plus various Alan Johnson valvetrain pieces.
To follow the N/TF supercharger rules, a The Blower Shop 6-71 “retro” blower is spun by RCD Engineering drive components at a maximum of 70 percent compared to the crankshaft RPM. Only “-71-style,” or 60-degree angle, rotors are allowed. This regulation essentially rules out the use of any high helix superchargers. A KJ Crawford fuel system is set up under a Hilborn injection hat. The rules mandate a maximum number of nozzles at 24, with a maximum of eight at the injector hat, and 16 in the manifold.
“It is a challenge to make the power we need to compete against the Hemi, which is just a highly conducive design for nitro,” Bob explains. “Due to our experience and help from many small-block experts we know, we can make the Chevrolet run, though it’s a little bit of an Achilles heel.” Yet, Bob’s dragster is self-proclaimed as drag racing’s quickest and fastest small-block Chevrolet. The best performance to date with the car featured is a 5.62 at 250.38 MPH on the true 1/4-mile.
The bottom end of their small-block uses a System One oil pump and spins with a Crower crankshaft, MGP or GRP connecting rods, and JE pistons. The combination is followed by a Molinari clutch that follows the N/TF rules of no clutch management systems and a maximum three-disc limit for the clutch layout. A Rob Moore direct drive transmission and reverser components continue the power rearward.
The unique body was hand-fabricated for a previous generation dragster by longtime talent Andrick Albor, who worked for Roy and Andy Brizio. “I hated reproducing the body in carbon fiber,” Bob says. “But that carbon-fiber effort from nose to parachute by Finishline Advance Composites did shave some needed weight from the dragster. When it comes to trying to keep our small-block combination at weight, we do anything we can.”
The Brizios and McLennans have a history dating back to their fathers, Andy Brizio and Jim McLennan, going to grade school together. Following a youth surrounded by all this drag racing, Bob had built his own life around real estate development, plus ownership of a chain of health clubs. Andy Brizio’s son, Roy, rekindled the drag racing flame when the form of “nostalgia” drag racing was on the rise.
“Roy contacted me, and at the time, the nostalgia drag racing part of it at Fremont Dragstrip had taken off when the current management started this run-what-you-brung nostalgia deal,” Bob recollects. “Guys were showing up with blown Chrysler T-buckets with no roll bars. Roy said, ‘let’s rebuild your dad’s old early Chassis Research car that I had.’ I told him, ‘you’re crazy.’ ”
The pair recreated the car and presented it to Jim, which rekindled another era for the McLennan family. But that car was what ultimately began today’s N/TF Champion Speed Shop dragster team during the formative years of the so-called “nostalgia” drag racing movement from 1984 through 1989.
Covering the entire tinwork is a black vinyl wrap created by Impressive Wrap of San Francisco, with gold graphics by Graphtec, and the Champion Speed Shop logo by C.O’Leary. Another custom touch is the Corey Conyers (Crown Customs) special steering wheel and brake handle.
The friends at the Brizio street rod shop also updated and maintain the frame on their McKinney Corp chassis that is constructed to the maximum 235-inch wheelbase allowed by the class. The rear differential is a McKinney 9-inch design filled with all Strange Engineering axles, spool, and gears.
The class mandates a specific choice of nostalgia drag slicks from either M&H or Hoosier Racing Tire, with maximum tire widths between 10 and 11 inches wide, and rubber compounds exclusively for Nostalgia Top Fuel racing. The Champion dragster uses the M&H slicks mounted on Sander Engineering rear wheels.
Another name recognized by nostalgia fans and historians is driver Adam Sorokin. You could say his talent comes naturally, since he is the son of Mike Sorokin, driver of the legendary Surfers Top Fuel team that was part of the formative years of California nitro racing.
Adam picked up the driving opportunity back in 2005 and has been behind the butterfly wheel ever since. Even though Sorokin has a history of piloting alcohol and fuel Funny Cars, sprint cars, and a wealth of other motorsports machinery, it has been his friendship with Bob that has dedicated him to this dragster.
Ultimately, the Champion Speed Shop Dragster lost Jim, its patriarch, in 2007 when the growth of N/TF was taking a stronghold of the nostalgia scene, between various annual events and the Goodguys nostalgia drag racing series.
Bob reflected on the legacy of his father and all the entities within drag racing he touched. Regarding continuation of the Champion Speed Shop dragster, he says, “It was never a matter of could I do it. I was Jim McLennan’s son, I had to do it. Fortunately, I was blessed with my dad’s mechanical aptitude and the help of some extremely talented individuals.”
McLennan continues, “There are still individuals I call today when I want to toss around a new hypothesis or think up a new idea. Yes, the heritage and history of Champion Speed Shop and its success racing the small-block Chevy engine has weighed on me many times. There was a lot of personal pressure to succeed with this endeavor.”
To dig deep into the workmanship of this latest dragster carrying the Champion Speed Shop name, it rivals in quality with any of today’s Top Fuel entries. The dragster, when combined with a harmonious team that tirelessly rebuilds this entry between rounds, carries on the legacy of the McLennan’s leadership in drag racing as a championship bloodline laced with nitromethane.