Mike Frese Is A Self-Taught Craftsman And His Chevy II Shows It

A racer who has owned the same personal race car for many years is not a new story. For Mike Frese, his is a story of self-taught fabrication skills which has ultimately developed into a bracket racing showpiece as well as a part-time race car construction business.

At 12 years old, Mike Frese watched his uncle build his race car. He asked his father for his first welder at the same age. His ’67 Nova Super Sport was a barn find back in the late ’70s that has gone through many generations of updates over the years all by his own two hands.

Mike’s foray into racing began when he was about 16 years old. “I started helping Dave Schutte at the track when I was 16,” he says. “I also helped him at home getting ready. The car would be waiting on the trailer and I would take it to the car wash and clean up the rig and the trailer. That was my big thrill; that he trusted me to drive his truck and trailer to the wash at the age of 16.”

At the time, Dave was building an Alston Firebird. Mike caught the bug hard and wanted to build one for himself. “Eric Wilson and Dave helped me, a wet-nosed punk kid, to get the car started,” he says. “I had been welding for four years since I was 12 years old after watching my uncle build his car. I asked my dad for a welder for my birthday that year. He said ‘how can you weld?’ I told him I had watched Uncle Ed weld. I got an arc welder back then and bought my first mig when I was 18. I didn’t get my first tig welder until I turned 40.”

Mike's current chassis setup handles a 598 cubic-inch Chevy producing 1,025 horsepower on what he calls a "mild tune-up.” His best performance to date is a 5.20 as he primarily competes at area tracks on the 1/8-mile.

The Chevy II was initially purchased from a friend in Missouri. “Jim Smith had the car sitting in a barn,” Mike says. “It was a ’67 Nova Super Sport and was rust-free. Jim had placed barn fencing around it to keep the cows away from it. I dragged it out of that barn and immediately cut it up and made a race car out of it. It’s a straight title car and everything. In hindsight, maybe I should have restored it because it was a ’67 327 Powerglide with white striped interior.”

Eric, Dave, and Mike initially set the car up with its first generation tube chassis built from an early generation Alston chassis kit on a self-made jig in his garage. It took them a few years to get the car running with a goal to compete at the then-named Havana Dragway in 1984. “The car was white at the time,” Mike says. “I followed Dave’s lead on that. We always did white race cars, and it turned out perfect. I painted it back to the original docile blue a few years later, and it’s been that same paint job ever since. I just keep it waxed up and clean.”

The details continue into the interior where Mike used a combination of matte black coated aluminum and carbon fiber. Along with all of the driver’s cockpit bracketry, the lightweight steering wheel design is something he is very proud of fabricating himself. He sells quite a few of them to supplement his racing habit.

Mike is proud that he has completed almost all of the work on the car himself, a little bit at a time. “I do most of my own stuff in the shop because it’s the only way I can afford it,” he says. “I’m really proud of a lot of the detail work I’ve done. They call me the trinket man.

“The little things are what separates the nice cars from the average ones, you know,” Mike adds. “I built the wheelie bars myself, and they turned out exceptionally nice. I fabricated the motor plates, scoop mounts, and even my own valve covers were cut with my plasma cutter.”

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The Chevy II has the original steel roof and quarter panels. The front clip, doors, deck lid, and bumpers are various fiberglass pieces. He constructed his own lexan windows. “I wanted to keep the stock appearance as it was 25 years ago … I put the Super Sport trim back on the car,” Mike says. “Since the rear wheel wells are stretched, I hand fabricated new trim that fit, so it all appears correct. It looks right with all the chrome, and many people compliment that detail of the car.”

Mike stands friend, Andy Vickers, when we caught up with him at Gateway Motorsports Park. The green baseball cap has significance for Mike: he was wearing it when he won some of his first races years ago. It has stayed in the car as a good luck charm ever since.

Mike has updated the Chevy II throughout the years, keeping up with the latest technology. Right now, it runs consistent 5.20’s at around 138 mph where he primarily competes, on the 1/8-mile. He fabricated custom A-arms front suspension with Strange Engineering double adjustable coilovers and Wilwood brakes both in front and back. The rear suspension is chromoly 4-link with Dana 60 differential and 4:56 gears. Mickey Thompson Tires are on Weld Racing Wheel double beadlock wheels in the rear and matching Weld Wheels in the front.

Power comes from a 598 cubic-inch big-block Chevy put together by friend, Steve Nelson. He utilized Brodix heads and a Dart block with a single carburetor. “It makes 1,025 horsepower on a mild tune,” Mike describes. “I use an FTI Transmission level-5 Powerglide with 1.80 low gear, and a Pro Brake matched to an FTI 9-inch converter and a billet Meziere Enterprises billet flexplate. I shift the ‘Glide with a Holley Performance/Hurst Quarterstick.”

The original blue paint color was laid on by Mike back in the 1980s and has stood the test of time. He continued the factory look by reinstalling all of the factory Super Sport trim just a few years ago.

The mounting structure that keeps the Digital Delay Mega 450 within arms reach was also designed by Mike. Inside of the fiberglass replica Chevy II dash is a selection of Autometer analog gauges and Monster Tach. He competes with a Stroud Safety firesuit and a G-Force helmet.

When Mike was 35 years old, he took a break from racing for around a decade, commenting, “I took off to raise my kids and build my daytime towing business,” he says. “Once I got back into racing again, that’s when I did a lot of updates on the car to keep up with the times.”

Mike has always loved doing fabrication work, but that’s when the business side of his fab shop took off for him. “I’ve been making stuff for bicycles, go-karts, and hardcore racing pieces, forever,” he says. “I enjoy fabricating for myself and others. Between the two, it’s how I can afford to race. I also enjoy helping out the local guys, too.”

Details are what makes Mike's work stand out. The custom fabricated trim around the door's Lexan gives it an original appearance. Mike also fabricated the rear trim that was necessary with the extended wheel wells.

The Chevy II will always be in a continuous state of upgrades; it’s in Mike’s nature. His goal now is to keep it as original-appearing as possible. “I love the original look,” he laughs when telling us. “Back in 1981, I ordered all OEM ’67 Super Sport grille and taillight bezels from the local Chevy dealership. That’s all new old-stock. It’s not plastic, it’s all real, and that grille is probably worth a fortune.”

It was important to Mike to thank his friends like Dave Schutte, Eric Wilson, daughter Abbie, Son Zachary, and crewmembers Webb Gibert and Vince Lohmeyer. “I was just a pit kid who loved racing. They got me on the straight and narrow, helping me out, and I owe them for that.”

“We have spent many hours working on that car, sanding, buffing and blocking until it was just right,” he continues. “I’m the kind of guy who if I watch somebody do something, I can pick it up myself. I would rather do it myself than have it done. It’s nice to have the tag of a big-name chassis builder for the sake of resale value, but this is as much my own car as it can get.”

About the author

Todd Silvey

Todd has been a hardcore drag racing journalist since 1987. He is constantly on both sides of the guardwall from racing photography and editorship to drag racing cars of every shape and class.
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