PRI 2019: Mickey Tessneer Unveils Stunning Supercharged 1966 Nova

A true craftsman in any trade is never satisfied, their goal is to always push the boundaries of what they create in the search for perfection. Mickey Tessneer is a chassis-building artist that uses metal to build his high-horsepower works of art. Like any artisan, Mickey is driven to construct something he views as amazing. The new 1966 Nova Mickey has unleashed on the racing world is overflowing with attention to detail and is the car he’s always wanted to build.

Mickey is no stranger to the Nova as a platform when it comes to building wicked small-tire cars. His first 1966 Nova, known as “The Green Reaper,” garnished a lot of attention when it was first debuted at Lights Out several years ago. Mickey built that car as best he could with the funds he had available and the knowledge he had acquired up to that point in his career. However, the car wasn’t his vision of perfection.

The story of Mickey’s newest build actually began at PRI several years ago with an offer he couldn’t refuse.

“About three years ago, I was at PRI with my green Nova. It was being used in a booth as a display vehicle when the opportunity came up to sell it. Ryan Milliken approached me and wanted to buy the car really bad. He wouldn’t take no as an answer. After some negotiations, we came to an agreement and a tentative deal was put in place for Ryan to purchase the car,” Mickey explains.

Ryan had his own grand plans for The Green Reaper that didn’t involve the driveline that was residing between the fenders. So, Mickey brokered a deal for Ryan to sell the engine and transmission. However, Ryan had something up his sleeve he wanted to offer Mickey to help reduce the purchase price of The Green Reaper.

“Ryan let me know he had a virgin 1966 Nova that was right out of grandma’s garage and had never been modified in any way. I looked at the pictures and it was mint. He said if I knocked $6,000 off the purchase price of the green car I could have it. So we made the deal and he came to Oklahoma to pick up the green car from my shop. When he unloaded the 1966 Nova he brought, it was exactly as he described, it was untouched and never been cut on,” Mickey explains.

Mickey began to work on the new Nova with the goal of competing in the Leaf Spring class at different events. Unfortunately, as he was building the Nova, the Leaf Spring class fell in popularity and totally faded away. With the class he wanted to run gone, Mickey decided to build the Nova so it would be legal for both Pro275 and Limited Drag Radial (LDR) racing. This created another issue, he would need a lot more horsepower to be competitive in those classes.

“After I made the choice to change directions with the car, I had to regroup a bit with my engine program. I called Steve Morris Engines. Originally, I was thinking about going with a turbo setup, but when we looked at the weights and legal turbos for the classes, we decided to build a centrifugal-supercharger engine combination. From that point forward, it was full steam ahead to get this project done,” Mickey says.

Steve wanted to build a 481x with his own internal modifications to maximize the centrifugal combination, so he began doing some R&D work to get the engine build started. An EFI system from EFI Technology was sourced to work with the Vortech V-128 supercharger to reach the horsepower goals Steve had laid out. When the tuning process was complete the 481x engine package with the Vortech supercharger made over 3,400 horsepower on the engine dyno.

Mickey and his team put a lot of effort into this Nova to make it a true masterpiece of fabrication. Everywhere you look, the Nova has custom touches that were added to improve the car for drag racing. This fresh design used new bracing techniques that allowed Mickey and his team to use smaller tubing that makes the chassis lighter, but also adds more strength.

“The rearend is a custom four-link setup we built. It uses a Don Ness-style bracket with infinite adjustability. We flush-mounted all the windows, hand-fabricated all the window channels, and modified the rear wheel wells. The rear tail panel of the car was modified to hold the wing differently and mount it flush so we could change the shape of it. We also modified the fiberglass front end so we could add a billet grill and our own valence for the supercharger opening. The front bumper is also wrapped around the fender to the wheel openings,” Mickey explains.

The slammed stance of the Nova isn’t just for looks — it’s part of the car’s design to help give it an advantage on the track. Mickey wanted the Nova to have the lowest center of gravity possible so it would meet the minimum three-inch ride height rule. Mickey and his team built their own front subframe that’s removable and works with the double frame-rail chassis design. They also cut the pinch weld off the bottom of the rocker panels and smoothed the rocker so the body could be set as low as possible.

“My experience with cars that don’t have wheelie bars is you want to get them as low to the ground as possible to prevent wheelies. Getting everything to fit properly in front of the factory firewall was a challenge in order to get the weight percentages in the target area for a drag radial car. My idea was, if I couldn’t get everything far enough forward like I wanted, I would get the car to sit as low as possible to work on radials,” Mickey says.

Mickey admits that when he built The Green Reaper, he was young, didn’t have the budget he needed, and didn’t have the knowledge he now has. He built this Nova the way he always wanted to build a car without any compromises. When the Leaf Spring class disappeared and the direction of the project changed, Mickey had a customer step in that wanted to be a part of the project. That customer was no-prep racer and Street Outlaws star Chuck Parker (Chuck55)./ He assisted Mickey in creating this stunning race car.

“I never wanted to be a race car driver, I’ve always wanted to be a race car builder, and that’s part of the reason I sold the green car. My goal is to be the best builder possible. I’ve been really fast and it just doesn’t do anything for me. I’m more interested in trying to find a way to make the car faster. When Chuck wanted to help sponsor the car it, worked out. He’s able to campaign the car and help out with those expenses during the season. That way, I get to concentrate on finding ways to make the car faster and take care of the maintenance. It’s really a great partnership for both of us since we each get to do what we want to,” Mickey says.

Bringing this car to life has been a team effort at Mickey’s Chassis Works. The success of the project is deeply rooted in the collaborative efforts of everyone in the shop, and Mickey is very grateful for the help of his team.

“This is the nicest car we’ve ever built, it’s the highlight of my career right now. My team played a huge role in making all of this happen. The guys are a bunch of badass builders that made all of this come together, Without them, this wouldn’t have been possible. Ronnie Plummer took care of the wiring and plumbing of the car. The fabrication was done by myself and David Franklin. All of the paint and bodywork was done by Andrew Teal here in the shop. The carbon fiber, sheetmetal, Lexan, and any panel work was done in house by Adial Zapata. A special thanks go out to my airbrush guy, Charles Armstrong, he really knocked it out of the park with the work he did on the dashboard,” Mickey says.

When the racing season begins, it will be interesting to see what Mickey and Chuck are able to accomplish with this Nova. If this car is half as fast as it looks, the Pro275 and LDR classes could be in for a long season in 2020…

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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