Sometimes through all the noise — of racetracks closing, of the EPA tightening its reins on performance cars, of dwindling participation, and America’s youth losing interest in the automobile — you begin to worry for the future of our great sport and the automotive hobby in general. Then, you hear a story like that of Colorado native Josh Richardson, and you gain newfound hope in where we’re headed.
Richardson, a church pastor who, over the years, discovered an interest in fabrication work, decided he wanted to get his son, Josiah, involved in cars — Josh himself had never drag-raced, and so the venture he and his family drew up was something new and fresh for the both of them. In the end, drag racing gained two generations of new racers.
“I’m an old-school hot rod guy, in a sense. I had a ’72 Chevelle in high school, and I wanted to build something with my son when he was really young,” Josh says. “We found this old truck in 2017 and it sat around for a while but about two years ago, when he was 14, I said, ‘we really better get going on this thing,’ so we tore into it. I wanted him to know what it was like to set a crankshaft and put rods on a piston, and time a cam, and all that fun stuff. So that was really the heartbeat of the whole project: to build an engine and build something and get it going with my son.”
The Richardson’s pulled the factory straight-six out of the 1971-model Chevrolet, and after originally planning to build a simple small-block, they ultimately went with a 540-inch big-block. While Josh already had plans for more power in mind, he wanted to start out with the old-school basics to teach his son how those that came before him built and tuned an engine; so he went with a Pro Systems carburetor and an MSD distributor to deliver fuel and ignition to the engine.
“We thought, let’s start it out old-school so he can see what it’s like…a simple setup, and when we go to put turbos on it, we’ll just pull this intake manifold off, put multi-port fuel injection on it, and use all of the good, modern stuff,” Josh says.
The engine build consists of a Dart Big M cast-iron block, with an Eagle rotating assembly with JE forged pistons; Richardson bought 345cc cylinder heads from Air Flow Research, with a valvetrain spun by a Schneider Motorsports hydraulic roller camshaft, all topped by a Brodix intake manifold and the aforementioned Pro Systems 1000cfm carburetor. On premium pump gas and 38-degrees of timing, the big-block produced 706 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. A Rossler three-speed Turbo 400 and 3,800-stall converter from Summit Racing Equipment backs up the engine.
After receiving advice from a friend with experience in drag racing, Richardson cut the factory frame behind the cab and sourced a Chris Alston’s Chassisworks Eliminator backhalf kit with Varishocks to build a proper four-link rear suspension. Up front, Varishock coilovers and tubular A-arms provide a likewise suitable configuration and reduce weight. A Fab-9 rearend housing contains Strange Engineering third member and axle components. Mickey Thompson 31×16.5 bias-ply slicks plant the power.
All the paintwork, chassis work, and welding was performed by Josh and Josiah, and as the project neared its end, Josh says they were putting in 20-hour days in succession in an effort to make Rocky Mountain Race Week. The Richardsons missed the first leg of their intended debut, but chose to join the convoy anyway. On the day the event visited Pueblo Motorsports Park, their hometown track, they fired the truck for the first time, rolled it outside to test the brakes, drove to the gas station to fill up the tank, went straight to the track and made a pass. At the time it took the beams, it had just two miles on it.
Josh and his son then drove the pickup and the rest of the family followed in another vehicle the rest of Race Week, and while they didn’t receive any registered times, Joshua got his first licks down a dragstrip in the books and broke his pickup in right. Despite competing unofficially, the joy he and his family found in this initial adventure was as good as a win.
“We had a great time…it was awesome. My son loved it, my wife loved it. It was challenging, doing it with a carburetor…we were doing jet changes in the middle of the night out in the cornfields, but we made it and we had a great time. We’re still working on dialing in the suspension so we can leave a little harder. We’re just taking this in steps.”
After a 16-second run to get his feet wet — remember Josh had never drag-raced before this — he ultimately got down to a 12.171-second best at 108.2 mph from the 3,740-pound pickup, with a lot still on the table, from the tune to the suspension, transmission, and the driver.
“We had a great time…it was awesome,” Josh says. “My son loved it, my wife loved. It was challenging, doing it with a carburetor…we were doing et changes in the middle of the night out in the cornfields, but we made it and we had a great time. We’re still working on dialing in the suspension so we can leave a little harder. We’re just taking this in steps, and we’ll just see where we go with it. I drive the truck a lot…it’s on the street quite a bit. We go on cruises with it all the time.”
With an 8.50-cert cage, there’s plenty of room to grow into this sleek lumber hauler, and that’s precisely Josh’s mission.
“When we were planning this out, my wife said, ‘well can we just keep the engine under the hood?’ Well that meant we couldn’t put a big blower on it, so we’re probably going to do turbos. So we built this engine around that, with a 9.25:1 compression and all forged internals, a nice wide lobe separation on the cam. We’re going to put the turbos on it soon, and we think it will get up to between 1,600 and 2,000 horsepower.”