Futureproof: ‘The 55’ Returns To Its Roots And Stays One Step Ahead

Given that no-prep racing originated as a venue for street racers and their street cars to compete legally in front of their families and friends, it’s reasonable to expect that at least some ‘street car’ elements should remain, even as the no-prep scene and its cars evolve. And evolve they have —  originally with fields comprised exclusively of street driven back-half or stock-suspension cars, the scene now sees chassis purpose-built virtually to NHRA Pro Mod regulations. But even as his program adapts accordingly, Chuck Parker always seems to keep “The 55” more ‘street car’ than most are.

Parker jumped onto the national stage via Discovery Channel’s Street Outlaws series with an all-red 1955 Chevrolet. Making a statement with its chromed blower setup standing tall in front of the windshield, that original car certainly gave a more ‘Pro Street’ impression than did the gutted, lightened cars lining up next to it. “That’s got roll-up glass, carpet, got a stereo. I mean, it’s actually a street car,” Parker explains. Which is not to say it wasn’t competitive, at the time. He notes, “It’s still a 3,680-pound street car that’ll run 4.80’s to 5.0’s, which is pretty respectable.” But as with all things racing, progress is inevitable and relentless.

Parker’s original ’55, which was made famous in a couple of guest appearances on Street Outlaws.

As track-raced cars began to enter the scene and longtime street racers made drastic changes to stay on top, Parker and team could see that they, too, had to adapt to keep up. So naturally, with a name like “Chuck 55”, the decision was made to obtain a fiberglass-bodied version of a ’55 Chevrolet. Every effort was made to keep it as street-appearing as possible. Original door handles, original headlights and taillights, even an original ’55 grill were added by Mike Baker of Bakers Bodyworks in Elgin, Oklahoma to the one-piece front end. It’s not a light body, either. As Parker emphasizes, “some people may think we’re driving a lightweight, Pro Mod, carbon fiber kind of car but we’re really not. I mean, our car is 2,840-pounds as it sits today.”

Yet with this car and a 632 cubic-inch nitrous motor, Parker and his crew chief, Kirk Peters, became a dominant force in no-prep, winning more than 10 races in 2016 alone. And with a statement win over James “Birdman” Finney at the second annual Bounty Hunters No-Prep Nationals in San Antonio this past March, their momentum continued strong into 2017. Even at that race, however, Parker saw room for improvement.

“We took him [Birdman] out in the finals, and we had to lean on it pretty hard to do that. And when you’re doing that all the time you’re going to have to rebuild it quite often, and we were finding ourselves having to rebuild the car every two or three races.”

So, mid-way through the 2017 season, Parker and crew made the difficult decision to switch the car to a new powertrain combination. In a process that involved reconstructing the whole front of the car, The 55 gained a Sonny’s 880 cubic-inch motor with capacity for five nitrous kits, electronic fuel injection, and a new Turbo 400 from Rossler Transmissions with a ProTorque converter.

The only teaser image of Parkers’ newest “The 55”.

Despite these changes, Peters and The 55’s crew adapted and tuned the new 880 cubic-inch combination to wins with remarkable ease. While not the first victory with the updated car, perhaps the most special was in the Redemption exhibition shootout at October’s AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals at the Texas Motorplex in Ennis, Texas. Says Parker, “we were really excited to participate in that exhibition with the NHRA — one reason being that I was employed with the NHRA — I was a tech inspector for nine years. To be at the race with a lot of the guys I used to work with and work for, that was a real enjoyment.” Winning a Wally wasn’t too bad either, he says.

As the fall season has progressed, their performance has continued to improve. According to Parker, “we’re starting to get the feel of it. It’s a completely different tuning curve than what we’ve had before with that 632 cubic-inch motor. You know we’re starting to learn some things, we’re starting to figure out where we can throw power at it and where we can’t.”

Therefore, it’s all the more surprising to learn that another major change is in the works. As hinted by a single photo posted to The 55’s Facebook page in mid-November, a new steel car is in the works. But why? Especially now, with momentum again on their side? Parker explains that recent rule changes in the no-prep scene have barred their fiberglass-bodied car from competing in several significant races.

 

And again with this latest version of The 55, Parker intends to make it as ‘street’ as possible. “It’s a real bodied car,” he emphasizes. “Anything that’s on a factory car, that can’t be unbolted, will remain steel. The firewall, striker to striker, will be steel.” When asked about the strategy of using steel skins for the quarters and roof, Parker explains “it would actually meet the rules right now, but I look for the rules to be changing as we get further into this deal. So that’s why we’re building one step beyond and going with a steel body.”

[The new car] would actually meet the rules right now, but I look for the rules to be changing as we get further into this deal. So that’s why we’re building one step beyond and going with a steel body.

The team’s plan is to complete the 2017 racing season with the existing car, defending their 2016 Winter Meltdown win at San Antonio Raceway, this Dec. 29–30, and then to transfer its drivetrain to the new chassis and debut the new, steel-bodied beast around early March. Work is now underway — the new rolling chassis is being constructed by Fred Warner and Mike Baker at CFM Performance Solutions, and contributions are already being made from suppliers like Classic Chevrolet Parts, Shields Glass, Precision Shifters, Nitrous Outlet, Airgas OKC, and Lithium Pros batteries. The power will again be delivered by Sonny’s World Class Racing Engines, ProTorque Converters, and Rossler Transmissions.

Parker acknowledges that there may again be growing pains with the new package. Yet he emphasizes, “We intend to get bigger and better and faster,” no matter what the future may bring.

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