Drag Week is the toughest event in all of drag racing, period. Drag Week will put you and your vehicle through the wringer and push you as a racer to your limits thanks to the many challenges it presents. Racers attempt to complete Drag Week for the same reason that people try to climb Mount Everest: because it’s there.
The 2021 edition of Drag Week covered more than 1,000 miles as it visited US 131 Motorsports Park, Summit Motorsports Park, Lucas Oil Raceway, and Byron Dragway. Competitors had to face brutal heat and torrential downpours as they made their way to each track. Over 300 racers finished Drag Week this year and all of them have irreplaceable memories to take home of their journey.
The Drag Week John Deere
Jessie Madaffari began his Drag Week career 10 years ago behind the wheel of his 1983 Chevrolet C10 pickup truck. The event was perfect for Madaffari since it allowed him to enjoy his daily-driven truck. Madaffari wasn’t able to go as fast as he wanted during Drag Week because he didn’t want to put a roll bar in his beloved C10.
The solution to that problem came from the most unlikely place and led him to build a very unique vehicle for Drag Week.
“I was working as a substitute teacher in a Photoshop class and one of the students found a picture of a street-driven John Deere tractor creation. The vehicle in question was built to be driven in parades and the students thought I should build something similar since I used to work for John Deere. That’s where I got the idea to start this project,” Madaffari says.
After some thought, Madaffari decided a John Deere 7520 cab would be the perfect fit for the build since it had plenty of space. Madaffari sourced a 7520 cab and hood in south Texas, brought it home, and got to work on his build. The 65,000 mile, 496 cubic-inch engine from his C10 that had seen plenty of Drag Week action was grafted into the build along with a TH350 transmission.
Madaffari’s build really highlights the friendships that Drag Week creates thanks to the assistance he got from fellow competitors to get the project finished.
“In 2019, many of the Drag Week racers got together and presented me with some money and a lot of parts to get this project going. I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make this happen. My grandson and wife jumped in on the thrash to get this vehicle ready for Drag Week this year and it’s amazing to be here,” Madaffari states.
Joe Unverzagt Lives His Best Drag Week Life
Drag Week is a bucket list event for so many racers, but for Joe Unverzagt it has even more meaning. Unverzagt suffers from Parkinson’s, a debilitating disease that robs a person of their motor skills. Drag Week is something that Unverzagt always wanted to participate in, and he wasn’t about to let Parkinson’s stop him from enjoying it.
“I’ve got this 1959 VW nine years ago, around the time I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. My wife told me that I should do something with the car that nobody has ever seen before while I could still hold a wrench and do the work. So, I thought that building a gasser-style VW Bug would be the best way to make that happen,” Unverzagt says.
So, with a plan in hand Unverzagt got to work creating his ultra-cool VW. A 385 cubic-inch small-block Chevy was selected to power the bug, and the 10-bolt rearend was sourced from a Chevrolet S-10. The VW’s classic gasser stance is provided by the Speedway front end that Unverzagt picked up. A period-correct Pepsi-themed paint job gives the VW one cool look.
“Drag Week is such a fun event to participate in and I’m loving every second of this experience. The car is just so much fun to drive and it rides nice. It’s great to see everyone smile when they see the car and take lots of pictures,” Unverzagt explains.
The Thrill Of Victory And The Agony Of Defeat: A Drag Week Story
The emotional roller coaster of Drag Week usually begins well before a racer even enters the staging lanes the first day. Just getting a car ready for Drag Week is a victory for some racers, let alone leading their class or completing the grueling event. Rick Trunkett jumped into the Drag Week roller coaster line late in the game and was on track to win the Super Street Big Block Power Adder class until the Drag Week gods stepped in.
“I’m normally the one that convinces my friends to do stupid stuff, but this time Bob Hess talked me into entering Drag Week. This was after I explained to Bob that my Duster was a roller, the engine was in a million pieces, and we had about a month to get everything done. I also have newborn twins at home, so I had to talk my wife into this before we even got started. My very understanding and awesome wife gave me the green light, so we got to work,” Trunkett explains.
The project started with Hess assembling a totally new engine combination for Trunkett so he could begin fabricating an updated turbo kit. Ryan from Joel Power Systems built a new wiring harness for the Duster and even helped rewire the entire car. Trunkett even built a new surge-style intake out of a tunnel ram and made a billet lid for it.
“We got it running Saturday afternoon before we had to head to US 131 and it wouldn’t go into gear. We got that fixed, drove it down the street, left at 8:30 am on Sunday, and beat the cutoff by about 10 minutes. We finished putting the car together in the tech line as it rolled forward. The first time it was driven more than a short distance, or was heat-cycled was when we drove it to the hotel on Sunday night,” Trunkett says.
Just making the call to the lanes would have been a great end to this story, but Trunkett’s Duster took the class lead thanks to an impressive 8.15 pass at 173 MPH. This was after Trunkett discovered a drainback issue with his new heads that were causing the engine to consume a massive amount of oil. Trunkett was ready to solidify his class lead during day three at Lucas Oil Raceway when disaster struck — the Duster nosed over on Trunkett’s first pass of the day, so he shut the car off and coasted to the top end of the track.
Trunkett had the car pushed back to the pits where he and Hess got to work trying to determine what was wrong. The heads were pulled, and to Trunkett’s horror he saw numerous pistons that were mangled beyond repair. His Drag Week dream run was over. Trunkett remained in good spirits since the car showed 7-second potential, but he quickly learned that Drag Week will take away what it gives you in a split second.
Dave Schroeder Picks Up Another Drag Week Title
The Unlimited class is where you’ll find the true bears of Drag Week…if you want to win in this class you better be ready to put in some work. Dave Schroeder and his co-pilot John Ens picked up their first Unlimited win back in 2017 with Schroeder’s sexy 1966 Corvette. The second-generation Corvette was a real looker, but it wasn’t the best weapon for the Unlimited class.
This year, Schroeder showed up to Drag Week with a new Jerry Bickel Race Cars-built 2019 Corvette that was designed to handle the big nitrous engine he uses.
“The engine we use was just too much for the old car…the ’66 was built to handle a 598 cubic-inch engine. When we put the 872 in the old car we had to double framerail it, we tried bigger tires, but that engine was still just too much. The car was just too inconsistent and wouldn’t do the same thing twice through the first 60-feet. Tom Bailey raised the bar for the Unlimited class so we had to step up,” Schroeder says.
Drag Week has a way of exposing all of a vehicle’s flaws in a hurry no matter what class you’re running in. The Unlimited cars are on the very edge of what most people consider a street car, so even a small issue can be a big problem. Schroeder and Ens have found plenty of small things that need to be addressed with the new Corvette, but overall they’re very happy with how the car did.
“This car is much better on the street than the old car. There’s more room inside, it has better visibility, and it’s more comfortable inside temperature-wise. The biggest surprise is that it’s working so well without a lot of testing…it’s exceeded my expectations, Schroeder states.
The 2019 Corvette immediately showed it was going to be up to the task of competing in the Unlimited Class when it went a full tenth quicker than the old car on just two kits of nitrous its first time out. Schroeder captured the 2021 Unlimited class championship with an overall average of 6.793-seconds at 198.08 MPH over the five days of the event. Winning this year was a great way for Schroeder to christen the Corvette, but that’s not the ultimate goal for the car — Schroeder wants to compete with the likes of Tom Bailey and run in the 5-second zone.