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Built Ford Tough with Nitro Chevy Stuff

By Roy Niemann

What is more exciting than a Big Block Chevy (BBC) powered by The Devil’s Fuel®, nitromethane shaking igniting mid-6s at 210+ mph with a stock block!?

Wrapping up its third season on fuel, this nitro funny car has survived for over 16 winning match race full passes using the same parts the entire time from the hat to the pan! Something amazing when you know the whole story.

2017 Island Dragway Anniversary Race

Chuck Exton’s ride started life touring with an 8-71 blower feeding alcohol into the 427-dump truck engine! Then, seven years ago the team began using The Devil’s Fuel®, nitromethane, to power the same engine and car down the quarter mile.

History of the Team

Based in Canadensis, PA, the Wild & Crazy team consists of lifelong friends that are in it for the fun and fast sport of nostalgia nitro drag racing. Team owner and driver, Chuck Exton, started his operation in the early 1990’s.

Chuck started his love of the sport by attending “the drags” with his dad at Englishtown Raceway Park back in the 1970’s. Chuck turned to his dad and proclaimed that “one day I’m going to drive and own one of them”.  Through hard work and perseverance, he was able to go through streetcars, bracket racing to owning and operating a successful machine shop.

Now, with over 30+ years of machining and racing experience, he decided to make the move to nitro.

First run on 25% nitro

Video from Lebanon Valley first 200 MPH run

As it turns out, Chuck is also an excellent teacher who enjoys taking young apprentices into his business and instructing them the ins and outs of becoming machinists and introducing them to drag racing, funny car style.

One such guy, Jimmy Gifford, worked his way up from working in the “dirt room” blasting cleaning parts to becoming Chuck’s Crew Chief and Tuner. Jimmy spent a few summers traveling on the road with Chuck crewing for other teams, like local racer Terry Haddock, on professional-level nitro funny cars. While Chuck focused on engines and cylinder heads, Gifford took an interest in the clutch and became a clutch mechanic at the early age of 13.

Many years were spent together on the road and in the shop and between Jimmy’s work ethic and guidance from Chuck, he graduated to one of Chuck’s best and brightest machinists. Recognizing his skill and determination, Chuck rewarded Jimmy with the seat in his alcohol funny car. A great move because Jimmy has since gone on to set-up his own successful racing operation and obtain his nitro funny car license through Paul Smith Racing.

Chuck Exton, left, and Jimmy Gifford in the driver’s seat for his first pass in the blown alcohol funny car

I (Roy Niemann) started on the team in 2010, with the role of Marketing/Public Relations. After gaining Chuck’s trust and guidance to step up from parts washer to clutch mechanic.

After many nights hanging out at the shop, I offered to help in the “dirt room”, which progressed into other opportunities with Chuck, including a foot in the door on the road with other nitro teams.

I was hooked after helping Jimmy Gifford on John Hale’s nostalgia car and was craving to learn anything I could about nitro. Touring with Chuck on a Top Fuel team for two summers, then working on various Paul Smith Racing tuned funny cars, my role grew from a non-wrenching turning parts washer position to the cylinder head and clutch mechanic, depending on the team.

Winning Geezers at the Grove with Paul Smith Racing 2013 (Chuck Exton and Roy Niemann pictured)

Another of Chuck’s cohort’s, Glenn Reish, oversees transportation and fuel mixing. Through his own journey, Glenn assisted Chuck, Jimmy and myself on multiple cars, including the Paul Smith Racing teams. One such race in Florida after successfully handled the bottom end as an assistant on Paul Smith’s car, he was handed a crew shirt. This right of passage is one that the core people on Chuck’s team have gone through to become good nitro mechanics. We all stand on the shoulders of those who have taught us.

From Left to Right: Roy Niemann, Jason Herring, Chuck Exton, Jimmy Gifford, Glenn Reish, Austin Herring

Jason Herring is another team member who fills in as a floater and helps Sam Castimore with the food for the entire team. During his normal day job, he can be found rebuilding generators and custom motorcycles. At the track, he is armed with wrenches then tongs helping keep us all fed and to make sure we have a good balance between food and work.

Pictured (left to right): Austin Herring, Chuck Exton, Jimmy Gifford, Roy Niemann, Casey Pirro and Glenn Reish

Of course, other crew members have come and joined over the years. Casey Pirro, Greg Reish, and Austin Herring are long-long friends and customers of Chuck’s. Casey is the head of the body polishing department and is the clutch assistant. Greg, in his first year, works with Chuck loading and unloading the car and helps on the car when it’s in the shop. Austin, who is the youngest crew member is learning how every good crew member before him has learned: hard work, mistakes, and constructive criticism.

Safety first for the driver before pre-run pep talk

The Racecar Specs

The original chassis was a Canode alcohol funny car chassis but has been updated and repaired S&W Race Cars of Spring City, PA. Fabrication of the body has morphed the original body (Daytona, Capri, etc.) into what we call a 1980 Mustang. In the pits, we use the phrase, “Built Ford Tough with Chevy Stuff.”

Stock main caps, no tricks here folks!

The dump truck 427 BBC engine block graduated from hauling dirt to handling whatever cylinder pressure nitro could throw at it. Its water jackets filled with Home Depot hydraulic cement with the engine making enough power to running a 6.60 at 208 mph on its first 1320-foot pass with a stock crankshaft and main bearing caps.

Two fire bottles bookend the 13-gallon fuel tank with 80 + % nitro feeding a 21 GPM Enderle fuel pump. Helping modulate air into the engine, an Enderle Injector sits on a 6-71 Mooneyham blower. After shoving the air into the intake manifold, a set of Dart 360 solid heads with titanium intake valves send our signature blend of The Devil’s Fuel® into the engine. The Venolia Rods and Pistons crush the 6:1 compression ratio. Once meeting the Inconel exhaust valves, the spent gases travel their final path through custom S & W headers sending that signature cackle and fog to greet the world.

A 10” 3-disc East/West Clutch hangs off the back of the engine bolting the Lenco 2-speed to the rear of the engine. A Ford 9” rear transfers the power to Weld Wheel Bead Locks that hold the Goodyear hides that create enough seismic energy to rotate the earth!

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Our business supporters have been great! Please continue supporting them: Exton Automotive Machine Shop, Canadensis, PA; Gifford Paving & Trucking; Killer Thumbs Massage Therapy, Stroudsburg, PA; Animal General Veterinary Hospital, Augusta, NJ and Chris Sorick Welding & Fabrication.

New this year; Hilfiger (Auto) Restoration; Full Throttle Auto Care, Canadensis, PA; Pressure Junkiez by Trevor Heintz.

Special thanks to S&W Race Cars for their great technical support and quick parts delivery.

Contact with any Sponsorship questions.