Horvath is Haulin' in his Front-Engine Dragster

Behind the wheel of a ’77 Vega motivated by a 355 cubic-inch small-block Chevy engine, Bill Horvath was going rounds in Summit Motorsports Park's Lakewood Pro class and had soared to a best of 10.97, but in October of ’11, he decided to trade the car he had owned for five years for a front-engine dragster.

Its ’69 Lakewood chassis was being built to Top Fuel specs but had been bought and sold a few times and was never completed, and while there were wheels and tires on it, there was no engine or transmission in it.

“My dad, Craig, who crews for me, was a little worried about the design and safety of a front-engine dragster, especially considering Don Garlits had lost half a foot when the trans in his front-engine dragster exploded,” said Horvath, who lives in Lorain, Ohio and is a service consultant for a Mercedes-Benz dealership. “But I had always wanted a nostalgia car.”

Soon after the dragster was brought home from the seller in Dayton, Ohio, it was turned over to Ed Grisez, who upgraded the chrome moly rollcage and fabricated a single wheelie bar and mounts for the shifter, transmission and master cylinder, and then it was time for R&R Auto Body to lay fresh paint.

Later, the engine from the Vega was placed between the framerails and topped with an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake and a Quick Fuel 1050 CFM carburetor that sipped alcohol rather than gasoline, and with a Powerglide transmission and a BTE converter in place to help plant the power, Horvath introduced the dragster to Summit Motorsports Park’s Quick Time Super Pro class in ’12.

“I’m not afraid of speed, but for the first pass after putting the dragster together, I only went 300 feet,” said Horvath. “It was quite different than being in the Vega because I was now sitting in the rear, with the axles under my legs and the tires right next to my head, and I could feel the air from the tires when I did my burnouts, and I could feel everything vibrate when I went down-track. It was pretty awesome.”

He ran as fast as 9.53 in ‘12 as he worked to discover what the chassis wanted, and then over winter, he replaced the carburetor with Enderle stack-style fuel injection and was rewarded with an 8.93 by fall of ’13.

“I had talked to a lot of old dragster and Funny Car drivers, including Don Garlits, Dale Pulde, Gordie Bonin and Dave Perrotti, and I had also talked to Al Erhart, who has a Corvette Roadster, and they steered me in the right direction and gave me a lot of help with the tune and the Enderle injection,” said Horvath, who also has run in the Nostalgia Drag Racing League’s  Pro Comp class. “The icing on the cake was when Ronnie V of House of Horsepower told me the combination was really rich and the barrel valve for the fuel injection was too fat, and he told me to hammer the throttle and lean the barrel valve out, and after I did, I picked up a tenth and a half. I had started out on the fat side because if it’s fat, it won’t hurt the engine, but if it’s too lean, you could start tearing things up.”

Content with how the dragster is running, Horvath plans only to change from 33X17X15 tires to smaller 31.25X12.2X15 tires before loading his trailer and heading to Summit Motorsports Park’s Annual Spring Warm-Up on April 19.

“Now that we have some of the bugs worked out, I’m looking forward to next season,” said Horvath. “I hope to continue running in the high eights and I hope to do well in points.”

By Mary Lendzion

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