Duramax-Powered 1973 Chevrolet Nova - NovaMax
Grudge racing a triple-turbo, 1,000hp, Track Monster
During the last few years, "run what ya brung" outlaw-style grudge racing has gained popularity at dragstrips across the country. In an effort to bring a more exciting, street race type of feel to drag racing, hoods often remain closed, owners are tight-lipped about their cars' modifications, and large sums of money are often bet on the starting line for each race. When a competitor has no idea how fast everyone else is (elapsed times are not given), every start is important.
Another approach to suckering other racers is coming up with a combination that is so off the wall that any guesses on real elapsed times would be just that—guesses. Oddball combinations such as a turbocharged 180ci Toyota engine inside a Pro Modified frame; blown big-block Fords; and even this triple-turbo, nitrous-assisted, Duramax-powered 1973 Chevrolet Nova are exactly the type of stuff we're interested in.
The story starts back in 2008, when Nova owner Russ Wullenwaber met Rick Fletes at Pinks All Out. Russ had an 11-second truck with a built motor, and Rick had shoehorned a stock Duramax with a tune into his Chevy Chevelle. After a year or two, the team decided to partner up, and Russ (who started RPM Motorsports) swapped his truck engine into Rick's Chevelle. The result was a rocket of a ride, with the Chevelle eventually running the quarter-mile in 9.70 seconds at 140 mph.
After a while, the stock suspension combined with 10.5-inch-wide rear tires and a 4,600-pound race weight made the car a bit sketchy to drive. So the team started afresh with a PSCA Nova and the goal of dropping 1,000 pounds from the existing combination. With the help of SoCal Diesel, ATP Trucks, MPI, and many other boosters, the Nova was ready to go in a very short amount of time. It was already an Internet hero, with its own Facebook page and build threads on online forums, but the question still remained: How would it run?
After following the buildup of such a ride on the Internet, we just had to see it race in person, so we hopped into our trusty 12-valve Dodge and headed up to GrudgeFest at Sacramento Raceway Park. With drag cars packing 600-plus-ci powerplants and three-stage nitrous systems, the diesel-powered Nova would definitely have its work cut out for it. For each round, good or bad, win or lose, we were along for the ride.
A crowd followed the Nova to Sacramento Raceway Park's tech inspection. The turbo peeking through the hood and the obscenely wide rear tires indicated this car was a heavy-hitter.
As the hood was lifted, people weren’t sure what to think about the insane triple-turbo engine, and we heard murmurs of, “That thing has nitrous, too?” The LBZ-based Duramax pumps out an estimated 1,000 hp using Mahle forged pistons, Carillo rods, and a SoCal Diesel camshaft. The power parts are 250-percent-over injectors from Exergy Engineering, twin BorgWarner S475 turbos feeding a Garrett GT42/45, and a Nitrous Express nitrous-oxide system. Maximum boost peaks at a crazy 110 psi.
One of the more unique features of the Nova's engine bay is a large air-to-ice intercooler (left) packed with 50 pounds of dry ice for each run. The intercooler works so well that the team has to wait until they're literally in the staging lanes before it is filled with ice.
More coolers that need to be filled are mounted in the back of the car (above). In this instance, owner Russ Wullenwaber can be seen putting ice water into the tank for the transmission cooler. With 33 psi of boost at launch, the Xtreme Pro Mod Powerglide XP5 two-speed racing transmission (with lockup) creates a lot of heat that needs to be absorbed, hence the crazy coolers.
At its inaugural GrudgeFest outing, the Nova made it all of about 2 feet. After spooling up to the line against an 8-second Mustang, the Nova broke the output shaft on the Gear Vendors overdrive during the launch. The team has since made the move to just the Powerglide with lockup. The 2.90:1 gears, 33.5-inch rear tires, and 5,000 rpm worth of engine speed calculates to runs at 170-plus mph.
Despite the added weight of the Duramax engine and three turbos, skinny 26x4.5-inch Hoosier frontrunner tires are all that's needed to support the diesel powerplant.
Between the extra helpings of rear tires resides a Jerry Bickel–built 9.5-inch rear axle, which houses a custom set of 2.90:1 ratio gears made specifically for the Nova. The rear chassis and cage were built entirely by Dow Brothers Race Cars in Folsom, California.
The rear tires are immense 33.5x17-inch Hoosier Drag Slicks. They're mounted on beadlock wheels to keep the tire from slipping on the rim under extremely low pressures.
Two weeks after we saw it, the Nova ran mid-9s on a ¾-track pass at the NHRDA drags in Woodburn, Oregon, indicating the awesome potential of the car. The crew even reports that an aluminum-block Duramax is in the works. Stay tuned!
One last item that needs to be checked before race time is the nitrous system, which is used both for spooling up the turbos and for getting it done down-track.