Street Racers' Reunion - Milan Dragway

Don Sherman
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Upon successful completion of the public-road qualifying runs, we handed the ignition keys back to their relieved owners for the speed portion of this power picnic. The two Johns piloted their cars on the drag strip while Sullivan had a hired gun - Vance Cummins - shoot the Bullet. (Cummins is a veteran drag racer and Chrysler restoration expert who was instrumental in the Plymouth's revival.)

Jendza was first to the starting line. Hoping for a pass in the fourteen-second range, he left without a hint of wheel spin, and his Caddy cruised through the traps in 15.61 seconds at just under 90 mph.

Vermeersch followed with blue smoke boiling off his right-rear tire and his Ford's nose up and attentive. That first pass - 14.32 seconds at 94 mph - would stand as Orange Crush's best run of the day.

Back for more, Jendza lined up to clip a few hundredths off his time, but his trap speed duplicated the previous 89.82 mph. Because it's set up for cruising rather than racing, Bad Cad Zeus rolled across the finish line in second gear at less than optimal rpm. A rematch may be in order after Jendza equips Zeus with the more aggressive engine and gearing he has stored in his garage.

The Silver Bullet's burnout generated a fog bank that obliterated the staging area and dispatched every mosquito in the county to an early end. Black rubber was converted to white vapor by the volcano erupting inside the rear fenders. After inching to the staging lights, Cummins departed like a round exiting a rifle chamber. Now the rear tires bit into the asphalt with gear-teeth efficiency. Before anyone could exhale, the signboard at the end of the quarter mile flashed the news: 10.38 seconds at 130.77 mph.

Considering the indignity the Bullet had endured during our street saunter, we were flabbergasted by such a show of speed. (Today's domestic quarter-mile king, the Chevy Corvette ZR1, comes close to that speed but crosses the finish line 1.5 seconds in arrears.) That said, photographers are never content with a single shot at glory, so we politely asked for half a pass more. Following a few words of instruction from Sullivan, Cummins revisited the burnout bay before returning to the starting line.

With fingers poised on shutter releases and toes crowding the gas pedal, time skipped a beat. When the start light flashed green, Cummins seemed to hurtle into the past with an exact repeat of his first run. But instead of lifting off the gas at mid-track as requested, he held all eight Holley throttles wide open for the distance.

Glee erupted when the signboard lit up with a 10.14-second ET and a 131.73-mph trap speed. Then photographer A. J. Mueller added the cherry on top: an image captured in his camera's memory of the Bullet grabbing a wheelie on its second pass.

With the pecking order duly established, we dropped the checkered flag to make sure that no unintended cylinder-block ventilation ensued. All three street racers left Milan Dragway with an Automobile Magazine Big Dog trophy to commemorate time well spent toasting rubber and Detroit's glory days.

SILVER BULLET
Born as: 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX
Engine: 8.0L (487 cu in) OHV Chrysler Hemi V-8, dual Holley 4-barrel carburetors
Power: 650 hp (owner's est.)
Driveline: Torqueflite 3-speed automatic, 4.56:1 final drive
Tires front, rear: Goodyear front runner 26.0/4.5-15, Hoosier drag slick 29.0/10.5-15
Weight: 3200 lb

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