20 May 2012

Chuck's Corvette

Recently, YrHmblHst has had the privilege of making the acquaintance of Chuck Norton. And, as is my norm, discussions fairly quickly centered on cars, specifically, first cars. Although I find it hard to believe, even given just the superficial knowledge I possess, Mr Norton assures me his first car was pretty uninteresting and held no particularly inspiring stories. But, seeing as how he has held class records in both the AHRA and the NHRA over the years, as well as multiple National Event wins in both sanctioning organisations including several WinterNationals victories, I asked him to share a bit of his "First Race Car Story". He has graciously accepted the invitation and submitted the following photos and brief history.
Like many, if not most from the time period involved, Mr Norton's first racecar started out as a street car. Then it served double duty as both transport and race car. "Real life" intervened and the car was pressed back into street duty before becoming a dedicated racer later. But I should let him tell the story...
These days Mr Norton still builds and maintains class legal Stock and SuperStock engines for area racers, and even occasionally finds time to point the nose of his C/SA Camaro skyward and hurtle it down the 1320 himself.

"If you're partial to Corvettes, you will be more interested in the evolution of my '57.  I paid $1100 for it in 1964 with the intention of it being a race car, specifically a Stocker.  A good friend had gotten involved in Stock racing in 1963 and the challenge caught my fancy.  I scoured through the Classification Guide for a competitive combination that involved a Corvette, my favorite marque of all time.  The obvious choice was a '57 F.I., 4-speed car for C/S but the only one of those I could find on the local used car lots was priced at $2000 but the black one was a 245 horsepower, 3-speed version for a lot less so I launched a career based on compromise.  Before I could get the car built, A.H.R.A. absorbed most of the local Los Angeles tracks and the N.H.R.A. plan was put on hold.  The car did, however, fit nicely into the A.H.R.A. class structure and the first picture shows my brother driving it at Irwindale in 1966 just before he was drafted.  

I kept the car after he left but my oldest daughter appeared on the scene in late 1967 and the car was put on hold to make way for real life.  In early 1968 I built a basically stock 283 for the car with the plan of making it a driver.  Picture #2 shows the car in that configuration at OCIR in January at an all-Corvette drag race where we did quite well.  #3 shows the car as it was being readied for paint during the spring of 1968 while #4 shows it after the paint job. 

I spent 14 long months between July, 1968 and September, 1969 in graduate school in Missouri courtesy of a sabbatical leave.  During that time, Car Craft magazine poured raw nitro on the smoldering ashes of Stock Eliminator and a wave of Junior Stock mania took hold across the country.  I spent a lot of time when I was supposed to be researching my thesis reading the monthly installments and outlining a plan for getting back into doing what I really liked, Stock Eliminator.  I returned to Los Angeles in the fall of 1969 and spent a year getting the car ready to race in Junior Stock.  The eventual result of that effort was the class trophy for I/S at the 1971 Winternationals.

My second daughter was born later in 1971 so racing went back onto the rear burner.  #5 shows the car in the summer of 1971 after a test session at Irwindale where I tried M&H tires in place of the usual Firestones. 

The final picture was taken on a cool, foggy morning in October, 1971 after a test session at Irwindale with my first Powerglide-equipped combination.  The '56 wagon on the truck was that of Val Hedworth, a neighbor and highly successful N.H.R.A. racer who contributed to my continuing interest is Stock and eventually Super Stock racing.  Two months after that picture was taken, N.H.R.A. wiped Junior Stock off the books and my car became essentially worthless.  Unlike most of the '55, '56, and '57 Chevys, the Corvette did not adapt well to Super Stock.  It didn't have the hood clearance to run a tunnel ram (our preferred enhancement for the dual-quad versions of the full-size Chevys.  With a single four-barrel, it was sitting right in the middle of the classes dominated by the newer '69 Camaros, Novas, and Chevelles.  The '57 F.I. was similarly helpless under the new rules structure.  I tried to work with it for about a year but the hand-writing was on the wall.

In 1973, after painting it bedpan white, I pulled the engine and transmission out of it and sold the shell for $1000.  Within three years the car would have potentially been worth many times that amount as the basis of a restored '57 partially due to the fact that I had kept many of the original parts such as the steering wheel, the license plate frames, the hubcaps, etc.  I think that Chuck Berry may have phrased it best, "C'est la vie said the old folks. It goes to show you never can tell."