Have a Coke and a Smile! Kelly Chadwick’s 1969 Camaro Funny Car

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At Car Craft, we’ve run plenty of features on 1969 Camaros. In fact, some might argue we’ve run too many, but we’ll save our defense on that one for another time. What we can’t be accused of, however, is running too many stories on 1969 Camaro Funny Cars, because the reality is that they’re few and far between. In terms of ’69s campaigned in the day, we’re aware of four; there were probably a few more, with one of the most successful being the car you see here, originally owned and driven by Kelly Chadwick.

By 1969, Chadwick was known on the drag-race circuit as “The Professor,” due to his years of teaching high school. He was also a seasoned Chevrolet racer, having been through a series of wild rides that included an A/FX 1965 Chevelle, 1966 Chevy II match racer, and a steel-bodied 1967 Camaro Funny Car. Legendary builder Don Hardy was just getting off the ground when he teamed with Chadwick to build the ’66 and subsequent cars, including a 1971 Camaro FC, a Vega FC, and a couple of Vega Pro Stocks. In short, Chadwick was a heavy hitter during what many consider the golden era of drag racing, and he was inducted into the NHRA Hall of Fame in 1976.

The ’69 featured here is likewise a Hardy build, and Hardy himself served as Chadwick’s chief mechanic that year. Chadwick’s main endeavor with the car ended up being a tour known as the Coca-Cola Cavalcade of Stars. 1969 was the inaugural year of the exhibition-style campaign, which lasted through 1976. The tour typically consisted of an eight-car Funny Car field, with representation from a variety of manufacturers and drivers such as Jack Chrisman, Malcolm Durham, Gary Dyer, Roger Lindamood, Raymond Beadle, and many others. According to the crew at Draglist.com, the 1969 and 1970 seasons had roughly 40 races each, with Chadwick and his Camaro scoring the championship in both years.

Photo credit: Ron Lewis

Current owner Brent Hajek bought the Camaro many years ago from Bill Porterfield, who decided to cut it loose to fund the restoration of one of Dick Harrell’s Funny Cars. Hajek bought the car as a roller and described the Camaro as remarkably intact, save for the engine and trans. He turned to Holzman Race Cars in Wichita, Kansas, to get the mechanicals back in shape and then had Laverne Kelly lay down the sparkling candy-colored paint. Hajek had the opportunity to talk with Chadwick on several occasions before the racer’s passing in 2013, with Chadwick explaining that the Cavalcade tour was lucrative enough to “put his kids through college.”

We had the distinct privilege of discussing the history of this vintage Funny with Don Hardy himself, as well as Ray Sullins, who served as Chadwick’s mechanic from 1970–1972. We gleaned a lot from these two drag-race heavyweights, including the fact that Hardy was one of Chadwick’s high school students in the west Texas town of Floydada. Sullins explained that the 1969 car ran the entire 1969 and 1970 Cavalcade series seasons, with various IHRA and NHRA event appearances mixed in. “We had over 100 race dates in 1970, including the CARS Magazine meet at Cecil County Raceway, where we won the final by beating Pat Minick in the Chi-Town Hustler Charger. Chadwick won a ton of races in that car.”

For comparison’s sake, Sullins explained that by the end of the 1970 season, Chadwick’s Camaro had touched the 6.90s at 212 mph. That’s admittedly a far cry from today’s amazing e.t.’s, and yet we find ourselves drawn to this Funny Car Camaro in a way that’s entirely different than the current crop of floppers. (Brand and model identification were still a strong suit of the sport in 1969.) Even a quick glance at the car pictured here, and you know exactly what it replicates. That’s a stark contrast to today’s FCs, which are shocking performers but look nothing like the cars they purport to emulate. Which do we prefer? C’mon, you already know the answer!

Tech Notes

Who: Brent Hajek

What: 1969 Camaro Funny Car

Where: Ames, OK

Engine:

In an era when near-exotic engines powered the Mopar and Ford camps—think Hemis, Bosses, and SOHCs—Chevrolet racers did amazingly well with the almost pedestrian Rat. Perhaps nitromethane was the great equalizer; Chadwick’s mechanic from 1970–1972, Ray Sullins, describes that Chadwick’s approach aimed for reliability and consistency rather than all-out power. As an example, they ran a flat-tappet cam instead of a roller. Sullins described the typical engine setup at the time: “We ran a 0.060-over passenger-car 427 block, which yielded 438 ci, with the internals consisting of Venolia flat-tops, a factory steel crank, Howards aluminum rods, and a Howards solid-lifter cam.” On top of that were Sullins-prepped rectangular-port heads, a Weiand intake, Bowers 6-71 blower, and Hilborn mechanical injection. Sullins reports a 70–75 percent nitro mix.

Exhaust:

Funny Car exhaust is surely simple, consisting solely of “zoomie” headers. Chadwick’s ’69 sported Jardine sponsorship, but the current pipes are of more contemporary manufacture.

Transmission:

A TH400 currently resides in the car and was popular with period Chevrolet FC racers such as Dick Harrell. Nevertheless, Hardy says he originally put Chadwick’s Camaro together with a Chrysler Torqueflite.

Fuel System:

A minimalist fuel tank mounted forward of the engine sent a 70–75 percent mix of nitro to the Hilborn injection unit atop the blower. Lacking the original setup, Ron Holzman installed an eight-port Crower injection unit during restoration.

Rearend:

A Pontiac rearend was originally used when Chadwick’s car was built, but Sullins reports the team changed to a Dana 60 for 1970, typically running 3.90 gears. The Dana is still in the car.

Chassis/Suspension:

Don Hardy was one of the first chassis builders to use chrome-moly tubing in FC applications, while others were still using mild steel. Soon, chromoly would be the standard bearer. The Chadwick Camaro is typical Don Hardy work in this regard, and the suspension consists of coilovers and ladder bars in the rear, and coilovers in the front. Hardy explained that he built this car with the engine offset an inch to the driver side, in an attempt to keep it from lifting the driver-side front wheel as much as it otherwise would. This necessitated running the steering linkage to the right of the engine. It was the lone chassis Hardy built in this manner.

Brakes:

Vintage Funny Cars slowed down from 200-plus with rear brakes and a parachute; there were no front brakes. Period livery on the Chadwick car would indicate those brakes were originally Hurst-Airheart, but Holzman Race Cars updated the setup to contemporary Wilwoods.

Wheels / Tires:

The front wheels appear to be the original spindle mount magnesium Halibrands measuring 15×3.5 inches and wearing M&H 5.0-15 Front Drags. The rears are newer Weld Rodlites with Hoosier 31.5/12.5-15 slicks.

Interior:

No surprise here, but there’s very little room in the cockpit of a Funny Car. This one sports plenty of Don Hardy’s original tinwork.

Exterior:

The original Fiberglass Ltd. body was repainted per original by Laverne Kelly, complete with the Coca-Cola Cavalcade livery that helps define this car’s history.