It's no secret that being a Pontiac fan requires a level of dedication and perseverance beyond that of the average Chevy or Ford hobbyist. While parts availability is better now than ever before, it's still not as good as more mainstream marques.
If you're a Pontiac fan living in Canada, the situation is even more difficult. In addition to the relatively weak Canadian dollar and importation problems, most of the '60s-era Pontiacs sold North of the border were actually Pontiac-bodied Chevys, due to the tarriff arrangement between the two nations at the time. Acquiring a traditionally-powered Pontiac usually involves importation and all of the hassles that it entails.
Still, those obstacles are no match for this determined group of Pontiac loyalists, and that enthusiasm is what lured us North this past September 13th for our first Canadian Pontiac Pavement Pounders Shootout. A big thanks to Wayne Kennedy, the owner of the gorgeous '70 Judge featured here, for helping us arrange and organize the event at Grand Bend Motorplex and showing us a great time in downtown Grand Bend, Ontario. We even had an impromptu beach party that night, a testament to the great Canadian hospitality we were shown.
Actually, there were eight cars involved in the shootout. The first four racers, Frank Balbar ('69 Firebird), Tony DeCoensel ('65 GTO), Wayne Kennedy ('70 Judge) and Howie Poulter ('64 GTO), are presented here and the second four will appear in next month's issue. All the Pontiacs featured are prime quality machines that upheld the division's performance reputation and made their Canadian owners proud. We hope to be back soon to keep up what will possibly be a new HPP tradition--the international shootouts. Hmm...perhaps there are enough Pontiacs in Antigua to do one there as well!
At The Track
Due to our mid-September track date in Grand Bend, we were expecting a traditional Northeast autumn day, cool weather and a bit of cloud cover. We were treated to an unexpected bit of Indian Summer, with temperature at 79 degrees Fahrenheit, with a relative humidity of 62 percent and a barometric pressure of 29.70 inches. Though weather readings later in the day were not available, it was pretty obvious that by 3:30, the air quality had diminished significantly.
As far as track conditions went, a big thank you to assistant track manager Korey Herman for doing a bang-up job getting the track ready for us. Traction was very good in the morning, but became a bit slick as the sun beat down on it all day. Korey and his staff were very generous with the VHT and helped keep things under control, though we were not able to replicate the great 60-foot times of the morning runs.
Of all the racers, Tony probably had the best experience with the track, as he made his runs relatively early in the day, when the traction and air quality were at their best. Fresh from his win at Norwalk's Ames Performance Pontiac Nationals, DeCoensel said that the Grand Bend Motorplex track surface was equal to Norwalk's. If you've ever raced at the IHRA's home track, you know that is a stout claim.
With his 389 Tri-Power Goat being the only stick car at the shootout, Tony really made his 35-plus years of experience work, giving him the consistency that is usually reserved for automatics. Tony's best run was his second, knocking of a 13.179 at 105.84. Further experimentation with timing and tire pressure slowed the GTO down slightly. "The car ran nice and straight," Tony recalled. "There were no problems with the track at all--it was very nicely prepared [which was reflected in] the car's performance. It was great!"
Frank's 428 Firebird has 11-second potential written all over it and the first pass on street tires had him running to the pits to get the Mickeys put on. He ran a 14.51 at 92.74, with an epic 2.57 short time, blazing the tires in a futile attempt to get traction. Not the best tip for e.t.'s, but it looked really cool. The next run would prove to be his best of the day. With 17 psi in his M/T soft compound tires, he was able to click off a much-improved 1.81 60-foot on his way to a 12.15 at 113.06. The line-lock was not holding the Pontiac during the burnouts and on a few runs the motor hit the rev limiter.
"I think it reacted OK in most runs," Frank said, "but the car is not set up like it should be to be run as a drag racer. The suspension is basically stock and driven mostly on the street. It seemed to hook up or so I felt it was until I got my time slips. It did go pretty straight in most runs but in the fifth run, it went hard to the right and I aborted the pass. I shifted at 5,900 and ran between 6,000 and 6,200 through the lights."
Wayne's '70 also had a good day, especially where traction was cornered. "The track was excellent in the morning and the starting line held up for most of the day," he explained. "I had my best short time ever with a 1.67 60-foot coming at 1:43 pm. By 2:30 pm the starting line was beginning to fade and at 3:30 pm traction was poor, as was the air."
Even with the diminished traction at the line, Kennedy stated that the Pontiac handled very well, with no pulling to one side or any theatrics at the top end. "All my passes were very straight," he explained, adding that the 465-inch Pontiac was spinning 6,000 to 6,300 rpm through the lights in third gear.
Despite breaking the line-lock in the first run, Howie Poulter made the best of his situation. Having lost the ability to properly heat up his tires and the GTO swinging out its tail in the bleach box, he only lost a tenth in his 60-foots, going from a 1.56 on his first run to a 1.66 on his 4th run. Inevitably though, it cost him 1.5 tenths and more than a mile an hour in the quarter. That is, until his last run. Though he ran his second slowest 60-foot and ET, the trap speed was the best of the day at 125.16 mph. While this was later in the afternoon, it was after an extended cool down, so while the air wasn't the best, the engine was cool enough to make the most of it.
"As far as tuning and driving technique went, I just rolled it off the trailer, didn't touch a thing and left at 3,000 rpm every time," Poulter later recalled. "I didn't mess with jetting or timing or tire pressure because everything was pretty dialed in. I think that if the line-lock hadn't failed, I may have been able to post a personal best at Grand Bend."
As with most drag meets, participants are dealing with the same air quality and track conditions, so levels of success tend to run together--cars run better with good air and traction, not so good without. In the case of our first International Pontiac Pavement Pounders Shootout, the great track conditions of the morning gave way to a slicker track and diminishing air quality.
While performance levels did fall off somewhat, it didn't dampen the enthusiasm of any of the participants. All of our racers were truly grateful to have an American magazine come and host an event on their soil and they told us that several times. We were equally honored to be there and hope that we'll be returning in the near future to host another HPP shootout at Grand Bend.
Again, a big thanks to all of our Canadian friends for a great day at the track, to Wayne Kennedy for organizing the event and to Korey Herman for an excellent job with the track and crew. Next month, we'll continue our North of the border coverage at Grand Bend with four more racers who also did a great job of upholding Pontiac's performance reputation.