Feeling slightly anxious, the HPP staff ventured to Norwalk, Ohio, to run three shootouts in late April. Why the stress, you ask? Weather. We had reserved a date at Norwalk, Ohio's famed Raceway Park, but the weather experts had expressed a serious chance of rain. In fact, it rained for much of the trip out there the day before. We aren't just talking your typical April shower but the Midwest's renowned thunder and lightning storms. If another would have hit again before we had a chance to photograph and race some of the most powerful Pontiac pavement pounders in the region, we would've literally been up the creek.
Nonetheless, Monday, April 26, 2004, greeted us with wonderful weather. How wonderful? Imagine a maximum temp of 71.1 degrees F, a mean temp of 55.7 degrees, a mean wind of 13.46 mph (okay, a little high), and 0.08 inch total precipitation. Yes, we were in low-e.t. weather and everyone was ready.
With the anxiety vanquished from our minds, we looked forward to a sampling of special Pontiacs, including Xenia, Ohio's own Roy Hess, Jr's '66 GTO. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to call it the Hess family '66 GTO as racing '66 Pontiacs is indeed a family affair. As the car is prepped with a built 462 Pontiac, we wondered how this rather popular specimen of Pontiac musclecar would fare against Pontiac's more rare and unusual sheetmetal with similar-displacement engines. Could this early GTO hold the torch for Pontiac performance, or would other Pontiac models lay the smack down?
A blast from the further past was Terry Spidel's 434 Pontiac-powered '62 Catalina all the way from Noblesbille, Indiana. Local McDonald, Ohio, resident Denis "Diz" Dean brought his gorgeous, albeit heavy, 462-equipped Gulfmist Aqua '74 GTO street car, and Ken Feber joined in with his nitrous-burning 462 '74 GTO of Leo, Indiana. Not one but two '74 GTOs competed in the same shootout--finally some respect for the '74. Also answering the call was Todd Sedlmeier of Woodville, Ohio, who was more than willing to bring his completely built 462-powered '86 Grand Prix to the party.
We also decided to toss in Jim Wierzbicki's 231 V-6, 40th Anniversary Grand Prix GT (Kentwood, MI) for a FWD modern muscle twist for this down-home-style Norwalk Battle Royale. And we planned on having a Fourth-Gen Firebird represent modern RWD muscle, but our entrant never showed up. We were delighted to have an intriguing mix of sheetmetal, but the real fun would come on the track. It was a "run what ya brung" event, so flip the pages and see how our participants fared.
Racing for 10 years or not, Todd readily admits, "This was only the fourth time I have had the car to the track and it keeps improving. I did experience a fuel delivery problem that day in which the fuel pressure dropped after the first eighth-mile. I am honored that HPP liked my car. I hope to have a higher-stall torque converter and larger carburetor installed by the Tri-Power Nationals." For his GP, the track conditions were "excellent as usual for Norwalk" and the GP reacted "very well." All this considered, Todd says, "Traction was great! The car went straight. I would like to thank my friends and family (especially my dad who provides the barn I work in) who have helped me."
Retired and currently with over 20 Pontiacs, Terry and his wife go to Pontiac events all over the U.S., racing and showing Pontiac muscle. At this shootout, Terry's '62 was trying a new combo. "We normally have a 462, but I broke a valve and tore it up. This time it was a 428. We never ran that engine in this car as it was in my wife's car--but not with the tunnel ram, heads, and cam. When pressed as to how it ran, Terry responded, "Excellent. Best I ran before was 11.12. This run was 11.22 and we didn't have time to change jets. We've since tuned it and it's picked up a tenth already." The midnight oil was burned to swap engines and make it in time for our shootout; if they had a bit more time to tune, no doubt they would have been even faster.
We all oooh'd and aaah'd when Ken came out for his third run and hit the nitrous purge switch. The familiar "pssss" sound and cloudy mist ejected at the base of his windshield. Anyone who knew racing knew this was going to be a special run. Ken did not disappoint, leaping off the line, promptly on the rear bumper on his way to a 10.36 run. Slight damage to the rear bumper and oil pan didn't deter him. He went back on the line ready to excite the crowd again. Rather than a blistering repeat launch, a bit too much stick and too much juice resulted in the abrupt silence of the engine and a painful clank as the rear U-joint failed and dropped the driveshaft into the track. What Ken loved most about his day at the shootout was, "I could run as many times as I wanted. As usual, the track was perfect!" Keep an eye out for this Pontiac Tiger--it's definitely a runner and the one to watch. Just check out the wheelie photos.
Hauling though the traps at 92 mph in Third gear demonstrates this GP is no slouch. Featuring specifically chosen bolt-on parts and running on narrow factory 7-inch-wide wheels and rubber, Jim couldn't have been happier with his run results. Of the day's events he shares these words, "[The track was] excellent at the beginning. After the VHI stopped being sprayed, the track became very slick, at least in the right lane. Still, I can't complain too much about the track. I did set a new personal best that afternoon."
Aside from Denis' lamenting that the concession stands were closed during this invitation-only shootout event, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, sharing, "I liked the chance to try my street car at the HPP Shootout. The track was very sticky and I got very bad wheel hop, but it ran straight. I had a great time--thanks for inviting me." Denis whittled away at his e.t.'s throughout the day trying to find the right launch technique to keep those skinny street tires hooking. Improving from 15.29 to 13.82 is enough to make anyone happy.
Roy Hess, Jr.
As we previously mentioned, Pontiac muscle '66 style is not foreign to the Hess family. Roy Sr., his wife Mary Beth, and his son Roy Jr. all race '66 GTOs. However, it seems that--if nothing else--Roy Sr. impressed upon his son his love for Pontiacs. Despite Roy Jr.'s only recently getting involved in racing with his '66 Goat four years ago, he's got a house full of Pontiacs already. At 25 years of age, Jr. has an '01 Montana for family duties and a '66 Catalina for cruising duties. Racing the GTO has elevated into a passion that shows in his face when he shares about racing with his dad and stepmom as a '66 GTO family. About the event Jr. stated, "It's a great event. The track conditions were great despite being a little windy. I pulled the left wheel every time and spun once at mid-track--maybe it was oil."
On my encore visit to Norwalk Raceway Park, it was very much a different air without the hustle and bustle of a car show. Despite four photographers chasing the fleeting sunshine to line up and capture the beauty of these Pontiacs and their respective owners for a few hours, we did get to see a lot of great racing.
Old-school GTO guys will feel relieved that the Hess' GTO held off the Pontiac competition this round--but for how much longer? Truth be told there was no competition between the various Pontiac camps; all were happy to attend and help each other whenever needed. As you know if you have followed these shootouts for the last six years, it's all about sharing the combinations and the tuning to go fast with the readership. All of our participants are winners. Stay tuned (or subscribed at least) for our next round of "Pontiac Pavement Pounders Shootouts" from Norwalk.