There was only one problem: Dennis doesn't own the car! The car was restored for customer Joe Stentella, who didn't attend the event. Joe drives the musclecars he owns, though this one often stays put to keep the mileage off the odometer. Throwing caution to the wind, Dennis agreed that going heads-up against the survivor car would be something worthy of the scrapbook, and besides, if he broke it, he could fix it. After all, what's three quarters of a mile between friends?
The car as built had seen some dragstrip time, and Kohr's Kustom had performed a full-tilt restoration on it as the 9,300 miles on the odometer had been hard ones. Nonetheless, none of the 500-plus hours spent on it were used in rust repair; this Illinois body was cancer-free. Race modifications were corrected, however, including a new trans tunnel. The warranty-replaced engine was rebuilt by Allen Kohr to perfect factory specs, and little had been upgraded save for the Centerforce clutch in the bellhousing. Like the 'Cuda, a 3.54 ring was in the Dana 60 out back, but the 'Runner lacked the benefit of the electronic ignition found on its '71 rival. It also still utilizes the smaller F70-14 tires on steel rims from the factory.
The highest-judged car of the season, the Road Runner took home 107 points out of a possible 110 at Norwalk, Ohio's event, and Dennis was told by some judges that the ultrasmooth paint and lack of undercoating hurt him; it's too perfect. Today, it would get just a little dirty.
Announcer Tom "T-Bone" Keane was doing his job in the tower when we handed him a sheet of paper.
"Wait a minute, folks, it looks like we're going to have a real race coming up in a little while. We've got two real Hemi four-speed cars, and they're going to come out and get on it for everyone out there."
He then did a brief, entertaining interview with each driver, and raised his eyebrows when Kohr told him that he "borrowed" the Road Runner for the afternoon.
"Well, Dennis," he said in conclusion as he turned to announce again, "drive it like you stole it. You did!"
Moments later, the two cars rolled out from under the tower. Into the water-not a chance. Both Frank and Dennis knew better and drove around the box before doing a couple of quick dry burnouts. They lined up, and at the green, they were off. Badalson may not have slung that Pistol Grip around at this rate of speed in a while, but he took the first round, going through the timers at 14.38 at a slowing 86.35 mph. Kohr wasn't slouching, but was soft coming out of First gear to prevent tirespin, which meant catching up the rpm band to recover; his end product at 1,320 feet was a 14.69 at 97.66 mph.
An hour later, they were at it again. T-Bone's exaggerated announcement regarding the "gear-slammin', race-jammin' Hemi cars racing title for title. There's $10,000 on the line here!" had the crowd filling the fence space as the cars swapped lanes and went after it again. This time, the two drivers were a little more sure of their mounts, and Kohr, who was running the stock pressure in his Goodyears, found that the 3,900-pound B-Body was definitely not going to plant those 14-inch back tires; the car spun as soon as the clutch came out. In the other lane, Badalson had some smoke wisping in the treads as well, but recovered quicker and was again in the lead as the cars crossed the final stripe. This time, both drivers had improved, Kohr to a 14.63 at 99.55 and Badalson with a much quicker 14.21 at 102.57.
Had this been a normal two-of-three race, that would have settled it, but the feeling was that there was still some more left. Frank was busy with the car-show judging, but agreed that one more hit wouldn't hurt, and Dennis admitted that the Road Runner's internals could get used to the higher oil pressure one last time before heading off to its real owner.
T-Bone's voice echoed across the pits.
"The car was brought here...
"The car was brought here in show trim; I hadn't planned on racing it. But when you get a dare, you have to do it! The first run, I launched way too easy, and the second run, it spun them really badly, so for the third run, I tried to neutralize that effect. It still spun, but not as badly. I also was shifting it a little quicker and harder on the final run, and it picked up three-tenths. Frankly, I had hoped for high 13s or low 14s out of the car, but that 14.30 is pretty telling for a purely stock car. Hey, there was no serious money on the line for this race...unless something came apart!"-Dennis Kohr
"I raced this car in 1975...
"I raced this car in 1975 and 1976, and the best it ever turned was 14.01 at 100 mph back then, so this was cool. The track had good bite today, and that right lane was good; this race was fun, it was a good idea. I wasn't really thinking about winning, I just thought it would be fun for the crowd. You know, when I originally bought this car, it still had the factory plug wires on it, but I decided back in 1975 that I wanted to put orange wires on the car, so I threw them out. Who knew things like that would become important?-Frank Badalson