For people who follow the King of the Street race series promoted by O'Malley Competition, Sheila Bowman is a familiar name. In existence since 1993, the K.O.S. series is a racing circuit for the quickest steel-bodied Chrysler products on the planet, and the Bowmans, who reside in Kernersville, North Carolina, have been a part of it since its inception. The rules are identical to those found in NMCA's Super Street and E-Z Street classes, and the cars come in a variety of potent configurations: nitrous oxide, supercharged, and big displacements. Broken down into competitive formats based on displacement and type of induction system, the cars are presently running below the 8.5-second bracket in the quarter-mile and are capable of serious 160-plus mph speeds.
Sheila began driving in 1994 and took home the championship for K.O.S. cars in 1995. She was also the first person to break through the eight-second barrier in the series. The black '73 'Cuda the Bowmans campaign is a familiar sight at these events, but in the last several years, serious performance advances by all the competitors began to separate the men and women from the boys and girls. With "put up or shut up" honors on the line, Sheila and Steve began looking at ways to make the 'Cuda even quicker.
The K.O.S. rules are fairly stringent in terms of body and appearance. Only the hood, bumpers, and decklid can be manufactured from lightweight materials; the rest of the car is covered with the Detroit sheetmetal that left the factory. The stock wheelbase must be retained, and the widest legal tire is 10.5 inches wide. The cars even use stock glass. Like real street cars, the normal curbside accessories like headlights and full exhaust must be on the car as well. Of course, eight-second street cars are rarely practical, even to make a quick run to the store, but it's the thought that counts, and this one is pretty mind-blowing!
In virtually any poll, the Hemi-powered E-Bodies were the stoutest cars from the supercar era, purpose-built for eyeball-popping acceleration. Decidedly, a Hemi would replace the wedge when the car was being upgraded. To this end, Steve and Sheila turned to Ken Lazzeri at Indy Cylinder Head for one of Indy's Legend Hemi engines. This aftermarket block was set up to displace a "mere" 389 inches to keep the overall factored weight of the car down (supercharged combinations run on a 3,000-pound minimum/8.0 pounds-per-cubic-inch rule). Fitted with 8.5:1 Wiseco pistons, BME rods, and a Sonny Bryant billet crankshaft, the engine is good for a screaming 10,000 rpm.
The bottom end is topped off by a set of worked Indy Hemi heads that feeds giant quantities of fuel into the cylinders via a .750-plus lift Cam Motion billet roller bumpstick, Comp Cams lifters, Manley valves, and Indy hardware. After looking at what had been done with the 5.0 Mustang contingent, a call was made to Vortech superchargers. A Hemi application was not something they had tried before, but Vortech was interested in seeing how it would work. Together with the crew from Indy, a system was custom-fabricated for the car. Chrome tubing was bent, custom pulleys created, a prototype ElectroMotive fuel and ignition control computer system installed, and a lot of sweat expended to couple the Vortech Z Trim centrifugal blower to the Indy engine for the first time. A group of 160-psi Bosch injectors sends the fuel into the custom plenum, while a set of custom-built R&D Race Car headers sends the exhaust to the Flowmasters. Once done, the blown beast made 1,100 hp-at the rear wheels! Serious stuff!
The engine is backed up by a TorqueFlite built by A&A Transmission, which is coupled to the crank through a Dynamic 6,500-stall 8-inch converter. A narrowed Dana 60 resides under the rear end, stuffed full of 4.56 gears and Mark Williams axles. To help get the power from the chassis to the ground, the leaf springs are replaced by a four-link from Art Morrison, Afco shocks, and M/T 31x10.5x15 drag slicks. Up front, the change was made to an A-arm front suspension with coilover Afco shocks, Competition Engineering rack-and-pinion steering, and the Hemi is now held in place via motor plates. Steve, Greg Bentley, and Monte Smith did most of the chassis work themselves. Wilwood front disc brakes and a Stroud parachute ensure that Sheila comes to a safe stop at the end of a run.
The interior is race car basic, with vinyl-covered aluminum seats, a 12-point rollcage, Simpson belts, and VDO gauges. Once the new fiberglass hood (built for supercharger clearance) and front bumper were in place, Crown Auto Body Centre covered the car with a deep sheen of Sikkens black paint.
We shot the photos before qualifying at the first K.O.S. event at Mopars at the Rock in late April, but the new combination had already clocked a best of 8.60 at 161 mph. With a few more laps, this Hemi tornado should be ready to do some serious damage to the rest of the K.O.S. field.
Fire On The Mountain
It was late Saturday afternoon, and the K.O.S. competitors were making their final passes at Rockingham Dragway attempting to qualify for Sunday's final eliminations. Attrition had already eliminated several entries. Broken driveshafts, destroyed engines, and other maladies had sidelined several of the dozen cars on hand, and the pits looked like something out of a nitro race with pieces lying on the pit asphalt and cars under heavy repair. Sheila Bowman was one of the two final cars in the last round when disaster struck.
"The car had gotten hot on the burnout, and we ended up waiting before we were able to stage," said Steve later.
The 'Cuda had already gone approximately 1,000 feet down the track when something let go.
"I could feel it freewheeling; the engine was still revving and the car was moving, but it wasn't right," Sheila stated afterward. "Then the parachute came out, but I hadn't pulled it, and I started smelling smoke inside the car. I knew something was really wrong."
Something inside the transmission had come apart, and as the car hit the traps, hot transmission fluid spilled over onto the red-hot headers. The 'Cuda erupted into a ball of fire. Flames could been seen coming out from under it and around both sides. With the 'chute now deployed, the conflagration somehow miraculously dimmed down to a minor black smoke show. Sheila kept a tight grip on the steering wheel and brought it to a rapid stop at the first turnoff. Though the car does not have an automatic fire system, an extinguisher was inside the car, and after getting out of the cage and window net, she retained her composure and quickly sprayed out what licks of flames were still erupting on charred surfaces. By this point, other K.O.S. racers who were already on the scene arrived, and the fire was put out completely. Nonetheless, it could have been a more serious situation had the fire continued to burn unabated on the racetrack.
The damage was substantial, but not so much to require the car to be retired. The Bowmans plan to rebuild the car but will look at some changes they'll make to be sure it remains as safe as possible. Drag racing by nature is an evolutionary process, and as cars go faster and make more horsepower, safety needs must be addressed as well. Hopefully, this incident and crashes such as the one Bill May suffered last fall are not a harbinger of things to come as the K.O.S. pilots pursue the elusive seven-second barrier.-Geoff Stunkard