Since I was new to the Mopar thing, I decided to copy a proven buildup, so I followed the Hughes Engines Stage One 440 as a template. I used a Hughes HE3844 hydraulic cam, a Performer RPM intake, a Race Demon 750 carb, and Hooker headers. Tom George of Southfield, Michigan, initially rebuilt the 727 transmission, and I used a loose 11-inch torque converter. I also replaced the 2.76-geared, one-legger rear with a 4.10 Sure Grip I got from Jack Irons. The following summer, I drove the car 4 1⁄2 hours to Columbus so I could be part of the 2000 Mopar Nationals. I followed Jack and his big-flamed Travco Motor home. The 4 1⁄2-hour drive with the engine turning 3,500 rpm was not the hard part. The pounding headache I got from the two-chamber Flowmaster mufflers coupled with the 3-inch exhaust system that stopped at the axle was the killer. I even raced the car that weekend and then drove it home. The car ran a best quarter-mile time of 12.19 seconds at 114 mph. It did everything I wanted it to and then some.

The following winter I made a few changes to the car. Since I was getting close to the 11-second mark, I decided to add a six-point rollcage. While I was working on the inside of the car, I also restored the interior. The car already had a perfect black dash, so I ordered a black headliner, carpeting, several cans of SEM black interior paint, and JAZ racing bucket seats. In exchange for some work on his house, I had Jack Irons build the rollbar from scratch, and while he was at it, he tied the frame together and fabricated a driveshaft loop. I did the rest of the interior myself and added a fiberglass hood.

Later that year, I decided to do a cam swap and experiment with different intake manifolds and a different carburetor. I wound up running the Hughes Engines HEV4550 solid cam and a Weiand Xcelerator intake. The car was now running consistent 12-teens, and I felt something was holding it back. In July 2000, I managed to win the trophy class while racing at the Mopars Versus The World drag race at Ubly Dragway in Ubly, Michigan. I had to win eight rounds of eliminations to do it. It was my first and only time going beyond the third round.

In October 2000, I called Dynamic Converters and ordered a 9.5-inch torque converter to replace the 11-inch unit I was using. The first time out with this combo was the last time for the season. The car ran an 11.95 e.t. at 114 mph with a lot of tire spin. I put the car away that year a very happy person.

The following winter, I helped a friend, Todd Groebel, build a 340 motor for his Dart. He really wanted to buy my Race Demon 750, so I sold it to him. I also sold my Weiand Xcelerator intake to another friend because I thought my car would respond better to an M-1 intake and a bigger carburetor. The carburetor I chose was an 825 Race Demon. By that time, the Flowmaster mufflers were also wearing my nerves thin, so I changed to Dynomax Utraflows. Also, a fellow board member at Moparts.com made a fresh-air system for my hoodscoop. This combination ran a best 11.47 e.t. at 116.5 mph through the exhaust at the Norwalk Chrysler Classic in September 2001. I tried to get the car to respond by adding a little race gas, but it didn't like it at all. That actually made my day-my car doesn't like expensive fuel!