“This Nova has been present in the earliest car-related memories I have,” explains Kyle Scheel of Dart Machinery in Troy, Michigan. “It is absolutely priceless to me – I’d sooner go homeless than get rid of this thing.”
Purchased back in 1986 by his uncle, this ’72 Nova has been a fixture in Kyle’s high-performance world since before he could walk. Built as a street/strip weekend runner from the outset, the Nova was bracket raced in the NFCA and NMCA series for a number of years with Kyle’s father, Bill, behind the wheel.
“Around 2012, my dad and I started talking about Drag Week,” Kyle recalls. “Initially it was sort of a fleeting thought, but then his health started getting bad, and we realized the clock was ticking so we needed to make it happen. Drag Week was happening right in our backyard in 2016, so we started prepping our Camaro for it, which was closer to being ready at that time. We busted our butts to get the car ready, but unfortunately, my dad passed away before the event.”
Kyle and his brother decided to soldier on and compete in Drag Week, a decision that Kyle says he was glad he made in retrospect. “It was one of the best drag events I’ve ever been to. When we got back, we immediately knew that we needed to get the Nova ready for next time,” says Kyle.
In the two years since, Kyle’s quest to morph the Nova into a Drag Week contender have brought in some significant changes, highlighted by a wicked new small-block that was dropped into the engine bay earlier this year in the interest of quicker e.t.’s and bolstered reliability. Here we’ll take a closer look at the Dart-built LS powerplant, with some insight from Kyle about how it all came together.
Revived For Drag Week
“Up until just recently, it hadn’t ran under its own steam since 2008,” Kyle says. “We pulled it out of storage in the spring of 2017, and in the time in between, I got hired at Dart Machinery. The timing was convenient because we were still trying to figure out exactly how crazy we were going to go with it,” Kyle recounts.
“So I went to Dick Maskin, the owner of Dart, to get his take on the ideas we had. The plan was to go with a traditional small-block Chevy, 18-degree heads, make it a 427ci or 440ci, and hopefully make about 700 horsepower with it.”
Kyle was surprised when Maskin suggested a popular modern-day alternative: LS power. But Scheel was hesitant, citing his preference for the familiarity of the Gen I SBC hardware. However, when Maskin offered to have the shop assist on the project, an entirely new chapter of this Chevy’s storied history began to take shape.
The Nova Goes Gen III
When Kyle started doing the math, a Gen III seemed like a better fit for rigors of an endurance-style event like Drag Week. “To get an old school small-block to make this kind of power at 12.25:1 compression and live on the street would be very difficult,” he notes.
“You’re ringing that sucker out for all its worth, and you’re going to potentially have valvetrain issues – or you’d need to really be on top of it to prevent them. But with an LS, this is all stuff right out of the catalog with no special porting or anything like that, and it’s making peak power around 7,000 rpm,” says Scheel.
“While a Gen I could also do that, it wouldn’t be making anywhere near this horsepower number. The LS has so many internal upgrades above and beyond the Gen I – the cam core is bigger, the oiling is better, the cylinder design is improved, etc. All of these improvements add up to an engine that can more reliably make this kind of power. You can make the same power with a Gen I, but it’s easier with an LS. And when you’re doing an endurance type of event like Drag Week, you want something you can have some faith in for five days straight.”
The Dart team built a stout bottom-end for the 427ci SHP LS Next cast iron block, outfitting it with a fully counterweighted 4.00-inch-stroke Dart LS billet 4340-steel crank, Clevite bearings, Engine Pro Forged 4340 steel H-beam connecting rods, and a 4.125-inch bore Mahle PowerPak 4032 forged aluminum piston, with Grafal skirt coating and standard PowerPak ring set. The bottom-end is sealed up with Holley’s 302-1 muscle car oil pan.
From there they selected a Cam Motion low-lash solid roller camshaft. Designed with street-driven applications in mind, this cam delivers the high-RPM valvetrain stability that solid cams are known for, while also providing low-maintenance dependability and quiet operation – a combination that makes a lot of sense in a street-driven application.
Unlike traditional solid roller camshafts that might use .018-.030-inch valve-lash settings, the special lobe designs allows for much tighter valve-lash settings of .005-.010-inch of hot-lash, depending on application. This tighter lash eliminates the majority of the valve noise associated with a solid roller camshaft. The smooth lobe design of these camshafts makes them easy on valvesprings, too – another important factor when faced with a week of back-to-back (-to-back-to-back) racing and street driving.
Dart PRO1 LS 15-degree 280cc cylinder heads top off the short-block. The LS3-style square ports flow an advertised 371 cfm at .700-inch lift on the intake side, and 249 cfm on the exhaust side – as cast. Those numbers are thanks largely to the monster 280cc intake port with 2.165-inch intake valve and the 102 cc runner and 1.600-inch valve on the exhaust side.
Trend pushrods and Morel lifters actuate Harland Sharp rockers, while PAC valvesprings keep the stainless valves in check at 7,000-plus rpm. An MSD LS Ignition Control keeps the LS engine’s spark control simple, while an Aeromotive fuel cell, outfitted with the venerable and versatile A1000 pump provides a steady supply of fuel – E85 corn juice, in this case.
The LS has so many internal upgrades above and beyond the Gen I – the cam core is bigger, the oiling is better, the cylinder design is improved, etc – all of these improvements add up to an engine that can more reliably make this kind of power. You can make the same power with a Gen I, but it’s easier with an LS. And when you’re doing an endurance type of event like Drag Week, you want something you can have some faith in for five days straight. – Kyle Scheel, Dart Machinery
Scheel opted to stick with carburetion rather than moving over to EFI, placing a Book Racing Enterprises E85 4150 carb atop an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake, which has had a simple gasket-match on the outlets and some minor plenum porting performed. Hedman headers not only fit both the modern engine and the classic chassis, but get the exhaust gasses out in the most efficient way possible. .
“None of it is particularly crazy or exotic stuff,” Kyle points out. “When you’re doing an endurance event like Drag Week, you really want something you can have some faith in – something that’s not going to eat itself alive by the third day when you’ve got five days to contend with.”All in, the mill generates a very healthy 760 horsepower at 7,300 rpm and 600 pound-feet of torque at 5,900 rpm, naturally aspirated.
Although the powerplant came together in time for this year’s event, unforeseen snags elsewhere in the build would prevent the Scheels from competing at Drag Week 2018 with the Nova. “About two or three weeks before Drag Week, I knew there was still a bunch of stuff that had to be done,” Kyle says.
As it is currently set up, the Nova is eligible to compete in two different classes – Street Race and Street Machine Eliminator. “I think it would be more competitive in Street Machine Eliminator,” Kyle notes. “Although the projected e.t.’s for the car would have put us in the top-five in the Street Race class this year.” He says that the Nova should be able to reliably run in the high-nine-second range when it’s fully sorted.
With the car now up and running, Kyle has his sights set on Drag Week 2019. “There’s a couple small things left to do to it, but for all intents and purposes it’s done. The idea now is to refine it, as it’s still basically untested at this point. So between now and the next Drag Week, the plan is to drive it everywhere we can – street drive it, race it at NMCA events, and do some local bracket racing. We’ve got three tracks that are within a hundred miles of here, and that’s a perfect test bed for doing Drag Week. There’s also a smaller event called West Michigan True Street Drag Weekend that goes to three tracks in three days, and I definitely want to do that as kind of a warm-up for Drag Week.”
While the Nova didn’t make it to the 2018 event, Kyle says the time and effort they put into the project this year was well worth it. “I wanted to get the car completely redone to make it the best it has ever been, in honor of my dad,” Kyle says. “I can faithfully say that we’ve done that. The only reason that I know anything that I know about hot-rodding is because of him, and that’s been a big motivator.”