Matt Chitwood is a recovered road racer turned drag racer. His career started in Florida in road racing before it became too expensive for him to enjoy.
“I’ve always like drag racing,” Matt says. “When we moved back to Indiana, I went to Indianapolis Raceway Park for a drag racing school with my son. We were hooked! Unfortunately, I still worked every day, so my drag racing career has been limited. My goal has always been to take it on after I retired, and that’s what I did.”
He found a project 1966 SS Chevelle on Craigslist. “I took it home, dismantled it, and cut the floor away,” Matt remembers. “The roof, doors, and quarter panels are steel, and the hood and trunk lid are fiberglass. I found a local chassis company that sells economy chassis kits and had him build one for me. That kick-started everything for me to begin the build process.”
Matt put in the 14-point cage and did all the welding, which is NHRA certified to 8.50-second e.t.’s. The family also dove into the plumbing and electrical setups from total scratch. “I’d never done that type of work before,” Matt says. “I just took my time, researched it, and talked to people who seemed to know what they were talking about.
Front suspension is an A-arm assembly with QA1 coilovers. In the rear of the chassis is a four-link suspension with QA1 shocks/springs, as well. He modified a 9-inch Ford housing with 4.56 gears and all Strange Engineering spools and axles. His Jones induction is fed with an Aeromotive A2000 fuel pump and filter assembly and Holley/Earl’s Performance braided steel plumbing. Other varied hardware includes a Turbo Action Cheetah SCS shifter, General Motors 12-volt alternator, and fully operating headlights, tail lights and turn signals.
Chitwood performed all of the aluminum interior work inside the car, other than leaving the door panels factory. He installed Autometer gauges in the dashboard and added a Kirkey Racing Fabrication seat and Grant steering wheel. He exclusively uses Impact Race Products safety equipment throughout the Chevelle.
The 468 engine is also equipped with Brodix Big Brodie heads and matched Brodix intake manifold. A Holley Performance/MSD crank trigger and ignition system is combined with a CSR Performance Products cooling system and Aerospace Components vacuum pump system. Matt continues, “I built the headers myself, as well. The only problem I have ever had with the engine is replacing a broken valve spring. I have been lucky with this engine.”
I couldn’t have completed all of the chassis work myself without my wife, Lori. She was the one cranking the bead roller handle or holding a bracket while I would weld. – Matt Chitwood
Behind the powerplant is a Turbo 400 transmission with a BTE Racing billet transbrake, 5500 rpm stall torque converter, and a TCI Auto flexplate, pan, and shield. Stopping power is provided by Wilwood brakes all around. Weld Racing SR71 wheels are on Hoosier Racing Tire 14-x32-inch slicks and frontrunners.
The entire project took Matt about five years to complete. “I started the construction in 2013, and my first race was at the Indy Goodguys Hot Rod Reunion in June of 2018,” he remembers. “All but the engine and transmission were built at my home shop by my family and I. My wife, Lori, loves to help with the bead rolling (laughs). I also painted it in my shop, using a Chevrolet “Switchblade Silver” color.
Matt is quick to point out that a Ken Jones Performance carburetor made all the difference once he started competing with the Chevelle. “I hadn’t raced a car in ten years,” he says. “I had to get the chassis certified, of course, and I had kept my license up that I had from before. When it first got on the track, it ran 10.50’s. I bought the new carburetor, and with Jones’ advice, it went from 10.50 to 9.50. He helped me not only with the carburetor, but also with suspension. I have to give him credit for helping me a great deal.”
It was a lot of fun for Chitwood to work with his family to build the car.
“It was a five-year learning curve, but it was enjoyable. My son, Ross, and I enjoyed being very hands-on together,” he adds. “It was so satisfying to spend all that time doing every single nut and bolt, every wire and hose by ourselves. For the three of us to be able to go out and run 9.50 with no drama makes it very satisfying.”
Comparing road racing to drag racing, Matt says it’s a completely different endeavor. “My best 60-foot time in the Chevelle is 1.25-seconds; that’s pinning you back in the seat pretty good,” he notes. “It’s just a different animal. Road racing was fun. It was lots of competition, but the thrill of the speed of drag racing is something else.
He also knows it’s saving them some money, as well. “Even in the lower classes in road racing, you went through tires, brakes, and entry fees,” Matt says. “It was so expensive. With drag racing, the tires last a long time, the entry fees are reasonable, and in the Midwest, there are so many races to attend. Living in southern Indiana, there is some kind of dragstrip everywhere and drag racing of all kinds.”
Chitwood runs the 9.50 index class in the Nostalgia Drag Racing League, the National Muscle Car Association, and the Outlaw Street Car Association. “The car doesn’t have a delay box,” he comments. “I just like the index/pro tree competition.”
Family is very important to Matt, and that naturally extends to drag racing.
“My wife goes with me all the time, and my son goes along when his work permits,” he says. “We have a motorhome and enjoy being together. The people are all nice at the different racing series. The index racing seems like it’s not as cutthroat as it is in bracket racing competition. It’s just a different atmosphere.”
He is thrilled that Lori enjoys being hands-on with the car as much as he does. Chitwood mentioned his wife still consistently wants to go the track for every race. “She has been so tolerant of the entire building and racing demands. That’s why we bought the motorhome, so she can be comfortable at the track.”
Now that he’s retired, Chitwood is looking forward to furthering his drag racing experience. “I’m fortunate to be able to go off and race,” he says. “I can’t wait for the season to start this year.”
The 2019 season was his first full year behind the wheel. “I went to a significant number of events, and the car was pretty problem-free. I would have liked to have won more rounds (laughs), but I’ll take them when I can get them and aim to do better this year.”
While going rounds is definitely on the wish list, Matt’s additional goal to get the Chevelle down to the 9.00 index. “This engine has hundreds of passes on it,” he says. “I’m sure this 468 has more in it, and I’m going to keep pushing toward the lower index.”
Chitwood finishes with a great observation towards his own racing prowess: “My real goal is to perfect the art of heads-up index racing. I’ve found many ways to lose first round, but I still have fun with it every time we’re at the track.”