TWO BROTHERS, AN ICONIC BOWTIE AND A PLACE IN DRAG RACING HISTORY
Sometimes second-guessing can pay off.
For brothers Ben, and Dave Wenzel, they were going to buy a car with the intention of drag racing back in 1967. They were intent on getting a brand-new 375-horse, Chevelle to race in NHRA's Stock Eliminator.
Once the Wenzel's saw the Camaro z/28, a 302-inch, 290-horse, 4-speed combination, they knew this was a dog capable of hunting. Five decades later, it's still bagging ducks.
"I bought it to race," Dave said. "I bought it brand new, I ordered it, raced, always been a race car."
When they bought the car on June 6, 1967, a solid plan was in place. Ben would drive, and Dave would make it go faster than the day it rolled off the showroom floor.
The arrangement suits Dave just fine.
"I try to maintain the car, and I don’t maintain as much as I did originally," Dave explained. "Originally I basically built the motors, tuned the carburetors, timing, worked on the transmission. Basic maintenance to a car every week. And now the car with the new stuff is almost maintenance free. We run week after week after week and don’t have to touch the car, although it’s not as compatible as it was originally."
The car first had a 290-horsepower rating and over the years has been upgraded to 309.
The Wenzels have learned being in the right place at the right time has its benefits.
Little did they know when they made from Saginaw, Michigan, to Indianapolis, they would become a part of drag racing history as the first-ever Camaro driver to win an NHRA national event.
Together they've seen a lot of changes to Stock Eliminator since the momentous day in Indianapolis.
"It’s just different," Ben explained. "We were running off of national records in 1967. Now you’ve got an index. Anybody can run an index. But at Indy, you’ve got to go so much under to qualify. I don’t know if it’s changed other than the rigs that people bring. You used to have a tow bar. I mean, we didn’t tow bar this car back then, I had an open trailer."
Unfortunately for the Wenzel's, even though Dave ran -0.870 under the C/Stock index during the Chevrolet Performance NHRA U.S. Nationals, he was unable to crack into the 128-car field.
For as many miles as they have raced their Camaro, and trailed the country with it from east to west, and all parts in between, it's as if they Camaro is like a brother to them.
"A mother," Ben corrected with a smile. "Yeah, you know it’s a part of me. I’ve had the thing forever, and it’s great. Everybody knows us by this car. They don’t know me by the car, they know."
Dave added following their momentous win; people knew their car better than them.
"We went to California, and people came up to us and said, of course, it won the U.S. Nationals right away in ’67, ‘We heard about this car. We didn’t know we’d ever see it."
They couldn't imagine rolling to the starting line with another car other than their first love.
"I wouldn’t want a new Camaro," Ben admitted. "This goes fast enough. It doesn't go fast enough for where we want it to go. But this car, I like the car. It’s part of me and I just like the car. I drove another guy’s car in ’81, a Super Stocker, and that was alright because we didn’t have a competitive car at that time. But some of these guys jump in your car, that guy’s car, that guy’s car, I don’t know if I’d like that or not. I mean they’re in it for the money. I’m in it because I like this car. I just like everything about it."