Donnie Hendricks is always taking the path less traveled. Learn about how this top dragster went turbo.
“Big-block Chevy and boxes of mail-order parts or a one-off twin turbo-injected small-block for my Top Dragster? Hmmm, let’s see, which would bring about the biggest challenge and most heartache and headaches? I believe I’ll choose the latter!” That’s Donnie Hendricks. Of course, he and his dad Mike have been modern day racing mavericks since Donnie was just a kid of nine.
Last year when Donnie decided it was time to kick it up a notch from his mid eight-second Super Comp dragster, he went shopping for a new chassis for the project. He located a prospective number in upstate California, but the owner decided he didn’t want to take the time to strip it down, so Donnie took the whole package, including the twin turbo Chevy. It turns out the very unique race car, built by Tom Griffith in his Ohio-based Fox Chassis shop, migrated to this second owner complete with engine. Neither Griffith nor the new owner made many consistent full passes, mostly eighth-mile or short squirts. So it was up to Donnie to figure how to tune and get a better handle on his digger down the strip.
He and his dad quickly discovered the turbocharged mechanical fuel-injected beast is a very sensitive to weather and altitude, requiring frequent readings from their weather station. It’s difficult to find a combination that will work from cool mornings into hot afternoons without constantly readjusting the fuel curve, each cylinder needing to be finessed. Fortunately, Donnie’s used to finessing race cars, he was the clutch artist on Larry Miersch’s Huntington Beach, California-based A/Fuel dragster for five years.
His Top Dragster shares one ugly trait of nitro cars: tire shake. If the tune-up’s off or underpowered, about 200-300 feet out when the boost applies, he has experienced violent, tooth-rattling shake.
Currently, Donnie says the tune-up is on the soft side. He leaves the line at 4,200 rpm with 10 pounds of boost. The 60-foot times are around 101.1 and 4.296 at 330 feet. In the lights, the 355-incher’s turning 7,300 rpm and developing 24 pounds of boost. He’s producing very competitive elapsed times in the 6.70s at speeds greater than 200 mph.
Donnie and Mike have attended all of the Division 7 races this season, as well as three national events, and have gone multiple rounds at each, so they’re very happy with their team’s progress.
Two people have entered the picture of late: former Funny Car shoe Brett Crowe has been sharing his insights into the race car’s setup and improving performance has resulted; Jim Duke has also taken an interest, and for next season is providing two sets of turbos of different configurations, custom stainless headers, manifold, intake, blow-off valves and wastegates all ceramic coated, plus replumbing the race car. They’re also discussing, for the near future, switching to electronic fuel injection, which will certainly facilitate tune-up.
Donnie feels like they’re just scratching the surface as far as performance potential is concerned. Several of his competitors seem to agree, as evidenced by increasing visits to his pit area.
It was mentioned at the beginning of this story that the Hendricks clan doesn’t follow the racing herd. Donnie, Mike and friend Louie Finkle are responsible for getting electric motors legal for NHRA Jr. Dragster competition. Donnie, who was 14 at the time, says his Jr. Dragster sounded like a giant RC racer. Their electric entry quickly overshadowed the gasoline and alcohol competition with eighth-mile runs in the 7.90s and 7.40s at 91 mph during exhibition runs. He currently holds three National Electric Drag Racing Association (NEDRA) national records.
If Donnie, Mike and associates continue to apply the level of ingenuity they’ve shown thus far, their performance will be electrifying!
Text by Pete Ward
Photos by James Drew