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This ’65 Vette Is an 8-Second Player With a Pro Stock Heart

HOT ROD logo HOT ROD 8/30/2018 Hot Rod Network Staff

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When folks think about their retirement years, most plan to pick up a fishing rod, do some traveling, or maybe spend time with the grandkids. We think Jack Small has a much better idea.

After putting the wraps on a successful career as a millwright, Small isn't taking retirement sitting down. Instead, he has rebuilt this 1965 Corvette he's owned since 1974 into one of the most beautiful 8-second cars we've ever seen.

And Small is no slouch behind the wheel, either. At the Midnight Drags Presented by Gear Vendors Overdrive during the Car Craft Summer Nationals this year, Small took his Corvette all the way to the final round in the big-tire class where the rulebook could be written on a business card. The Owensboro, Kentucky, native put down consistent 5.6-second eighth-mile passes, but in the finals he was a definite underdog against Bryant Goldstone's twin-turbo AMC Javelin that had already run in the 4s.

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But by being a little crafty and staging early to keep Goldstone from being able to spool the Javelin's turbos completely, Small was able to make a surprisingly competitive race of it. In the end, the Javelin's monster power still squeaked out a 0.04-second win, but it was far from the blowout many expected against Small's naturally aspirated Corvette.

Making the runner-up finish even more impressive is the fact that the '65 looks pristine without the usual array of scrapes and dings normally found on any race car. That's because this is more than just any car for Small.

"My wife and I got married in this car," he explains. "I first bought the Corvette in 1974. I'd only had it a little bit before my wife, and I drove it from Owensboro, Kentucky, to Tennessee to get married and then drove it home. I've had the same wife and the same Corvette ever since. It's been a good car and a good marriage!"

Although Small bought the Corvette as a daily driver, it didn't stay that way very long. He says he began tearing it down about six weeks after his wedding to rebuild into a race car, and by 1976 it was running 6.50s in the eighth-mile on the original 327 V8 with a tunnel ram, competing in both the E/Gas and F/Gas classes.

Unfortunately, that didn't last. Small says he eventually parked the car to make more time for his growing family.

That happens to a lot of racers who do the right thing and prioritize family first, and we won't fault anyone for that. But after his retirement, Small decided to drag the Corvette back out of mothballs and get back into racing.

"I wanted to redo the car and update it once I decided to get back into racing again," he says. "That was back in 2009 that we started tearing down the car, and the build lasted until 2011. I've been racing it ever since."

The new race-car build started with a trip to BRC Race Craft in Newburgh, Indiana, where Matt Wright built a custom chassis for the fiberglass Corvette body. Small says the car is now basically a Pro Stock race car with a stock body on top. And, amazingly, Wright and Small were able to make it all work while keeping a ton of the original components. The dash is carbon fiber, but much of the rest of the car is very much stock. The Vette has the original-equipment windshield and roll-up door glass, as well as the doors and door panels. Small is even still running the very same headliner that was installed on the assembly line all the way back in 1965.

Motivation is no longer provided by the original 327 V8 that came in the car. Instead, a 509ci big-block sits between the framerails. Interestingly, despite the growing trend for turbo setups, Small chose to stay old school. This rat remains naturally aspirated with a single 1,050-cfm four-barrel carb on top.

The engine was originally built by Reher Morrison Racing Engines. The recipe includes a Dart block, Dart Pro1 cylinder heads, Manley valves and connecting rods, Ross Pistons, and a Scat crankshaft. The compression ratio is right around 14:1, and with 116-octane race fuel burning in the combustion chambers, that translated to 850 hp.

But that was six years ago, and after last season, Small decided it was finally time for a rebuild. Out came the rat, and over it went to Laws Mayfield in Owensboro, Kentucky, for a refresh and update. Small says Mayfield did some port work to the cylinder heads, added Jesel shaft-mount rocker arms, a Jesel beltdrive timing system, Sniper intake, and a new Comp Cams solid roller camshaft with 0.801-inch lift. With the updates, Mayfield managed to find approximately another 100 hp in the rat, and it now makes 945 hp.

To help move the power to the ground, Small uses a Ram flywheel and clutch, and connected to that is a real-deal four-speed Lenco transmission in all its multi-levered glory. "It's so nice, I love driving it with that transmission," Small says. "You just sidestep the clutch and yank, yank, yank. It's just so much fun."

Out back the car sits on a Moser 9-inch fabricated housing. Its guts are stuffed with a 4.86 gearset spinning 35-spline axles. Adjustable Afco shocks manage suspension movement on all four corners, and Wilwood brakes handle the deceleration duties.

The Corvette was originally red from the factory, and Small says he campaigned it that way for years, but for the updated build, he had Chris Gish of Henderson, Kentucky, lay down the flawless black paint job. The emblems on the car aren't real but masterful airbrush work done by artist Steve Miles.

At the Midnight Drags we watched Little make 5.69 runs all night long on the eighth-mile. On quarter-mile blasts, Small says the little Corvette will just as consistently run high-8-second times.

"It is so much fun to drive," he says. "The way it is set up, it drives straight down the track like it's on a rail. That's a good thing because I can get some volunteer help if I need it, but a lot of times I'm just out here by myself. For the Midnight Drags, I spent more time polishing the car than I did working on it. All I did was check the air in the tires, keep fuel in it, and make passes. I don't fool with that motor, all I do is make pass after pass and run the same number. I didn't even pull a valve cover all weekend. When I got back home with the car in the shop, I did pull the valve covers to check the lash, and every rocker was right where it should be.

"That's what makes drag racing fun for me," he adds. "I enjoy the people at the track—well, most of them, anyway. And I enjoy driving the car. I'm not trying to set the world on fire, but I do enjoy winning some races. I'm just an old guy coming out here to have some fun."

Tech Notes

Who: Jack Small

What: 1965 Chevrolet Corvette

Where: Owensboro, KY

Engine: The 509ci big-block was originally built by Reher Morrison and recently refreshed by Laws Mayfield out of Kentucky. It is built around a Dart block with a Scat crankshaft, Manley connecting rods, and Ross pistons making 14:1 compression. The cylinder heads are Dart Pro1s that Mayfield has ported and polished, and they are assembled with Manley valves and Jesel shaft rockers. Naturally aspirated with a Sniper single-plane intake and a Holley 1,050-cfm carb, this rat made 945 hp on the engine dyno.

Chassis: Matt Wright of BRC custom-built the chassis for performance and figured out how to set the Corvette body on top and make it all fit. Small says it is basically a Pro Stock race car with a true stock body on top. The car has been tubbed and a full rollcage installed, but from the outside the body appears untouched. Not only do the doors still open and close, they also contain the original glass and will even roll up and down.

Transmission/Rear End: If you think yanking the handles of a four-speed Lenco transmission on a wide-open-throttle pass must be about the most fun in the world, Small says you are, in fact, correct. Out back, a fabricated Moser 9-inch is built with 35-spline axles and 4.86 gears.

Interior: All the requisite racing safety gear is in place. That includes a fire bottle, Jegs belts, and AutoMeter gauges along with a full rollcage. But what we love is how much of this car is absolutely original. That even includes the very same headliner that was installed on the assembly line all the way back in 1965.

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