An NHRA Race Down Memory Lane
Peter MacRitchie is a Keystone sales associate and former NHRA race car driver. He began his career as a certified mechanic responsible for the machining processes of complete rebuilds and engine dyno testing at a Canadian auto shop. Together, the team built and ran a NHRA street legal race car at local tracks; it was a sweet ride that MacRitchie eventually purchased from the shop owner to pursue his own love of drag racing.
Weeknights were spent tuning the 1965 283 cubic inch V8 Chevelle with a General Motors factory rating of 220 horsepower. Weekends were reserved for full-throttle performance on straightaway smooth pavement. Top prize? Best national elapsed time, bragging rights and supportive roars from the grandstands.
NHRA Superstock Class
MacRitchie competed in the NHRA Superstock Class between 1978-1982, which required a factory-produced engine with little room for modification and zero margin of error within the framework of the competitive rebuilding specifications. “It’s about your tuning ability within those very specific rules,” added MacRitchie. One could argue this class is less about the car and more about the master tuning and driving skill of the competitor.
“I tuned it myself and ensured the right compression ratio and factory cylinder heads. You have to run a certain octane of gas and use certain tires. Everything you do has to be 100% within the specified regulations and that gets really tough when you’re working within 1/1,000 of an inch. Is that going to make a difference on the NHRA strip? No, but the rules are the rules and everyone has to be on the same playing field at the starting line,” said MacRitchie. “A good tuner knows how to add some cushion and account for different variables, so there’s never an unexpected issue when the car is checked. But it gets awfully expensive. Luckily, I had a lot of shop machinery at my disposal even though I still had to buy all the parts,” he laughed.
And tune it, he did. MacRitchie’s superior skills landed him best national elapsed times on a few occasions. “Back in the late 70’s, there were very few engine dyno tests within a few hundred miles of Toronto. If I did want to pay, the shops had a flat rate fee of about $500 for an eight-hour day of testing, which was a little pricey for my bank account [especially back then]. So I just put the engine in the car and raced it,” he said. “A conversation with some of my racer pals determined the Chevelle was making an estimated 375 horsepower for that motor to get the elapsed times it did on the drag strip.” This confirms that “it’s all about making the right tweaks and changes so your ride is just a little faster than the next guy’s,” said MacRitchie.
How Fast is Fast?
Fast during his era was start-to-finish line in 11.6 seconds at 114 mph. He discussed how hitting the national elapsed time is a personal ego trip for any driver. “That’s the number you’re running today, but you may not be as fortunate next time around. Some guys [have a great car but] will miss the elapsed time their entire career because of not hitting the right tuning combo and could spend a million trying to do so.”
There’s nothing quite like the thrill of chasing a record from behind the wheel of stock power and tuning genius. “As a driver, you’re trying to maintain the vehicle’s consistency and keep your mind on the race. Pull toward the starting line. Spin your tires and make a bit of heat in the rubber for more grip. Rev up and wait for the Christmas tree to get activated by the official. Then you’re down the quarter-mile strip racing toward an epic finish,” said MacRitchie. “It’s seconds of fame on the track and there are a lot of variables at play. You gotta know your car and reaction times. The heat, humidity, rain and just general environment all affect the run. You snooze, ya lose,” he continued.
A Word to the Wise
Amateur or professional, all racers are making a run at the winner’s circle—“a place that separates the men from the boys,” said MacRitchie, and there’s no room for intimidation at showtime. A bit of wisdom from the competitor’s mouth to listener ears, “Who cares about some hot dog from years ago. You’re racing whoever you’re racing. It’s just another driver. When we get to the end of the quarter mile then we’ll see whose car turns out the win.”
The hard reality is there’s always a trade off. There have been significant increases in entry fees the past few decades. Vehicle maintenance, fuel, parts, labor, machinery and ancillary costs are on the rise as well. Add long travel, set up and pack up times and it’s not hard to see why even avid racers burn out.
Fortunately, “If you want to have the thrill of racing your street car, there are plenty of local tracks to participate in. They have less technical regulations and you can be home every night after the races,” said MacRitchie, who is a happy spectator these days, purchasing a grandstands pass like every other fan but warns, “Once it’s in your blood, it’s there. Now I sit in the grandstands and enjoy it like everyone else… do the social swirl and see everyone I ran with way back when,” he said. A racer’s version of reminiscing around the campfire.
Today, Pete is a veteran sales rep at Keystone Automotive operations, Inc., dedicating his time to sell product and share knowledge with independent, aftermarket shop owners.