The 2nd Annual Bristol Dirt Nationals began March 21st and ran through April 2nd. For this two-week racing event at Bristol Motor Speedway, the world’s fastest half mile hauled in over 2,300 loads of dirt to host one of the biggest dirt racing events in the nation. Across the five different divisions that were scheduled to race in the first week, 125 Chevrolets entered the event along with one solitary Dodge.
That one Dodge was a 1968 Dodge Super Bee owned and raced by the third generation racer, 22-year-old Johnny Vassh Jr. out of Racine, Wisconsin (your author). Over the long Wisconsin winter and in an effort to be able to better suit the car to the event’s rules, Vassh some changes were made.
Vassh removed the 440 big block engine from the ‘Bee it was previously raced with and replaced it with a freshly rebuilt LA 360 engine (assembled by Vassh himself), a 727 transmission built by Hughes Racing Transmissions, and an 8.75 rear end with a 3.92 gear. All temporary changes, Vassh’s efforts gave the ‘Bee better front-to-rear weight balance.
The 100-percent all-Mopar race car was entered in the Hobby Stock class along with 27 Chevrolet Monte Carlos. It was 8pm Monday night when the Hobby Stock class took its first practice laps. A few laps into the practice session a freeze plug blew out of the passenger side of the block, dumping coolant out in front of the rear wheels of the ‘Bee entering Turn 1. This caused Vassh to lose control and hit the outside wall. The damage was merely cosmetic. After repairing the damaged body panels the next morning, the Dodge was ready for the next race.
Starting in the 8th position of a 10 car field, Vassh maintained his 8th position over the course of the 10 lap race. After the heat, Vassh made a few air pressure adjustments to the tires to compensate for changing track conditions and cooling temperatures, and lined up 24th of 28 entries in the 20 lap feature race.
Avoiding accident after accident in the caution-riddled feature, Vassh finished in 20th position. Being 12 hours away from home and his personal supply of hard-to-come-by Mopar parts, Vassh was forced to bring his week of racing to an end due to electrical issues with no other replacement parts readily available near the speedway.
The rule books provided by the sanctioning bodies for these different circle track classes are all written for the use of General Motors products and are slowly but surely working other manufacturers out of the picture and making it increasingly difficult for owners of other brands to be competitive under their rules.
Despite the upset, Vassh considers competing with a pure Mopar stock car to be “fighting the good fight” in trying to keep other manufacturers – particularly Chrysler – in the circle track game.
Of course, the King of Stock Car racing, Richard Petty, got his reputation behind the wheel of the exact same chassis Vassh is using and he feels it should be something that is embraced and built off of, not left in the past.
Vassh expected to have issues going into the big event being it was a brand new, never tested drivetrain in the car. He was glad to have had the experience of racing at the historic half mile and will take his experience to improve the car and come back to the race track each time more competitive than the last.