Because his father was into race cars and racing, Donnie Edmonds spent more time at dragstrips and dirt tracks than anywhere else as a child in Cincinnati, Ohio, and because he, too, was into race cars and racing, he couldn’t wait to climb into a ’67 Chevelle when he turned 16.
He would take it to a road by a river and get a little heavy on the throttle, and then he would try to talk his way out of speeding tickets. He went on to serve in the United States Air Force in ’74, and soon after being honorably discharged in ’78, he joined the Cincinnati Fire Department, sold his Chevelle and focused on family.
By the late ‘80s, however, he was raring to roll in a classic car again, bought a ’68 Chevelle and, in his words, “bracket-raced the wheels off of it.” He followed that with a ’70 Chevelle, then a ’69 Chevelle and then a ’64 Chevelle, and just when everyone saw a clear pattern emerging there, he switched things up and bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle in ’04 and was muscle car-free until he met his second wife, Shawn Edmonds, in ’09.
“Soon after marrying Shawn, we moved to Franklin, Ohio, and she asked me to help her dad build a ’79 Malibu with a big-block,” said Edmonds. “It was mostly a street-driven show car, and it made me want to get back into racing. So I looked for and found my current car, a ’69 Chevelle, in a suburb of Chicago in September of ’13 on Racing Junk. It had all of its original panels and floor pans as well as stock suspension and a 6-point cage, but it didn’t have an interior, engine or transmission.
Almost immediately, he named it Bertha, and then spent that winter removing its fender wells, core support and brackets, to have them powder-coated. He also removed the doghouse and had it media-blasted and painted by his friend, Mark Heflin, who also painted the car its current color. What followed were late nights spent installing Global West tubular control arms and front suspension, TRZ rear suspension, QA1 shocks and an HR Parts and Stuff anti-roll bar, and laying wire.
Meanwhile, he bought a 555 cubic-inch big-block Chevy engine based around a Dart Big M block topped with Dart Pro 1 heads from a seller in Lebanon, Ohio, and hired Greg “Rosie” Robinson of Robinson Racing Engine in Middletown, Ohio, to pull it apart, inspect it and reassemble it. Around the same time, he decided that he would back it with a Turbo 400 built by Lonnie Diers of Extreme Automatics.
“We got it running in the spring of ’14, and we tried to get it to hook at the racetrack, but all it would do was raise the front tires at the launch, and then blow the back tires off before slamming the front end down,” said Edmonds. “Then I got hooked up with old Super Stock racer Joe Boitnot and he checked the geometry of the car and put new Santhuff’s front springs and QA1 back springs on the car, and he had my front shocks re-valved. That lowered the car and gave it a different stance, but when I went testing, I blew the tires off, and I was ready to come unglued. I called Joe, and he told me to calm down and take one click out of the back shocks, and ever since then, the car has hooked great.”
A few months later, in June of ’14, he decided to give NMCA a try and made tracks to the event at Summit Motorsports Park in Norwalk, Ohio, where he joined his friends, MagnaFuel Open Comp racer Mike VanHoose and Detroit Truetrac Nostalgia Muscle Car racer Tim Boggs.
“I hadn’t officially raced in 15 years, and here I was jumping into a shark tank,” said Edmonds, with a hearty laugh. “The NMCA Open Comp racers are tough, buddy, and they were kicking my butt.”
Edmonds stayed the course in his mid-nine second car for 2015, wrangled up a 17th place finish in points and was among the nominees for Rookie of the Year and Ambassador of the Year in 2015, but he was not content with that.
“I didn’t do as well as I would have liked,” said Edmonds. “I’m a very driven and competitive person, and I was very disappointed with my 2015 season.”
By the time the 14th Annual Ross Racing Pistons NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem at Bradenton Motorsports Park arrived to kick off the 2016 season, Edmonds was raring to go, and while a first round loss conspired to cap his enthusiasm, he forged ahead and was preparing for the second race in the series, the 8th Annual NMCA/NMRA All Star Nationals at Atlanta Dragway in April.
“While I was waiting for the race in Atlanta, I was looking through all of the paperwork I have on the car, and I came across the paperwork for the transbrake, and that’s when I discovered that I had a sportsman brake and not a pro brake,” said Edmonds, who had been struggling on the tree and hadn’t determined why. “I called Lonnie Diers and told him I needed a brake and fast. While he had my trans, he discovered that it was hurt, so he repaired it and I got it back the day before I was supposed to leave for the race, but when I was test-driving it, it broke again. Bertha’s a full-figured gal at 3700 pounds, and her weight may have contributed to the gear set in the trans that snapped in half. Lonnie fixed it with no time to spare and I was on my way to the Atlanta race.”
There, he put a .000 on the tree to take the lead in qualifying, which, he said, made him “dance around the trailer,” but the dancing stopped when he fired his engine on Sunday morning for eliminations, as it was complaining and he was forced to shut it off and pull out of competition.
“By Monday, I had the engine to Greg, and it was determined that the bushings on the small end of six connecting rods had let go,” said Edmonds. “That scraped up the cylinder walls in my block, and we had to wait for parts and do machine work, but the repairs did take my engine from 555 cubic-inches to 565 cubic-inches.”
Next was a date with the dyno, but things went south when, at 6500 rpm, the dyno broke and allowed the engine to free-rev.
“That bent every exhaust valve, and that was the Friday of the week before we were supposed to leave for the race at Beech Bend Raceway in May,” said Edmonds. “Greg made the repairs and we put the engine back on the dyno on the day before we were supposed to leave, and it made 911 horsepower.”
Concern turned to celebration when the car, which had previously gone as quick and fast as 9.77 and 136 mph, trapped an incredible 9.53 at 139 mph, and after winning two rounds, Edmonds was confident going into the next race, the 15th Annual NMCA All-American Nationals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana in June.
“It was hotter than bejesus outside, but I managed to chop the tree with an .014 to qualify eleventh,” said Edmonds. “Unfortunately, I took too much stripe in the first round and broke out on my 9.83 dial-in.”
Now armed with a fresh engine, fresh transmission and fresh outlook, Edmonds has his sights set on a top ten finish in the class points this year, followed by a championship next year.
“I really want to put a number 1 on Bertha,” he said. “But even if I don’t, I’m still having the time of my life. I’m like a kid at Christmas time when it comes to the waiting between races.”
Owner and driver: Donnie Edmonds
Hometown: Franklin, Ohio
Occupation: Retired Cincinnati firefighter
Class: NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp
Crew: My wife, Shawn
Engine: Dart-based big-block Chevy
Engine builder: Greg “Rosie” Robinson of Robinson Racing Engines
Block: Dart Big M
Crank: Callies Dragon Slayer
Cylinder heads: Dart Pro 1 355 CNC
Valvetrain: T ’n D shaft-mounted with Ferrea valves
Camshaft: Solid roller by Erson
Carburetor: Davinci 1220 CFM
Power adder: None
Fuel brand and type: Turbo Blue 114
Headers and exhaust: Lemons headers and Torque Tech exhaust with Flowmaster mufflers
Transmission builder: Lonnie Diers of Extreme Automatics
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: B&M Magnum shifter, Ultimate Converter Concepts 9-inch converter with 6000 stall
Rearend: Chevy 12-bolt
Differential: Strange with Richmond 4:11 gears set up by Jim Johnson
Body and/or chassis builder: Body by Mark Heflin, and chassis by Advance Chassis
Suspension (Front): Global West
Suspension (Rear): TRZ Motorsports, HR Parts and Stuff anti-roll bar
Brakes (Front) Brand: Strange disc
Brakes (Rear) Brand: Strange disc
Wheels (front) Brand: 15X4 Convo Pro
Wheels (Rear) Brand: 15X8.5 Convo Pro
Tires (Front) Brand: 27.5X4X15 Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear) Brand: 295X65X15 Mickey Thompson ET Street Drag Radials
Body modifications: All original panels
Fiberglass/Carbon body components: GlassTek 4-inch cowl hood
Safety equipment: 10-point chrome moly cage, Stroud belts and window net
Vehicle weight: 3700 pounds with driver
Quickest ET: 9.43
Best 60-foot: 1.33
Fastest mph: 140 mph
Sponsors: Energy Suspension
This feature, with more photos by Rudy Rouweyha and the NMCA staff, can be found in the Sept. 2016 issue of Fastest Street Car.