After reading about NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp, Jeff Rudolf decided to test the waters in the extremely competitive class several years ago when the series stopped at his home track, Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Behind the wheel of his 1970 Nova powered by a small-block Chevy wearing Dart Pro 1 heads, he laid down low nines and committed to competing in the class for the foreseeable future, but before long, he was drawn to the sights, sounds and stout performance of ARP Nitrous Pro Street driver Kevin Parent’s 1969 Nova.
“I would watch the car go down track straight as an arrow every time, and finally, about three years ago, I approached Kevin and told him I was interested in buying it, and he definitely didn’t believe me,” said Rudolf, with a laugh. “In fact, he blew me off. But eventually, he set a price, probably not thinking I would go for it, but I came to the last race of the 2015 season at Lucas Oil Raceway with the money in my pocket.”
Upon money changing hands, Parent and his crew loaded the Nova into his enclosed trailer and took it to Rudolf’s shop not far from the track.
“It took an hour for Kevin and his crew to get back to the pit area after his last pass in the car, and I know it’s because they were on the return road saying their good-byes to the car,” said Rudolf. “It was emotional for them, and I don’t blame them.”
The first order of business for Rudolf was delivering the car’s 521 cubic-inch Dart block-based engine to Parent in Michigan, as he had agreed to freshen it. Then, the car was taken to Watson’s Painting to be stripped of its red paint in favor of paint that was, in Rudolf’s words, “as black as possible.”
Rudolf — who had framed the white missile decorations formerly on the car as a keepsake for Parent — made his NHRA competition license passes at Gainesville Dragway in the fall of 2015, with Parent present to help dial in the four-link car now known as Rudolf’s Sleigh.
“Kevin had the tune turned down, but there was still a night and day difference between my old Nova and the new Nova,” said Rudolf. “The new Nova was a lot faster, but it ran straight and I wasn’t worried about it doing anything crazy.”
Rudolf debuted the car to great fanfare at the NMCA season opener at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida in March of 2015.
“We had trouble at that race and the car backfired and sent the hood scoop flying,” said Rudolf. “TJ (Bailey) was there and he was quick to put out the fire, and my crew and I put the scoop back together with a lot of duct tape.”
Their efforts paid off, as Rudolf advanced all the way to the final round that weekend, despite the fact that the hood blew off again. With each race, he and his dedicated and determined crew, including Kelli Ulrey, Kieffer Simpson and Russ Cunning, creeped up on the tune, and the result was an impressive second place finish in 2015 points and an equally impressive 7.32.
“When Kevin and I parted ways, Dave Howard from THP began doing my engine and helping us tune at the beginning of 2016, and at that time, we changed to an HRE sheetmetal intake and a different cam, and from a single carburetor to dual Bob Book carburetors,” said Rudolf. “We knew we had to come up with something to be competitive, and we did come up with 200 more horsepower, but we had also decided to try 10.5 inch slicks rather than our big Mickey Thompson “Bubba” tires, and we spent the first two or three races just blowing the tires off. It took us half the season to decide that we needed to go back to the “Bubba” tires, and once we did that at the race in Indiana, we got down track instead of spinning the tires and we got good data.”
With help from Patrick Barnhill of PTP Racing, who had come on board late in the season, Rudolf lead qualifying with a 7.485 and 186 mph, picked up to a 7.37 and 187 mph in eliminations and advanced all the way to the semifinal at the final NMCA race of the 2016 season, the 15th Annual NMCA World Street Finals at Summit Motorsports Park in Ohio in August.
“I think we really learned a lot in 2016,” said Rudolf, who finished third in points in the class. “Patrick showed us the ins and outs of tuning the car, and where to put in and pull out power. We made huge gains toward the end of the season.”
In the off season, Rudolf delivered his engine to Dave Howard to be freshened, and Mark McDonald fabricated headers for side-exit exhaust. Lastec powder-coated his wheels black, and Rudolf will replace his previous transmission with an RPM Transmissions-built Turbo 400 after being impressed by the company’s owner, Rodney Massengale, who jumped in to help repair his previous transmission at the track in 2016.
“We’re going to try really hard for the 2017 championship,” said Rudolf, the president of Rudolf Excavating, which provides underground utilities and site development for commercial jobs. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t have a good chance at earning it.”
Catch Rudolf and his crew in action at the 15th Annual NMCA Muscle Car Mayhem, March 9-12, 2017 at Bradenton Motorsports Park in Florida.