By Mary Lendzion
Photos courtesy of Craig Hejda and by NMCA
Craig Hejda’s 1972 Maverick was one of the coolest cars in the parking lot of his high school in Iowa back in 1979.
And years later, that same Maverick is one of the coolest cars in the pit area at various race tracks.
Hejda raced in the Ozark Mountain Super Shifters series for twenty years, and was laying down low 8-second laps with a 427 cubic-inch small-block Ford and a Liberty’s five-speed transmission, and while he was doing that, he was paying close attention to various NMCA heads-up categories.
“I would get on the Internet to see what was going on in the series, and one morning in December of 2017, I decided to take a look at the rules for the NA 10.5 category, and I reached out to TJ Strange and Lonnie Grim to ask some questions about my car and the class and whether it would be a fit,” said Hejda. “By the first of January of 2018, we were getting things ready for me to join the category.”
While Hejda’s engine and transmission were ready to go, he changed the geometry of the four-link under his car to help it hook even better, especially since he was moving from big tires to 10.5 tires. He also added some weight to his car.
He dove in, dug in and dished out 8.30s and 8.40s at four events on the series’ six-event tour on his way to a tenth-place finish in points in 2018 and an even better seventh-place finish in points in 2019, while making minor modifications to his engine, which he built, to coax more horsepower from it.
“I liked the category as soon as I started running in it, and I started to look around for somebody to help me with a new engine,” said Hejda. “That’s when I got hooked up with Chris Uratchko of Uratchko Racing Engines, and he started gathering parts to build me a 457 cubic-inch small-block Ford with Edelbrock SC1 heads.”
Meanwhile, however, Hejda, who wanted to have a back-up engine, began looking for one, found one last December and purchased it. As it turns out, it had been built, owned by and sold by Uratchko years earlier.
“It’s a 415 cubic-inch small-block Ford that Chris was going to put in his Camaro to race, but he had sold it before he had a chance to do that,” said Hejda. “Chris has pride in that engine, and I think he’s glad I bought it. I am, too.”
After Hejda purchased the engine, it was delivered to Uratchko, whose shop is in Michigan, to be inspected, freshened and upgraded. The super-fine finished piece, which is built around a Dart Iron Eagle block, features Diamond pistons, MGP aluminum rods and a custom cam with specs by Uratchko and with a tool steel cam core by Charlie Westcott. Uratchko massaged the CFE Pro King heads that were on the engine, and a new CID cast intake.
“It was such a quick thing,” said Hejda, who will continue to row gears with his Liberty’s five-speed transmission. “Chris carved on the engine and got it on the dyno, and it made significantly more horsepower than we thought it would. He’s happy with it, and so am I. He’s an incredible induction specialist.”
Hejda, whose crew chief is his wife, Stacy, has circled on his calendar the 12th Annual Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals, April 2-5 at Atlanta Dragway, as well as the remaining four NMCA events this year.
“I wanted to run quicker than 8-flat, and with Chris’ help, I should be able to do that,” said Hejda.