By Mary Lendzion
On the day he turned seventeen in 1990, Craig Watson purchased his 1973 Nova.
There were 31,000 miles on the odometer, and there was a 307 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine with a two-barrel carburetor under the hood.
Watson was proud to drive it on the street, and even prouder to drive it on the strip several years later after building a 350 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine for it. He has swapped engines several times through the years, with his most recent being a 434 cubic-inch Chevrolet engine built by Competition Automotive Machine, topped with BES Racing 12 degree heads and intake, and enhanced by an Induction Solutions nitrous system, and he has competed in NMCA Detroit Truetrac Nostalgia Muscle Car and NMCA TorqStorm Superchargers True Street, as well as Outlaw 8.5 and OSCA Nostalgia True Street, where he earned a championship in 2016.
But it was after giving NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street a try at the end of 2017 that he became committed to making some changes to his car and combination to be competitive in that category.
“After trying Xtreme Street just one time, I knew that I wanted to stay in it and take it seriously,” said Watson, who lives in Columbia, Kentucky, and was averaging 5.20s-5.30s in the eighth-mile at the time. “It was like dipping my toes in the big pond, and I liked it.”
Watson, whose parents’ house still holds all of the parts he took off of his car when he first began modifying it, decided that he would have a new engine built and move from his nitrous combination, which had served him very well, to a turbo combination.
“I approached Brian Tooley of Brian Tooley Racing, and asked for help, and we decided that we would build a 388 cubic-inch LS engine and pair it with a Precision 76mm turbo,” said Watson.
Watson and Tooley began with a Concept Performance LSR aluminum block machined by Tim Knieriem of Knieriem Racing Engines, and built it up with Diamond pistons, a Callies crank and rods, Trick Flow 245 heads and a Brian Tooley Racing Equalizer 1 cast aluminum intake. The turbo is almost ready, and the combination will sip methanol and be backed by a RPM Transmissions-built Turbo 400 and a bolt-together ProTorque converter.
“With the switch from VP Racing Fuels Q16 to methanol, I had to upgrade my fuel system, and Fuelab helped me with that,” said Watson. “The engine will make good power, and we’re using the AEM Infinity fuel injection to tune.”
Also focusing on his chassis, Watson recently relied on Bivins Race Cars to weld in a tubular front subframe from Skyview Race Cars and additional bars for a 25.5 certification for the car which rolls on Afco suspension components massaged by Menscer Motorsports and leafsprings and CalTracs. He also recently installed a new carbon fiber driveshaft by FastShafts under the car.
“The car is 98 percent done,” said Watson. “I’m finishing the wiring, and we will be ready for the chassis dyno soon.”
While Watson will lay an initial tune, James Short of Short Tuning will take over when the car is on the dyno, and then they’ll head to a test session at Ohio Valley Dragway in Kentucky. If all goes well, race fans can expect to see Watson in action at the Arringtonton Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering, Aug. 27-30 at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan.
“In addition to Brian Tooley and the other people who have helped me with the build, I have support from my wife, Angella, fellow racers John and Andy Warren, and Patrick Higgenbotham, whom I have been friends with since childhood,” said Watson, who has been crewing for NMCA ARP Nitrous Pro Street racer Jeremy Lyons. “I’m really anxious to get out there and see what we can do.”