By Mary Lendzion
Photos courtesy of Rob McDonnough
While Rob McDonnough had been racing a 1957 Chevy, he decided to part with it and purchase a 1967 Camaro in 1972.
With his brother, Mike, as his crew chief, he held his own in NHRA Modified Eliminator before parking the car in 1979, and it stayed parked until 2003, when friend and fellow racer Josh Henline talked McDonnough into taking the cover off of it.
To mark his return to racing, McDonnough headed to an NMCA event at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, where he entered MagnaFuel Open Comp, and posted 10.80s and 10.90s while rowing the gears of the five-speed transmission that backed his 305 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet engine.
By the following year, he had moved to a 427 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet engine by Gressman Powersports for added adrenaline, and picked up to low 9s while competing in NMCA MagnaFuel Open Comp as well as in Open Comp at Milan Dragway in Michigan.
“I was meeting so many good people in Open Comp, and making so many good friends,” said McDonnough. “I really liked the category.”
The Tecumseh, Michigan-based driver began working with Gressman Powersports on another engine in 2012, and it was a bit different than his previous bullets.
“We built a 436 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet with NASCAR-style SB2 heads,” said McDonnough, who had been paying attention to the MotorCity Muscle Challenge series which was being contested at Milan Dragway and joined the category in 2015 with his car which had been hopped up to 8.70s.
“I liked the rules for the category for the engine size, carburetor and smaller tires, and I especially liked that the first one to the finish line wins,” said McDonnough. “I was successful in the category when I joined it, but unfortunately, my car went into a wheelstand at a race and when it came down, it destroyed the front suspension. I got it repaired, and that fall, it went into another wheelstand, and that time, it really tore the car up. The front frame was bent, and suspension pieces and rear-end pieces were broken. I probably should have parted ways with the car, but I didn’t want to, so I was out of commission for the majority of the following year, 2017, while I repaired it.”
Unfortunately, McDonnough faced a serious health issue just as he was hitting his stride with his rebuilt car, and around the same time, he found out that MotorCity Muscle Challenge, a heads-up, naturally aspirated class whose competitors roll on 9-inch tires, could no longer be contested at Milan Dragway.
“Both of those things brought me down, and the only thing that kept me going was having Gressman Powersports build me another engine, and talking to my fellow MotorCity Muscle Challenge racer Pat McGowan about moving the race to different tracks, including U.S. 131 Motorsports Park,” said McDonnough.
Soon after receiving his new 426 cubic-inch small-block Chevrolet engine last spring, McDonnough was also able to count on competing in MotorCity Muscle Challenge at the Arrington Performance NMRA/NMCA All-American Nationals presented by Force Engineering, this weekend, Aug. 27-30 at U.S. 131 Motorsports Park, and the 19th Annual Nitrous Supply NMCA World Street Finals presented by Chevrolet Performance, Sept. 24-27 at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana.
He’s confident that his new engine, which features a Dart block, Callies crank and rods, Diamond pistons and his previous SB2 heads massaged by Tommy Slawko, will put him where he needs to be. He’ll rely on an oval-blade carburetor built by Mark Whitener and massaged by Trevor Wiggins of Get’M Garage to feed it fuel.
“Hopefully we’ll have a large field of cars this weekend,” said McDonnough. “I’m going to have my wife, Edna, my brother, Mike, his wife, Karen, my sons, Jason and David, and grandsons, Mason, Gavin and Ethan, supporting me, and I’m looking forward to it. My car should run 8.50 or quicker, so hopefully I can be competitive while also having fun.”