Interview by Mary Lendzion
Photos by Fastest Street Car Staff
Kevin Gass has had a passion for classic cars for a long time.
He likes the way they look, the way they sound and the way they handle on the street and the strip, and that’s why he has owned several of them through the years.
But it’s the red 1966 Chevelle that he has raced in Quick Fuel Technology Nostalgia Super Stock for the past eighteen years that has captured the most attention. It’s clean and consistent, and it has propelled Gass to two championships in the category with a big-block Chevrolet under its hood. It’s a fan-favorite for sure, but so is Gass, who is very laidback and likable, even when he’s running laps.
Read on for more about Gass, who lives in Ledbetter, Kentucky, with his wife, Kim. When they’re not at NMCA races, they travel to other states to sell Holley, MSD and AutoMeter parts for KJR Motorsports at various venues. And when they’re not doing that, they ride their motorcycles, or cruise in his 1969 Chevelle or 1978 Camaro, or her 2000 Camaro or 1955 F100.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE THAT YOU REALLY LIKED CARS?
When I was about four, my aunt and uncle had a Mercury Comet that we would take to the local cruises around Paducah, Kentucky, and then they had a 1969 Road Runner that we would take to cruises, and I would stand on the bench seat. Then my cousin got a new orange 1969 Chevelle, and when he came over to show my mother, I thought it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Not long after, I was at the Dairy Queen with my mother when a black 1970 Chevelle went by, and I remember it sounding so good, and I told my mother right then and there that I was going to have one like it someday. That car went through a couple different owners, and ten years after we had seen it, I got to drive it because my friend had bought it. On top of all of that, another neighbor of ours raced Stock cars, so you could say I had a lot of influences when I was growing up.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CAR?
My first car was 1969 Charger with a 383 cubic-inch engine. It was a pretty rough old car, but I learned a lot from it. I was only fourteen and in the ninth grade when I got it, and because I didn’t have my driver’s license yet, I drove it a little bit in the country. I worked on the car and on the engine. I changed camshafts, worked on the valvetrain and the carburetor, and installed a new clutch. I learned how to do all of that myself, and I made a lot of mistakes along the way, but I learned a lot. Eventually, I sold it to another friend, and unfortunately, he crashed it. After that, I got a 1978 Camaro, which was a street car, but I took it to the track, and I still have it. It had a 350 cubic-inch engine when I got it, but now it has a 427 cubic-inch engine.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST FULL-BLOWN RACE CAR?
It was a 1968 GTO that I got when I was nineteen from a guy selling it on a car lot. It had a .030 over 400 cubic-inch engine and a solid lifter cam, and I took it to I57 Drag Strip in Illinois to race. The biggest thing I learned with that car is that it can be expensive to race. It was a warrior, really. The fender wells were cut out and the interior was stripped out of it. None of the lights worked on it. I did drive it on the street a little, but it wasn’t good on the street. It was a race car, and it ran a best of 7.98 in the eighth-mile. I sold it, and the guy who currently owns it still races it.
DID YOUR CURRENT CAR, THE 1966 CHEVELLE, FOLLOW THAT?
Yes, it did. I bought it in April of 1985 from a guy in Illinois who races, and I knew that its 390-horsepower 427 cubic-inch engine had a spun rod bearing. I was planning to fix it and sell it, but I ended up turning it into a race car and keeping it.
WE’RE SURE WE SPEAK FOR MANY WHEN WE SAY THAT WE’RE GLAD THAT YOU KEPT IT. WHAT WORK DID YOU PERFORM ON IT?
I had to go through the whole engine, and freshen it. I put a crank and two rods in it. When I got it running, I took it to the courthouse to get it inspected because it was an out-of-state car. Right after that, one of the wheel cylinders blew out, and I got on the emergency brake and luckily that worked. The car was fun to drive with the 427 cubic-inch engine and four-speed transmission, and I just couldn’t bring myself to sell it. Things progressed from there. I put a different intake and carburetor in it, and I started working on it all of the time and racing it on the street. Eventually, it became a 9-second car and I turned into a full-time race car.
WHEN DID YOU START RACING IT?
I made it a full-time race car in 1994, and I raced it in the Trophy class, and then the Pro and Super Pro classes, at I57, which was the closest track to me at about 80 miles away. We traveled to some other states, too, like Indiana and Missouri, and the car was running 6.80s and 7.00s in the eighth-mile. We were one of the cars with a throttle stop, which made us run 8-flat at 91 mph. I started out with a flat tappet cam oval port engine, and then a square port engine. I also started racing in Easy Street, Limited Street and Super Street in Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee. The car has a lot of travel miles on it.
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO BEGIN COMPETING IN QUICK FUEL TECHNOLOGY NOSTALGIA SUPER STOCK?
I was familiar with it and decided back in around 2002 that I wanted to try it. Because I had burned a piston in the engine in my Chevelle, my good friend, Mike Moss, offered to let me race in his Biscayne, which is now Barry Camp’s car. I ended up winning my first Nostalgia Super Stock race, which was in Memphis. It definitely wasn’t easy to win. It was very hard, in fact, but it was a good car and I had some luck. I really liked the people in the class. I remember thinking that it was a really laidback and fun group. I was also really attracted to the cars in the class.
HAS THE CAR HAD ANY MAJOR WORK THROUGH THE YEARS?
I completely freshened it from front to back in 2006, and that took several years. We did the body, suspension, axles, wiring, wheels and gauges. The body work and paint was actually done by inmates at the Kentucky State Penitentiary who were in a body shop program as part of their reform. It was there for 18 months. The car was red when I got it, and they painted it Viper Red. They also did my Camaro, and one of the guys who did the work is actually out now, working at a body shop and doing really well.
IT’S IMPRESSIVE THAT YOU’RE A TWO-TIME QUICK FUEL TECHNOLOGY NOSTALGIA SUPER STOCK CHAMPION. WHAT DID IT TAKE TO ACCOMPLISH THAT IN 2018 AND 2019?
In 2018, everything just seemed to go our way. We couldn’t do anything wrong, but then in 2019, that changed. Everything was a struggle. It was definitely a lot harder to repeat. The cars in the category run closer and closer to their index all of the time, and there’s a lot of strategy involved on the track. After earning those two championships, I finished in third place in points in 2020, and I was okay with that. I was happy for Brent Wheeler, who earned the championship in 2020. He worked for it and he deserved it.
HOW IS THE 2021 RACE SEASON GOING FOR YOU, AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE TO ACCOMPLISH?
It’s not going very well right now. I’m having some struggles with hitting the tree. I’m think I’m okay on the finish line, though. I’ll just have to shake it off and get back to doing what I know I can do, and I will. I know I will.
YOU AND YOUR WIFE, KIM, HAVE WORKED IN ANIMAL RESCUE. THAT’S INCREDIBLY INSPIRING. WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT IT?
Kim and I are big animal lovers. We have helped transport animals from one shelter and rescue group to another, and we have transported some dogs for Bully Nation. We’ve been to Indiana, Illinois and other states as part of that. We have one cat in our family right now. Her name is Dory. We knew there was a chance she was going to be euthanized, so we took her in, and we love her. We’re pretty simple people, but we do love animals and racing.
(Interview from the August 2021 issue of Fastest Street Car)