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Breaking Bad—Steven Wardlow and Dan Kroll’s unconventional El Camino takes on Edelbrock Xtreme Street

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Breaking Bad—Steven Wardlow and Dan Kroll’s unconventional El Camino takes on Edelbrock Xtreme Street 
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by John Moore and Dr. Rudy Rouweyha 
Having wheeled a wide variety of cars in an abundance of classes with a plethora of different partners, Steven Wardlow found one particular friendship that’s carried him straight down the groove. Together with Dan Kroll, Wardlow put together an unconventional yet seriously cool 1965 Chevrolet El Camino that he campaigns in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street.
Having grown up in Wisconsin watching his late father, Greg, racing vintage Chevrolets, Wardlow started in the sport when he was about 17 years old and spent plenty of time at his local track, Great Lakes Dragaway.
Inspired by his mechanical aptitude, Wardlow put his skills to good use and began a lengthy career in the transmission industry. Over time, however, he grew more and more serious about drag racing and made many connections that helped put him into the driver’s seat of a diverse range of rides.
Eventually, the lifelong Bowtie enthusiast and owner of Northern Performance Transmissions called his green 1969 Chevrolet Nova into duty for X275 and NMCA Street Outlaw use. After racking up plenty of wins and impressive results, Wardlow partnered with Kroll on a car for NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street. 
Eventually, though, he commandeered the gold, former “parts car” 1969 Nova he had originally built for his daughter, Nicole, to use as a drag-and-drive car and converted it over to be competitive in Xtreme Street as well. With consistent Top 10 finishes in championship points over the last several seasons, Wardlow has easily proven he’s one of the class’s most consistent competitors.
“Well, Dan [Kroll] and I were out at lunch at a little dive bar around Thanksgiving of 2022 looking at the classifieds on, and of course, we had a few beers,” Wardlow recalled of the casual conversation that inspired yet a new racecar to be born. “We were talking about doing something different, and I showed him a listing, and he said ‘Yeah, that’ll work.’”
Immediately, Wardlow knew he found “the way” to go [pun intended, si tu habla Español] with the 1965 El Camino he had stumbled across. Wasting no time, Wardlow made an offer to the seller and drove from his him in Wisconsin to Minnesota the next morning to pick up the new purchase.
On paper, Kroll was the official owner of the El Camino and Wardlow was to become its pilot, but both men worked equally as hard in the assembly process. Alongside Dennis Equitz and the crew at Blitzkrieg Motorsports, the guys got going after the holidays and thrashed nonstop to piece the project together in between other obligations.
The first order of business to tackle was the chassis. “The car had a cage in it already, but we cut some stuff out and redid some things we didn’t like,” shared Wardlow, whose own shop at home was packed full of customer cars and the only way he could find space for it was to take it elsewhere. “I cut up the front and changed the whole engine compartment configuration and made a round-tube K-member for it, too, to help save weight.”
Working on the chassis jig at Blitzkrieg, the El Camino was stationed on a set of scales since day one. “The car is basically a truck and we quickly realized it might not be a good idea to build it,” laughed Wardlow, who had the epiphany that there may not be many El Camino racecars for a reason given the less-than-ideal weight distribution. 
Committed to their mission, though, the men soldiered on and were cognizant of every pound as the project progressed. Thanks to a lot of strategic planning and careful consideration, the finished result was a 25.3 SFI-certified chassis with a near-perfect balance from front to back.
While on the table, Wardlow worked on the El Camino’s body and utilized lightweight componentry to help keep the car’s balance right where he wanted it. Fiberglass doors and a front clip, coupled with other carbon fiber odds and ends, all helped keep the scales in harmony and the integrated Dzus fasteners made removal hassle-free. “Going from the GM quarter panels to aftermarket saved roughly 60 pounds,” he added. “I’m pretty particular, so I even put the factory grill and everything back on, too.”
When the panels were hung, the Chevy took a brief trip back to Wardlow’s home-based shop so he could prep and paint it. As Kroll is the legal and financial owner, Wardlow asked his friend for input on choosing the hue. “He wanted it blue and I wanted it butternut yellow,” explained Wardlow, who wound up on the losing end of a coin toss to determine which man would get his way.
Wardlow mixed the paint for the spray job and got going, but the outcome was not what either had agreed to. “Well, since I was in charge of doing the work, I just went ahead and painted it yellow anyway,” chuckled Wardlow, who knew Kroll wouldn’t be upset by being usurped. “When Dan saw it, he said ‘That’s a funny shade of blue!’ but he liked it and eventually agreed it was a good choice.”
As soon as the muted hue was dry, the El Camino returned to Blitzkrieg Motorsports where the entire team got busy with assembling the drivetrain and fabricating the necessary plumbing. Wardlow took point on wiring and the task included swapping the engine’s original carbureted configuration over to utilize a more modern Holley EFI engine management system and MagnaFuel fuel system.
“At first, it was going to be a ProCharger car,” Wardlow shared of the initial plans. “Since we were crunched for time, we decided to go back to what we knew best – nitrous.” Similarly, Wardlow decided to use one of his already assembled big-block Chevrolet engines (from his gold Nova) which only had a little more than a dozen passes on it. “I figured it would be the best combination for us, given the class rules.”
After speaking with Bill Trovato of BTR Performance at an event, the men brought the bullet to his shop in New York in September of 2022 for some testing as they were wanting better performance. “We put it on the dyno and it was a dud,” said a dismayed Wardlow. “It didn’t make much power at all. I told Bill I wasn’t even going to take it home, that I needed 200 more horsepower and for him to fix it.”
Unfortunately, due to supply chain issues, Trovato’s hands were tied to getting the engine done quickly enough for Wardlow and Kroll to make it to the first NMCA race of the 2023 season in Orlando, Florida. “The gold car’s engine was with Bill, so I put the original motor back in it and ran the Nova instead,” explained Wardlow, who didn’t want to miss out on any potential championship points.
There, Wardlow qualified 10th in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street with a 4.777 at 149.50 mph hit and exited unexpectedly early in round one of eliminations on a red-light foul at the start; the dismal weekend made him more eager than ever to get the El Camino finished.
While waiting on engine parts to arrive, Wardlow went ahead and installed one of his own Northern Performance Transmissions-built two-speed Turbo 400 transmissions with a ProTorque U9 torque converter and mated the gearbox to a Precision Shaft Technologies carbon fiber driveshaft.
Out back, all Strange Engineering third-member components, including Strange axles and Strange brakes, were installed. “It’s a stock-type, four-link in the rear with adjustable holes and Menscer Motorsports double-adjustable shocks all the way around,” added Wardlow, who also moved the cooling box and fuel cell to the rear of the car to help with weight distribution.
Inside, the carpeted interior and steel dashboard help keep the integrity of the El Camino’s original appearance intact. “Dan and I both like cars to look how they’re supposed to look, instead of racecar-ish,” Wardlow clarified of why he took so much care to remake the cabin as close to stock form as possible. However, the onboard nitrous bottle was gifted the honor of always riding shotgun in place of a passenger seat. 
Wrenches were turning furiously at Blitzkrieg, and Trovato had also been busy working as quickly as possible to button up the completely overhauled 588-cubic-inch big-block Chevy. He had chosen all new internals, including a custom-ground COMP 60mm roller camshaft, GRP connecting rods, CP pistons, and a Callies crankshaft, then topped each bank of cylinders with Brodix’s cutting-edge SR 20 series aluminum heads.
“Bill and I spoke on Friday evening and as soon as I hung up the phone, I packed a bag and drove all through the night from Wisconsin to New York,” noted Wardlow of the road trip he took in early April of 2023. “He was surprised when I showed up the next morning, but I really wanted to race that bad!”
Fueled via 160-pound/hour Fuel Injector Clinic injectors, the completed BTW-built powerplant was put back on the engine dyno and, much to his delight, it delivered exactly what Wardlow wanted.
Now confident in the big-block’s ability and with mere days until the next NMCA event in North Carolina, Wardlow headed home and the El Camino’s people were finally able to move forward with completing the build. “We had ordered a nitrous plate, but what arrived was wrong and we were trying to get ready to leave, so we dug out an old Nitrous Express plate from Krusty Ramsey’s car and haven’t changed it since,” Wardlow added.
Thankfully, the guys were able to make it to Rockingham Dragway for the NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals Presented by MAHLE Motorsport in mid-April but they hadn’t had time to put any shakedown runs on the nearly sixty-year-old El Camino at all. Not wanting to waste any time, they simply treated the race weekend as if it were an extended test session.
“We started out just making some passes on the motor and made small steps so we didn’t burn anything up since we knew we’d be able to go fast at the next race instead,” said Wardlow, who was grateful for the expertise of Equitz and Mike Thompson when it came to getting the Holley fuel injection system sorted out. “I didn’t have to do much of anything except drive, which is kinda nice!”
Ramping up the nitrous slowly, Wardlow’s quickest qualifying run in the combined NMRA VP Racing Madditives Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street class was only 6.119 at 123.97 mph. He improved significantly in round one of eliminations when he ran 5.642 at 135.05 mph, but it wasn’t enough to get the job done against Alex Hays who had gone a full second quicker.
“We had literally zero passes on the car when we showed up, and when we left, we still hadn’t even made a full hit on the nitrous – only a couple runs to the 330-foot mark to check things over,” Wardlow elaborated of why he wasn’t upset at all about not getting the win.
Next, the group headed west for the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Muscle Car Drag Racing at World Wide Technology Raceway Park in Maddison, Illinois, in early May where they made some significant strides.
An all-new set of shocks from Menscer were installed in hopes of putting the El Camino a little closer to its intended goal. “We had ‘em a little looser than we thought and it went on the bumper with a wheelstand for the first 400 feet,” laughed Wardlow of the wild ride he enjoyed on his first pass of the weekend. “So, we made some adjustments, chipped away at it, and made good progress.”
By systematically and consistently making small adjustments, the El Camino responded well and improved on each and every run. By the time the NMRA VP Racing Madditives Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street qualifying order was set, Wardlow was just one-tenth of a second off the pace as his 4.679 at 153.53 mph blast put him tenth for the 21-car field.
With the threat of storms looming, ProMedia officials opted to run through the remaining schedule as quickly as possible and utilize a turn-and-burn timeframe for eliminations. Crunched for time, Wardlow’s crew thrived under pressure and — incredibly — Wardlow stayed in the game through to the final round. There, he and Terry Wilson left the line with nearly identical reaction times and Wardlow’s 4.739 at 154.17 mph trip was a solid one, but Wilson got the win with a 4.618 at 154.26 mph run in his 1995 Ford Mustang.
Considering the guys had arrived with a car that only had a handful of incomplete runs on it and left with a runner-up ride (and a whole lot more data), there was much to celebrate at the conclusion of the race – which finished on Sunday afternoon with not a drop of rain to be had. “Well, we loaded up and left and it was still totally dry, but four miles up the road, it started pouring!” Wardlow stated regarding how the hectic hustle between rounds wound up being for the best as the rain came at exactly the right time.
Moving forward, Wardlow is excited to get out to US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan, for the NMRA/NMCA Power Festival in late July. “It’s a good track and I’m building a new three-speed transmission that we’ll try to get us into the low 4.50-zone,” he detailed of his upcoming plans for his and Kroll’s NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street 1965 Chevrolet El Camino. “Looking at the back splits from other cars in the class with similar combinations, my numbers are the same or better so I know we just have to work on the front half and we’ll probably win a lot of races here in the near future!”
Eternally grateful for the opportunities that his friend and racing partner, Kroll, has given him over the years and for giving him free rein to do whatever he wants with each project — including picking the color, Wardlow knows he’s lucky to have a great group supporting him. From his wife, Becky, to Equitz and the entire Blitzkrieg Motorsports team, and so many countless others, the most important thing for Wardlow is that he’s going racing with people he cares about. “We’re having fun, and that means we’re doing it right.”
The Details
Owner: Dan Kroll    
Driver: Steven Wardlow
Hometown: Delavan, Wisconsin
Occupation: Owner of Northern Performance Transmissions
Class: NMCA Extreme Street
Crew: Dennis Equitz
Car Year/Make/Model:1965 Chevy El Camino
Engine: Big-block Chevy
Engine builder: BTR Performance
Displacement: 588 cubic inches
Block: Brodix
Crank: Callies
Rods:  GRP
Pistons: CP Pistons
Heads: Brodix
Valvetrain: T&D Rockers
Cam-type: Roller - BIG
Carburetor or EFI system: Holley EFI
Power-adder: Nitrous
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels
Headers and exhaust: Blitzkrieg Motorsports
Transmission: Turbo 400
Transmission Builder: Northern Performance Transmissions
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Pro Torque
Rearend: Ford 9-inch
Body and/or chassis builder: Blitzkrieg Motorsports
The suspension (Front): Stock Type
Suspension (Rear): Stock
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): RC Components
Wheels (Rear):  RC Components
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson
Aftermarket body modifications: Very Cool Paint Job
Safety equipment: SPA Fire System
Vehicle weight: 3,150 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.65 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.13 seconds
Fastest mph: 154
Sponsors: PK Research, Northern Performance Transmissions, Blitzkrieg Motorsports

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