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Continuous Improvement—Keith Seymore is Committed to Honing His Skills and Combo no Matter the Category

Posted By: Evan J. Smith
Continuous Improvement—Keith Seymore is Committed to Honing His Skills and Combo no Matter the Category
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi
Growing up in Michigan with a family employed by General Motors, it was inevitable that Keith Seymore would follow the same path and that he would wind up campaigning a Chevrolet of his own. For more than four decades, he transformed his hand-me-down 1974 Chevelle into a consistent winner through a system of stead and continuous improvement.
“I knew I would end up working for GM ever since I was 8 years old,” shared Seymore, now 61, who attended General Motors’ college for engineers and admins after graduating from high school in 1979. As expected, he moved into a career with the automaker and stayed faithful to the OEM for 39.5 years before accepting an early retirement package. “I’ve gone back to work now, though, doing engineering for Nissan.”
Seymore is serious about his commitments, as he also has maintained two other important long-term relationships in his life — to his wife of 40+ years, Laura, who he started dating in his junior year of high school, and to his 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu, which he acquired that same year as well.
Thanks to his father Van’s employment at GM, the Seymore family often obtained a new Chevy model every four years and purchased their Chevelle new in 1974 for Seymore’s mother to drive. “My dad spec’d out the ’74 with the Police Package and got the same swivel bucket seats as he had on his ’73 Monte Carlo,” Seymore recalled of how the car was crafted with heavy-duty sway bars, skid plates, beefy suspension, dual exhaust, Corvette rally wheels with Goodyear police pursuit tires, a 454 ci engine and Turbo 400 transmission.
When the matriarch moved on to another ride, the Chevelle was handed down to Seymore in 1978 to use as his daily driver. “I would ride in the backseat kicking the bucket seats with my shoes… now I wish I had been more careful,” laughed the man who wasted no time in taking the classic car to Michigan’s Lapeer International Dragway. “My first pass was a 15.10, and by the end of the day it was running 14.90s.”
In search of quicker elapsed times, Seymore got busy with a weight reduction plan for the 4,100-pound car, and his father, a former NHRA racer, stepped in as crew chief. Seymore spent the summer of his junior year with a die grinder cutting out whatever he could. “All that energy-absorbing bumper structure, the big heavy guardrails in the doors… it was all ripe for the picking,” joked the man who had ordered a new Chev pickup in 1980 to take over daily driving duties.
As a result, Seymore soon was running 13.30-second quarter-mile times; he mostly raced locally with friends at casual outings. Eventually, he got down into the 12.70-second sone and then the 11.80s in the early 1990s. At that point, he knew he needed a roll bar so, given that he had temporarily relocated to Arizona, hired Tom Yancer for the four-point fabrication work. 
“I stuck at 10.75 for a long time, then 10.25, and now it’s wanting to go 9.80s or 9.90s when the weather is right, so I’m to the point of having to put in a cage,” added the man whose car has been as light as 3,550 pounds but now weighs closer to 3,650-pounds (sans driver) in its current form. 
Most of the latter increases came by way of engine-related performance improvements and more cubic inches. Over the years, Seymore’s Chevelle received upgrade after upgrade and went from a 454-cube powerplant to a 462, then to 482, to 510, 572, 624, back down to 555, and presently houses a 572 cubic-inch engine.
Since 1994, Seymore has been competing with his Chevelle in Nostalgia Muscle-type categories. Danny Scott, who he met during a test session at Mid-Michigan Motorplex, connected Seymore and his father with the NMCA.
“We showed up to an event and watched Danny win in Pro Street and we were hooked. We did as many races as we could,” shared Seymore who especially liked the organizational structure and consistency of how the NMCA events were run. “I liked having a certain time to be ready to go, a finite number of events to plan around each season, and the family atmosphere of my friends and other racers.”
By 2001, Seymore was running strong and finished sixth overall in NMCA/NSCA Street Eliminator points. He improved the following year to finish third overall, then earned the runner-up honors in the NMCA American Muscle category in 2003. The following four seasons, he ran with the NSCA in American Muscle before moving to Nostalgia Muscle Car with the NMCA in 2008.
He continued on, racing as much as possible, and earned many more achievements over the years. In September of 2017, though, Seymore came up with a creative strategy and decided to dip his toes into the NMCA True Street ranks starting at the 16th Annual SDPC Raceshop NMCA World Street Finals at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“I figured I could run in True Street to get additional ‘test passes’ with a chance to win and a way into the Bracket Open category on Sunday, too, all running 10-flat on my index,” noted the man of his plan to utilize the data gathered in each to improve his overall performance in Nostalgia Muscle. “I found some tires on eBay that seemed decent, but they wound up being awful and would not hook up at all.”
As a result, Seymore reluctantly slowed his index to 10.50 and “felt slimy” about it. Knowing he couldn’t win a category in True Street with a half-second ET, he slowed to 11.00 instead and launched the Chevelle in second gear to accommodate. “It came out nice. I made one shift, like racing with a Powerglide, and went right on at 11.04 so it was a fun way to get out of a bad situation,” he affirmed.
The requisite 30-mile cruise in True Street was no problem for Seymore’s Chevelle, which averaged 11.06 seconds across its three runs and earned the driver a win in the 11-second section. For Nostalgia Muscle, though, Seymore threw his slick tires back on and qualified on the 10.50 index by pulling 7 degrees of timing from his usual setting. He went a few rounds in both NMC and the Bracket class but ultimately broke out in each.
The following year, back in Indy for the 17th Annual NMCA World Street Finals presented by Chevrolet Performance, Seymore once again teched in for all three categories. And, once again, he slowed the car to run 11.00 in True Street and ended up getting another win there for his efforts. Back in Nostalgia Muscle Car, Seymore advanced to the semifinals and also to the quarter-finals in the Bracket class but didn’t make it through to the Winner’s Circle in either outing.
By 2019, Seymore was humming right along when an unexpected mishap forced him to put his season on hold — a broken crankshaft took out his engine. Fortunately, his engine builder Scott Williams of S&K Racing fame was able to get him hooked up with a replacement.
A naturally aspirated, 15:1 compression 572-cube big-block Chevrolet engine was sourced and stuffed full of stronger, more robust aftermarket components. First, the iron Dart Big M standard deck block was outfitted with a Callies crankshaft and matching Callies connecting rods and pistons along with a Jones mechanical roller camshaft and Trend pushrods.
Williams added a set of CNC-machined aluminum AFR cylinder heads to each bank, then added lifters and rocker arms from Comp. The intake, also from Dart, was topped with a Pro Systems Dominator carburetor. Finally, he bolted on Hooker headers with 2.25-inch primaries and 4-inch collectors to flank the engine. 
Given that the car had come equipped with a Turbo 400 transmission from the GM factory, Seymore has stuck with the gearbox over the years but has since upgraded to one that’s been reworked by Darrell at Ultimate Transmission and paired with a Perfect Convertor Company 9-inch torque converter. “It’s a standard pattern manual valvebody and one of the benefits is that I can use the ratcheting-type shifter to preserve the backup lights and reverse lockout and things,” he elaborated. 
In the late 1990s, there had been an issue that caused the rear suspension attachment points to be ripped out. Given that Seymore had to take the body off to make the repairs, the effort required prompted him to address a few other items on his To Do list as well.
Although the Chevelle’s front control arms are production units that have been paired with 90/10 drag shocks and travel limiters, the back of the car received significant modifications. “The rear uses a production four-link that I’ve modified to choose different attachment points to control the instant center and it’s been narrowed 1.25 inches per side,” stated the engineer. “I made the control arms parallel to the vehicle centerline, then added a Panhard rod to control lateral axle motion.”
Also out back, a production 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend housing with 4.10:1 gears and Mark Williams Enterprises axles and spool have been installed. “It looks like the ring and pinion is the weak link, as I’ve broken it two years in a row,” said Seymore casually. “So, I’ll either have to do something different or just commit to changing it every year.”
Seymore “stuck with stock” for the Chevy’s interior, however. The original black-and-gray herringbone weave, inset into the black upholstery, is still in place along with the factory gauges. Although he made minor upgrades over the years to facilitate weight reduction, he’s taken care to keep them hidden as much as possible to preserve the production interior façade. 
On the outside, Seymore only added subtle accents including a US Body Source fiberglass lift-off cowl hood and US Body Source fiberglass front bumper. Otherwise, the car still retains its production glass, steel fenders, and a steel rear bumper. “The roof and C-pillars also are the original paint, as is the header in front of the hood. It’s never been painted at once — only pieces at a time whenever I add a new hood or do,” he confessed.
The original Corvette rally wheels that came with the car have, ironically, become Seymore’s “trademark” over the years. “I know they’re heavy, but every time I talk about changing them, my friends and fans won’t let me!” he lamented. So, to turn lemons into lemonade, he customized the rear 15x8-inch wheels by adding some material on the inboard side to a set of 15x10-inch wheels instead and accepted he’ll be keeping the setup for the foreseeable future.
After the engine trouble, though, Seymore was back at it in September of 2020 and his first race of the season was the 19th Annual NMCA World Street Finals presented by Chevrolet Performance in Indy. He got a first-round win in Nostalgia Muscle, but the excitement was short-lived as a red light in round two sent him right back to the pits.
The following Spring, though, Seymore headed out to St. Louis, Missouri, for the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing presented by HPJ Performance at World Wide Technology Raceway in Madison, Illinois. He switched to a set of Hoosier D.O.T.-approved DR2 drag radial tires and enjoyed a fruitful outing. “We were able to get down to 10-flat when the weather was right, and it was phenomenal that year,” recalled the racer who wound up winning the 10-second honors in True Street for the weekend.
Returning to St. Louis for the next May for the 2022 edition of the NMRA/NMCA Super Bowl of Street-Legal Drag Racing presented by Fuelab, Seymore endured a spark plug issue early in the event. He rallied, however, and qualified 14th with a 10.06-second run on his 10.00 index in Detroit Truetrac Nostalgia Muscle.
The only other issue Seymore encountered was that his street-legal Chevelle kept threatening to run in the nines. He knew he wasn’t legal from a safety and equipment standpoint, so he was conservative on the car’s tune-up. However, in Nostalgia Muscle eliminations, the Chevelle made good on its promise and broke out by going 9.953 at 128.77 mph during round one of eliminations. Similarly, in TorqStorm Superchargers True Street, the Chevelle just narrowly missed the mark and its 10.21-second three-run average meant Seymore settled for second best in the 10-second group.
With the winter off-season looming, Seymore has hired Williams to fabricate a “minimalistic” eight-point roll cage that will preserve the Chevelle’s back seat while also making him legal to run in the 9-second zone for real — especially as his plans for the 2023 season include more racing in NMCA Nostalgia Muscle and True Street.
“By running in two or three classes, I can get 20-22 passes in a weekend. The more I hit the tree, the better I am. And the better I am, the more I hit the tree,” he said of the sound logic. “I wouldn’t be where I’m at with racing if it weren’t for Scott [Williams] helping, and my wife for putting up with me washing car parts in the dishwasher and baking pieces in the oven.”
Having spent the vast majority of his life focused on assembly and engineering with tons of pressure and stress, the spry and energetic Seymore cultivated an attitude focused on continuous improvement and he always strives to learn more so that he can better both himself and his race car.
The Details
Owner: Keith and Laura Seymore                        
Driver: Keith Seymore        
Hometown: Clarkston, Michigan
Occupation: Engineer
Class: Nostalgia Muscle and TorqStorm Superchargers True Street
Crew: James Seymore and Joseph Seymore
Car Year/Make/Model: 1974 Chevrolet Chevelle Malibu
Engine: Chevrolet big-block
Engine builder: Scott Williams
Displacement: 572 cubic inches
Block: Dart Big M iron, standard deck height
Bore: 4.625-inch
Stroke: 4.25-inch
Crank: Callies
Rods: Callies
Pistons: Callies
Heads: AFR CNC aluminum castings with 118cc chambers and 2.30/1.88-inch valves
Valvetrain: COMP Cam Lifters and rocker arms
Cam type: Jones mechanical-roller
Carburetor: Pro Systems Dominator
Power-adder: None
Fuel brand and type: Renegade 112
Headers and exhaust: Hooker 2.25-inch primary tube to a 4-inch collector 
Transmission:  GM TH400 with standard pattern manual valvebody
Transmission Builder:  Darrell at Ultimate Transmission in Mila, Michigan
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Perfect Convertor Company 9-inch
Rearend: Stock 8.5-inch 10-bolt rearend housing with 4.10:1 gears, Mark Williams axles, C-clip eliminator kit, and spool
Body and/or chassis builder: NA
Suspension (Front): Factory control arms, 90/10 drag shocks, travel limiters
Suspension (Rear): Station wagon passenger-side coil spring with airbag, stock shocks, stock driver-side spring and boxed factory control arms with relocated attaching points
Brakes (Front): Factory Stock
Brakes (Rear): Factory Stock
Wheels (front): 15x6-inch Steel Corvette Rally
Wheels (Rear): 15x8- or 15x10-inch Steel Corvette Rally 
Tires (Front): Firestone P235/70R-15 
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 29.5x10.50Wx15 drag slick or Hoosier DR2 P295/65R15 DOT tire
Aftermarket body modifications: US Body Source Fiberglass lift-off cowl hood; US Body Source fiberglass front bumper
Safety equipment: Tom Yancer four-point roll bar with driver-side swingout bar and RJS belts 
Vehicle weight: 3,600 pounds
Quickest ET: 9.85 seconds            
Best 60-foot: 1.400 seconds
Fastest mph: 136 mph
Sponsors: Scott and Kelly Williams (S&K Racing)

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