By Bob Wilkiewicz
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc. Staff
Len Grimsley Jr. is probably the best Nostalgia Super Stock racer you don’t know, we are going to change that, starting right now.
Not a man who wants to attract attention to himself, his low-maintenance exterior covers an intelligent mind whose sharp insights and perceptions quickly become apparent during one-on-one conversations in environments away from the race track.
“It’s all about the team,” said Grimsley Jr. “I’m not one for a lot of personal recognition, I’d rather let the car and what it does speak for itself. For us to do well as a group is more important than self-promotion.”
Along with Paul Habura and Jeff Burris, he is one of the three drivers on Len Grimsley Sr.’s ‘company team’. The group has one of the quickest collection of NSS cars in the nation. Somewhat ironically it turns out, Grimsley Jr. won the first competitive race he ever entered, an event at Norwalk, Ohio. The contest, the name of which Grimsley Jr. doesn’t recall, was televised on ESPN. “It was a deal that was piggybacked onto some other type of event,” he said. “Kind of amazing, I had no idea what I was doing.”
He didn’t have a clue about drag racing? Hardly. . . his father, Grimsley Sr., has been acquiring, building and racing cars in the northwest Chicago suburbs for well north of 50 years now. He has always been a Chrysler man and now has a shop stocked with Mopars of many styles and vintages.
As sons sometimes do in their 20’s, Grimsley Jr. did the contrarian thing and played with a 1967 Chevelle for a while and then a Buick Grand National, the first car the father and son collaborated on. “Dad took things a little more seriously than I did,” said Grimsley Jr. “I mostly drove it on the street.” “I bought it for him as a college graduation present,” said Grimsley Sr. “We bought all the aftermarket goodies but were not going fast. We both got frustrated with it.”
Grimsley Jr.‘s current ride, a 1964 Plymouth station wagon named ‘Fire and Faith’, is both a symbol of the group’s dedication to going fast and the commitment to doing that the right way. The car is also still a work in progress with the red paint being gradually changed to black. The name and paint color is a continuation of the ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ car of Habura, one of the quickest cars in NSS racing. “We figured it would be kind of catchy to have two cars with similar names and paint,” said Grimsley Jr.
Two-door post and hardtop 1964 Plymouths are among the most numerous in NSS racing but Grimsley Jr.‘s idea of building a station wagon is more unconventional than the well-known engineering concept of having more weight over the rear wheels. “I’ve always had an affinity for wagons,” he said. “When I was five or six years old I remember seeing a Chevrolet Nomad and I just loved the way it looked.”
‘Fire and Faith’ was originally purchased by the Colorado Department of Forestry and has a very rare 999 paint code, which means it could have been painted any color. But in keeping with the first use, it was sort of a dull brown. From some friends in Minnesota, the Grimsleys learned the car was available from long-time NHRA racer Al Corda, who is also a track owner in Rock Falls, Wisconsin. “It had low miles and was in good shape,” said Grimsley Jr. “We replaced the floor pans but there was no other rust on it.”
“For me, it’s always been the wagons. I’ve just always thought they were cool and different, especially for race cars and with this one we wanted to carry that a step farther.” After acquisition and construction were finished in 1995, the car’s initial outing was at River Falls.
Sr. and Jr. spent two seasons in the mid 10’s and the next two seasons did index racing in the National Muscle Car Association and the old Chrysler Classic. They gradually moved into quicker and quicker indexes, but that road proved to be a rough way to get educated.
“The guys in those series are very good,” said Grimsley Jr. “In the Chrysler Classic I did fairly well, made it to the finals several times. But I kept coming up with new and interesting ways to lose. One time I had a 0.000 reaction time but didn’t get there first.”
The Grimsley family business, a network of hardware stores in suburban Chicago, is somewhat of a double-edged sword. It gives the team the necessary financial resources but also demands the time and labor of managing the enterprise, at which all four work. In addition, with children still in the house, Grimsley Jr. has his own family’s needs to take care of.
Continuing to balance the contradictions, Grimsley Jr. is both competitive and content at the same time. Rolling up on age 50, he does the physical work necessary to still play baseball (shortstop), one of his life-long loves and coach several teams. “I’m a competitive person,” he said. “I love the contest and try to play at as high a level as I can. I can both compete and have fun at the same time.”
Showing his capability of quick reaction, he enjoys telling the story of an index race long ago and far away. “It was the funniest thing,” he said. “I was running against Doug Wright and we were the first pair after another class had run. They had been on a pro tree and the track staff forgot to change to a sportsman tree. Well, the lights come on, we both leave and I win the race. Understandably, Doug went to race control to complain and said the situation wasn’t fair to him. I said, ‘Well, it wasn’t fair for me either.’”
Although he hasn’t won another race since that first one, Grimsley Jr. has a wider perspective of his performances over the years.
“It was awesome to spend that time with Dad,” he said. “We went out about once a month and had a lot of fun. It takes a lot of seat time to hone driving skills. If you’re not working on them a lot, it’s very difficult to keep up with the other drivers.” He remembers four years in particular, from 2000 to 2004, among his most enjoyable. “That was the best time,” he said. “I remember being at Joliet and in the middle of the points chase. We were going out almost every weekend and getting to the semifinals and finals. You’re able to see the results of all the practice. It’s just a lot of fun to be competitive.”
‘Fire and Faith’ ran 9.25 A/FX as an index car and its all-time best is 9.04 at 151 mph, posted at Byron, Illinois, in August 2014. Grimsley Jr. also recalled a win over Frank Zalud’s ‘Branded’ as a career highlight.
These days, however, the Grimsleys prefer the match race style of Nostalgia Super Stock. “Now we’ve built a team and we go out as a group,” said Grimsley Jr. “That’s also a lot of fun, we have a blast. My Dad has always been about going fast in his cars, he’s always wanted to run as fast as he can. You can have a lot of fun trying to do that. We always try to make the cars perform at a maximum level and maintain a high quality of appearance too. I like this format, the laid-back approach and there’s less pressure to run a number. So we still go out and promote the scene. I like that.”
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.
Fire and Faith
One of a three-car group which includes some of the quickest cars in Nostalgia Super Stock. The ‘Fire and Faith’ 1964 Plymouth is a companion car to Paul Habura’s ‘Keepin’ The Faith’ 1963 Plymouth and Jeff Burris’ ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ 1966 Plymouth Belvedere, all running under the team coordination of Len Grimsley Sr.
Owners and Sponsor:
Owned by Len Grimsley Sr. of Addison, Illinois – major sponsor, Opel Engineering of Streamwood, Illinois.
Len Grimsley Jr. of Itasca, Illinois, is the son of Len Grimsley Sr. and has been a racer almost 30 years. In addition to his considerable driving skills, learned during almost 20 years behind the steering wheel of ‘Fire and Faith’, Grimsley Jr. is highly knowledgeable in specific race car design and construction and of the sport of drag racing in general.
Initially purchased from Chrysler Corporation by the state of Colorado Forestry Department, ‘Fire and Faith’ was used in general transportation for that agency; the miles, recorded in primarily rural service, were somehow limited to a relatively low number. The car was also owned by long-time NHRA Stock eliminator racer Al Corda, who sold it to the Grimsleys in 1995. The transition to race car was done by the Grimsleys with a combination of their own, subcontracted design engineering and construction with a major contribution by Opel Engineering.
Apparently an original six-cylinder powered vehicle, ‘Fire and Faith’ now has a 572 cubic inch motor based on an aluminum block, uses an older-style Indy Cylinder Head NSS intake manifold, two Edelbrock AFB carburetors, Chrysler style 904 Torqueflite automatic transmission by Pro Trans, lightweight components throughout and a 4.10 rear axle ratio.
For ¼-mile, consistently runs 9-teens at more than 140 mph; all-time best 9.04 at 151 mph at Byron, Illinois, in August 2014.
Somewhat ironically it turns out, Grimsley Jr. won the first competitive race he ever entered, an event at Norwalk, Ohio. The contest, the name of which Grimsley Jr. doesn’t recall, was televised on ESPN. “It was a deal that was piggybacked onto some other type of event,” he said. “Kind of amazing, I had no idea what I was doing.” Numerous class championships and runner-ups in the National Muscle Car Association and Chrysler Classic series, an intake manifold and set of carburetors away from being among the quickest NSS cars in the nation.
Copyright 2015 by Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.