61 Chevy – Gerry Gostenik

When the time comes, it’s looks like the promised land will be familiar to Gerry Gostenik. He’s already had a preview.

“I thought I was in heaven,” said Gostenik, a life-long resident of Dearborn, Michigan who saw his first Super Stocker, a 409 Chevrolet, at the age of 15 under the supervision of his late older brother Richard.

They both attended a match race between ‘Dyno’ Don Nicholson and George Delorean at Detroit Dragway in May of 1961.

“Nicholson broke a ring-and-pinion,” said Gostenik. “He had a spare but wanted to work off a lift for the repair. So I got to help push his car a mile down the road to a gas station. I thought I was in heaven. I still have the picture from that day.”

That experience was the inspiration behind his current race car, a 1961 Chevrolet bubble hard top he acquired in 2004.

Click for larger photo

Click for larger photo

Picture perfect launch at Great Lakes Dragaway even comes with a great shot of the wrinkled tires

But before reaching that point, he had to navigate the subsequent 43 years following that life-changing incident. He did it as only a true car guy could.

Within three years, Richard had managed to acquire a 1964 Chevelle. But the early model year production car had just 283 power and both brothers dreamed of something more, like perhaps a Z-11 option 409 engine.

While serving a tour in the Marines, Richard had located one near his base in Albany, Georgia. Gerry was sent to fetch it, driving the Chevelle there and back.

During those years, the Gostenik brothers were regulars at southeast Michigan tracks, including Detroit, Milan and Jackson. At one point they had removed the 409 from the Chevelle and stuffed it into a Chevy II. Then Richard went to work for another Chevrolet Super Stock legend, Wally Booth.

“We were always in the garage,” said Gostenik. “I was kind of the gopher, holding the trouble light, chasing parts, doing whatever was needed. It was a good thing. We had fun, learned a lot. Who knows what else I would have gotten into?”

After graduating from Dearborn High School, Gostenik got a job with General Motors but quickly decided that cleaning the bathrooms in the factory wasn’t going be his long-term career choice.

Click For Larger Photo

Click For Larger Photo

Great shot of Gerry Gostenik in his 1961 Chevy waiting for the tree at Union Grove, WI Time Machine Nationals.

So he started taking classes at the local community college and then went on to earn a degree in automotive vocational education from Eastern Michigan University. That investment started him on a 31-year career, the last 16 at his alma mater, Dearborn High.

After retiring from teaching in 2002, Gostenik started searching for a 1961 Chevrolet but after looking more than a year still couldn’t find a good enough candidate. Then he decided to place an ad in the wanted section.

Click for larger photo

Click for larger photo

Getting some “lift” at Bunker Hill, IN this past season. This 409 leaves hard hooked up with a manual transmission.

“I was half asleep late one evening when the phone call came,” said Gostenik. “It was a gentleman from Benton KY who said he might have something for me. I drove down, looked it over and then decided to buy it.”

Two weeks later, the car was back in Gostenik’s shop, starting on a slow journey to the drag strip.

“I drove on the street for a year and a half and then took it to a strip just to see what it would do,” he said.

That led to some time running Junior Stock in the low 13’s and then a hotter camshaft and headers brought the bubble top down into the 12’s.

By then, IHRA had refactored the combination down to 330 horsepower, making it attractive for Stock Eliminator. With a single four-barrel and a .490 lift cam, Gostenik was competitive in the mid 11’s, including a victory at the United Stick Shift group’s race at Milan.

At that race he got to talking with Gary MacKenzie, also a southeast Michigan resident, who runs a 1963 Ford Galaxie. MacKenzie told him about Nostalgia Super Inc. After talking with then president Joe Zajac, Gostenik applied for membership, made his initiation passes at Norwalk and Bowling Green in 2009 and then joined the club in 2010.

“I immediately liked the way the group did things,” said Gostenik. “It was a lot more fun.”

Click For Larger Photo

Click For Larger Photo

Launching at SRCA Drag Strip 2014

Over the past four years, Gostenik had worked the Chevy down into the range where 10.70’s are routine, with an all-time best of 10.60 at 125 mph.
Using his long-time experience, Gostenik does all the construction and maintenance work himself, vending out only engine machining to a local shop. And he always keeps the car just two changes, camshaft and intake manifold, from being legal in Stock Eliminator.

Asked why he hadn’t named the car, Gostenik replied, “I was just never into putting a name on it. Wasn’t that interested, it’s not a big thing. I know other racers do that, of course, but I never thought about it much.”

For the future, Gostenik has thought about building another Chevelle, as a tribute to his late brother. “I believe I’d like to give that a whirl,” he said.


One more unique feature to Gostenik’s outfit is his tow rig. A small enclosed trailer is common but his tow vehicle is not.

It’s a 1967 Chevrolet Suburban, white in contrast to the black race car, and it stands out in a pit scene populated by diesel pick-ups and motor coaches. He has owned it for 18 years and used it as a tow mule for the last ten.

In addition, it is powered by, of course, a 409 fitted with fuel injection and tuned by Gostenik’s experience. “It does a reasonably good job,” he said.


A casual observer watching Gostenik at the track might think that he was constantly breaking and then having to repair something because after each round he puts the front of the car on jackstands and then works underneath. However, this action is routine with a stick shift car. “I’m either adding and subtracting base or counterweights to get on the edge of (clutch) slippage,” he explained. “It’s about trying to get the best possible 60-foot time.”

gostenik05
Gerry, receiving the Hotrod 1 winning trophy from Hayden Proffitt at the 2014 348-409 Convention.
Hayden’s credentials include winning Stock Eliminator at Indy 1962 event in his 1962 Chevy 409.

Club Affiliation:

Nostalgia Super Stock

Car Name:

Car Number:

3409

Summary:

This 1961 bubble-top Chevrolet is a creation of Gerry Gostenik’s experience in automotive paradise. Just 15 years old at the time, Gostenik recalled how he assisted ‘Dyno’ Don Nicholson in repairing the Super Stock legend’s car during a May 1961 match race against George DeLorean at Detroit Dragway.
“Nicholson had broken a ring-and-pinion gear,” said Gostenik. “He had a spare but wanted to work off a lift. So I got to help push his car a mile down the road to a gas station. I thought I was in heaven. I still have a picture.”

Owners and Sponsor(s):

Owned and supported by Gerry Gostenik of Dearborn, Michigan.

Driver:

Gostenik is a life-long resident of Dearborn and a retired teacher with a degree in automotive vocational education from Eastern Michigan University.
An alumnus of Dearborn High School, he returned to his alma mater in 1986 to finish a 31-year career in education.
In addition to racing with NSS Inc., Gostenik now informally advises and works on various automotive projects with friends and acquaintances in the greater Detroit metro area.

History:

After an almost 40-year sabaatical from drag racing, Gostenik started looking for a 1961 Chevrolet bubble top. When that search didn’t produce an acceptable candidate, he placed an magazine ad and then waited for a response; waited and waited
Finally in February 2004, he received a phone call from a man in Benton KY with a possibility. Gostenik made the 500-mile scouting trip, looked the car over and then decided to buy it. He returned two weeks later, loaded it on a trailer and drove back to Dearborn.
He cleaned up the engine compartment and then drove the car on the street for a year and a half. Then there was a trip to the strip, “just to see what it would do.” He competed in Junior Stock for two years, running in the low 13’s, and then with slicks and headers dipped into the 12’s.
By then, IHRA had refactored the combination down to 330 horsepower, making it attractive for Stock Eliminator. With a single four-barrel and a .490 lift cam, Gostenik was competitive in the mid 11’s, including a victory at the United Stick Shift group’s race at Milan.
At that race he got to talking with Gary MacKenzie, also a southeast Michigan resident, who runs a 1963 Ford Galaxie. MacKenzie told him about Nostalgia Super Inc. After talking with then president Joe Zajac, Gostenik applied for membership, made his initiation passes at Norwalk and Bowling Green in 209 and then joined the club in 2010.

Technical:

Chevrolet 409 factory cast iron block, +0.075 bore / stock 3.50 stroke for 422 cubic inches / factory cast iron cylinder heads, 11.0:1 compression ratio / roller cam / Edelbrock 2 x 4 intake manifold / Jerico 4-speed manual transmission / Ford 9-inch rear end, 5.14 ratio / stock Chevrolet suspension with aftermarker control arms / strengthened two-piece driveshaft / 9 x 29 1/2-inch slicks.

Performance:

For ¼-mile, consistently runs 10.70’s at 124 mph / all-time bests, 10.60 at 125.50 mph

Results/Achievements:

2014; 348/409 Forum Show and Race Event, Great Bend KS; Hot Rod One and Overall race champion. The awards were presented by Super Stock legend Hayden Proffit. “That made great event even nicer,” said Gostenik; 2009; United Stick Shift Racers Association champion, Milan MI; 2008; International Hot Rod Association Stock Eliminator class champion, Milan MI; 2007; NSS Eliminator champion, Stanton MI

gostenik06
Gerry receives his second trophy of the event for the “King Of The Hill” victory beating the Hotrod 2 champion. 87 year old Grand Marshal Hayden Proffitt presented the trophy at the 348-409 2014 National Convention.

Nostalgia Drag World – by Bob Wilkiewicz – photos by Peter Ores and Dick MacKenzie

One thought on “61 Chevy – Gerry Gostenik

  1. Paul Helmick

    I have a two Dr 65 Biscayne 409.I race a 75 400 small block Vega right now.Interested in racing the 409 Biscayne,Nostalgia super Stock might be fun.Any info out there? Thanks.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *