by Bob Wilkiewicz
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc. Staff
When Paul Habura wants to pick out a car to drive, he has a pleasant problem.
Some days, does he want to cruise the northwest side of Chicago in a gold 1967 Chrysler Newport convertible, the same model he bought and drove as his first car when he was 17 years old?
“I had a Coronet R/T that was nice for driving around. But then one day I saw one like my first car on top of a pile near the crusher in a boneyard,” said Habura. “I thought, ‘How cool would it be to get another convertible?’ I just knew someday I was going to get another one.”
And so when one appeared in a no-picture ad a few years ago and he made the two-hour drive to look at it, Habura was not as prepared as pleased.
“I didn’t have an expectation but it turned out to be pretty good,” he said. “It needed a few things but cleaned up very nice.
“One of the best things is to roll the top down, put the kids in the back seat and have them shine in the sun and the breeze. They enjoy that a lot; it’s a lot of fun for all of us.”
Or on other days, does he want to dig down the drag strip in an absolutely stunning 1963 Plymouth factory original Max Wedge?
‘Keepin’ the Faith’, the quickest and most consistent all-series legal machine in the nation, is named after the 1983 song by Billy Joel. The car is also a symbol and statement of the philosophy which continues to power a remarkable team of racers.
Led by owner Len Grimsley Sr., this group within Nostalgia Super Stock Inc. could also be described by another music analogy as ‘Sweet Home Chicago.’
The team also features the ‘Fire and Faith’ 1964 Plymouth wagon of Len Grimsley Jr. and the 1967 Plymouth ‘Vanilla Gorilla’ of Jeff Burris. These drivers and cars will be featured in future issues of NDW.
“First I have to talk about Len Sr.,” said Habura. “If it wasn’t for him, none of this would be happening. This is what he likes doing, has always liked doing, being the fastest car down the track.”
In legal configuration for open index racing, which includes ‘small’ 10.5W x 29 inch tall slicks and prohibits a transbrake, Habura and ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ have posted an 8.55 in competition and have gone as low as 8.48 in testing.
In an event at Great Lakes Dragaway last season, Habura posted three consecutive runs of 8.76 and change.
Not a small improvement for a car that used to run in the mid-10’s.
Acquired out of Ohio in 1986 by Grimsley Sr., ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ has always been a a race car, never driven on the street. The former owners, the Johnson Brothers, replaced the original steel sheet metal with genuine factory aluminum panels sometime during their tenure.
While it has been continually tweaked and improved, the car retains its original integrity, including floor pans, K-member and factory-designed front suspension.
“That’s one of the best things about this,” said Habura. “It’s still mostly a stock car.”
In addition to its pedigree, ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ has some other advantages going for it.
One is chassis work by the legendary builder Ed Romanowski, who has had a hand in many Chicago-based race cars.
Another is the group’s continuing relationship with Opel Engineering, which is considered one of the most knowledgable and innovative design and machine shops in current racing. “We have available all the little tricks those guys know,” said Habura.
Grimsley Sr. drove the car until 2001, when Habura took over.
As remarkable as the car is, Habura’s story is just as extraordinary.
Growing up in the northwest Chicago suburb of Franklin Park, Habura has been driving race cars and motorcycles since he was 20 years old.
“I wasn’t that serious into it when I was young,” he explained. “Our neighborhood had its share of Mopars, you see them and it’s the kind of thing you never forget. I had my Chevys and Pontiacs but always knew how good the Mopars are.”
But all the time he was thriving in and surviving that action-filled street scene, he was also learning. One teacher was Fred Bernardi. The phrase lettered on the trunk panel above the rear bumper, ‘It’s Us vs. Them’, comes from Jerry Stein said Habura.
Habura eventually connected with Don Edelstein, who currently runs a Hemi Dart Super Stocker in an outlaw configuration. The two had collaborated on another 1963 Max Wedge car named ‘The Tat’r Wedge.’
“The joke was that I went through three barrels of fuel in the first year,” said Habura. “But we did race a lot. I must have made at least 300 passes that year.
“It’s (driving) like any athletic action. You have to be doing things by what you feel; if you’re thinking about things, it’s too late. And as you get older, that kind of action helps me to stay sharp. It’s almost like a therapy.”
Running in the old Chrysler Classic series and at other events over the years, Habura came to know Grimsley Sr. as a fellow-competitor. Then Habura sold ‘The Tat’r Wedge’ and his business to join with Grimsley’s group.
According to Habura, driving ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ is not as difficult as it might appear. “From the beginning, the car was easy to drive because it feels solid and stable,” he said.
“The adrenaline rush is fantastic. It can be a 100-degree day and I’m not sweating a drop. For eight and a half seconds I have no sensation of discomfort, just the thrill of driving a machine that powerful. As long as I’ve done it, that sensation never goes away. It never gets old. It is literally, no sweat.”
While it’s just January, to say this group has a wealth of skill and experience might turn out to be the understatement of the year.
“We learn things, we gain information,” said Habura. “Sometimes we can take it to the other’s cars. Sometimes it doesn’t always translate directly because the cars are different and have different needs. But they’re is always some benefit in having the knowledge. All of us work together all the time.”
Underneath those tough Chicago street smarts, is a surprise with a wide-ranging result. In the right place at the right time – they are willing to share that know-how.
And so a story is told about a race where they didn’t have a competitor who could keep up, so they decided to share some secrets.
The immediate beneficiary by a few tenths in elapsed time was fellow NSS Inc. member John Grinwald, who owns and drives the ‘Asphalt Elephant.’ But ultimately the entire club, the promoter and the spectators gained in the form of a better show.
“It should be obvious but we can’t be out there alone, we need to have another car to run against,” said Habura. “That’s the fun of it.
“We’re always shooting for the best. We can’t have inferior stuff in a car that goes as fast as this one does. We have to have the best.”
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.
‘Keepin’ the Faith’
Named for the 1983 song written by Billy Joel, ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ is a marvel of both historical accuracy and quality, along with modern technology and performance. Both driver and car present the skill, showmanship, and the smart thinking which is needed to produce a top-quality product, which is among the quickest and most consistent NSS performers in the class.
In the 2005 biography of Joel by Hank Bordowitz, Joel is quoted describing the music’s meaning as, “The song says I’m not living in the past, I’m celebrating today. I’d never have had the fire if I’d never hung out with the wild boys and heard the old music.” Coming from a motorcycle enthusiast, that’s also a spot-on description of Nostalgia Super Stock racing.
Owners and Sponsors
Owned by Len Grimsley Sr. / sponsored by Opel Engineering of Streamwood, Ill.
Len Grimsley Sr., driver emeritus, is a long-time principal in the hardware business, owning multiple stores in the suburbs of Chicago, Ill.. He is also a veteran of that region’s drag racing scene and possesses all the skills and knowledge that competing in that area requires.
Paul Habura, of Addison, Ill.,is a racer with more than 40 years of experience with fast cars and motorcycles. A native of Franklin Park, Ill., he also knows all about what it takes to present and maintain a race car at the highest level of performance.
A factory original Max Wedge car which has never been street-driven, ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ first gained notice in Ohio. Under the ownership of the Johnson Brothers, all the original steel sheet metal panels were replaced with factory aluminum.
The car was acquired in 1986 by Len Grimsley Sr., who took it to his Chicago-area shop and started a long-term maintenance and improvement program. He drove the mid 10-second car through the 1980’s and 90’s and then turned the steering wheel over to Habura in 2001.
With a combination of financial commitment, engineering design, and racing experience, ‘Keepin’ the Faith’ has evolved into an almost perfect package of speed and showmanship.
Indy Cylinder Head aluminum block, 572 cubic inches / -13 heads / sheet metal intake, first unit designed and manufactured for any Mopar wedge / two 850 cfm Holley carbs by Bob Book / engine design and tuning by Opel Engineering / Chrysler Torqueflite automatic, Protrans (A727 with 904 internals) / footbrake only / Ford 9-inch rear member, Ultra internals / gun-drilled axles, 4.10:1 ratio / four-link suspension / wheel wells mini-tubbed / 10.5W x 29-inch tall slicks / stock frame with full floors / chassis design and tuning by Ed Romanowski; chassis certified to 7.50 / weight 3,000 pounds including driver
For ¼-mile, consistently runs on AAA/FX 8.75 index at 150 mph / competitive best 8.550 /all-time bests, 8.48 at 158 mph
2013, Wheelstand of the Year, Olympics of Drag Racing, Great Lakes Dragaway, Union Grove WI / 2008, National Muscle Car Association World Series Champion and NSS event champion, Route 66 Raceway, Joliet IL / 2006,Chrysler Classic Max Wedge series, AAA/FX class champion (four total) / 2005, Slingshot Nationals, Cordova Dragway NSS runner-up; 2004, Chrysler Classic Max Wedge series, AAA/FX class champion / 2002, Tri-State Classic, Max Wedge champion
© 2015 Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.