By Bob Wilkiewicz
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc. Staff
This month’s feature is not routine – for both the writer and the reader. That’s because the story is about one of my NSS cars, the ‘Psychotic ReAction’ 1963 Plymouth.
After giving a lot of thought about structure, I decided to write in the first person. It’s easier, eliminates the work of verbatim quotes. Frankly, this is an assignment, not my choice. When I have to perform, I prefer doing the show and then retreating into anonymity.
In public expression as this, there is always tension between being creative and commercial. A dancer must balance the demands – have quality, be marketable and also be on time.
However, that’s hard work, for the muse appears when and where it wants to.
The other thing is it’s easier to write about other people’s deeds and dreams; about my own, much harder. This story might not have a happy ending.
See, these words already reveal too much, they need to be more cryptic. They must not heed the hardships. They need to be maintain the realm of romance, the illusion of the toy box.
So despite my experiences as an owner, driver, crew chief, wrench, journalist, administrator, confidant and general observer of the sport at the local, regional and national levels, this time there will be limited personal or ‘inside’ information about me.
That’s because while I certainly have my history and present, my viewpoints about people, about policy – what it was, is and about what it should be in the future, in my position – discord – I must use the wisdom of discretion.
Here is as good a place as any for a metaphor, with some credit to Stevie Nicks – ‘I keep my visions to myself.’
I might not – ‘Someday.’ That will be a book.
Enough muse for now, I’ll show you what I can. While this is about the third car, we can’t get there without first going back.
Jeff Meece and Russ Berens leave heads-up in the NSS Eliminator final of the NMCA/NMRA Super Bowl at Chicago (Joliet) Route 66 Raceway in July 2010
Also at Route 66, an NMCA official, Jeff Meece, Bob Wilkiewicz, Don Meece and Richard Duvall Jr. enjoy winners circle festivities after Jeff drove to victory in the Super Bowl final
Instead, I’ll write about two other men who made the third edition of ‘Psychotic ReAction’ possible, Don Meece and Dave Duell. Perhaps ironically, probably a coincidence – I sure don’t know if it has any cosmic meaning – all of us have lived in Evansville, Indiana.
Don Meece has the longest tenure, a lifetime resident, who has a resume as good as anyone in drag racing – an owner and driver of many machines of various classes. He could row a four-speed with the best.
Having done everything – no hyperbole – everything in the sport, Don is the essence of what the magic and thrill of drag racing used to be about – do-it-yourself.
In 1967 Evansville, I was a nomad in a strange land. But Don reached out, he befriended me for no other reason than we both loved the sport. For that, he will always have my dedicated devotion.
I am either waiting patiently or taking a nap in the staging lanes at Houston Raceway Park at an NMCA race in November 2007
Don and I watch starting line action and stay protected from the 30-degree wind behind the tower at Beech Bend Raceway in November 2008
For the GTX, from researching the NHRA Stock Car classification guide, to fabricating a bracket, to tracking down a essential part – DIY, With the car on jackstands, two weeks of scraping off undercoating with a propane torch and a putty knife – DIY.
Painting the car. In a dirt-floor shed, masking with brown paper and tape, panel design blue and silver. On paint night, hot-and-humid, two cases of beer, the shop heater control knob turned turned full to the right and from five p.m. until five a.m., spraying coat after coat of single stage lacquer – DIY.
For transporting, the first job was building the transporter, using a week to burn through a box of stick welding rods to set support I-beams and full length service ramps on an old Ford flatbed truck – DIY.
Veteran readers remember handicapping was done off national records. Obviously, at 11.35, a 440-cubic inch, 375 horsepower single four SS/H was not competitive running at 11.50. Now that combo is rated at 356 HP but is still not there.
A hard lesson, we had let our hearts rule our heads, sunk before we started. Failed race cars didn’t stay together long. By then the general economic background has also turned dark and I needed to leave town to find work. But Don and I promised each other we would run another car someday.
By 2005, a class called Nostalgia Super Stock had been born and I had kept the promise. We had another car. But the effects of time had taken their toll.
Somehow finding the courage, Don voluntarily left the driver’s seat when it became apparent that age and health issues had eroded his skills and endurance. That broke my heart.
My youngest son, Joe, put on a helmet and jacket and took the steering wheel.
Joe and I do the father/son pose during testing at Great Lakes Dragaway in September 2006
Also probably 2006, I pose with the car on the trailer ramp between the rose garden and front porch of our 1888 Queen Anne Victorian house
In the trailer sometime, Joe (background) and his friend Scott Henke ponder an amusing engineering problem
Joe practices his burnout technique at Great Lakes Dragaway during an NSS Inc. event in 2006.
Pre script (2011) – This is a story I told during the banquet at the 2008 Dave Duell Classic and now with the establishment of a web site for the event I feel it should be shared publically with all those with an interest in Nostalgia Super Stock racing – and more importantly, in a well-lived life.
The original telling was in a free-form reminisce with Doug Duell, Dave’s son, during pit set-up on Thursday of the event. He liked the story and asked me to share it. The original audience also liked it and I hope everyone enjoys the written version.
“The past few years (2006 and 2007) we have had the good fortune to listen to some of Dave Duell’s longtime friends talk about their times and relationships.
To hear true legends of the sport, such as Arlen Vanke, speak about what Dave meant to him, about Dave’s character and the way he did things, is certainly one way to measure a man.
But another way to measure a man is to look at how he treated newcomers, people he didn’t know and who didn’t have much in the way of credentials or accomplishments in racing.
Unlike his long-time friends, I had talked with Dave Duell for a total of maybe three hours all together before his passing. But I was so impressed with the way he treated me, his sincerity, generosity and acceptance, I immediately knew I had found a home in NSS racing.
And now looking back, I also better understand how those connections for good are made on a higher level.
Mine is a common racing story, do a little, and learn a little as a young man. Then, as family and other responsibilities come along, you put racing aside for 35 years.
However, when I decided to get back in, I was determined to do it right, to be competitive and not be just ‘cannon fodder’ for the ‘hitters.’ So I did a lot of research, going to races and talking with many people about what was going on.
During that time (2000-2004), the Chrysler Classic series had an NSS class which allowed later model Mopar B-Bodies. So I gathered everything necessary to build a 1969 Plymouth GTX. Then as these things go, when I was ready to put everything together, the class was eliminated.
Deciding I needed to get a wider perspective on the sport and hearing that he was an expert, I sought out Dave. Without any prior contact, I walked into his pit one devilishly hot and humid Midwest afternoon at Indianapolis in June of 2005.
Although he was very much exhausted from the conditions, and as I later learned from his illness, suffering from emphysema, he sat in the open doorway of his trailer and graciously spent the next 30 minutes explaining the history of Nostalgia Super Stock to me. He also explained and emphasized why later year cars were not representative of the era.
Well, I had run a 1967 Plymouth GTX in the National Hot Rod Association Super Stock category during the early 70’s and when I showed him pictures of the car, as a Chrysler man he seemed to be intrigued by the idea of doing that ‘RO23’ combination again in NSS. I left with his encouragement and wishes for good luck.
While he had greatly informed and encouraged me to keep pursuing this dream, I must admit while thinking about all this on the drive home I was also extremely discouraged. I kind of felt about six inches tall, looking at the racing world through my shoelaces because I knew this would mean starting all over again and that would obviously take more time and money.
But despite the doubts, the very next day I went to a car show and when it was over I was talking with some people from the sponsoring dealership, Quaden Dodge. Then one of their friends, Tom Dickson, walked up and asked, ‘Have you found a buyer yet for my car?’
It turned out he was selling a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere which required little preparation to be eligible for the current Max Wedge and NSS classes and had even been publically advertised and received little buying interest. After some talk and some financial negotiating, two weeks later I had an NSS car.
Now it is fundamentally the same car we run with the ‘The Original Psychotic ReAction’ name.
Time trial pass next to John Grinwald during Mopars at The Strip event in March 2008. The Wisconsin Prisoner of War license plate is a tribute to my late father, Joseph, who was a 45th Division rifle company combat veteran of World War II
Perhaps a skeptical or even cynical person might say all this connecting was just a lucky coincidence, and I understand that. But no one will ever convince me otherwise – that there was not a higher guidance at work in this endeavor – and still is.
So now I have an NSS car, what to do with it?
I am from Wisconsin and still live there. However, because I had gone to college, worked and raced in Dave’s adopted hometown of Evansville, Indiana and as my former partner, long-time racer Don Meece, also still lives there, that’s where it made sense to do our preparations.
So after a couple of test sessions at Chandler Raceway Park in late July, we took the car over to Dave’s dealership store to show it to him.
Again we had no appointment and again it was another hot, steamy day but Dave was willing to come out of his cool office and crawl around a race car in a small trailer and talk to some guys he hardly knew. For most of a half hour, he looked and then said it needed this and that and that this thing and that thing could have been done better but generally the car was OK and was something to work with.
Then he said to me, ‘Of course, you’re coming to St. Louis and race with us in September.’
At that point I still didn’t know all that much about the landscape of NSS racing but knew that St. Louis (The Monster Mopar event at Gateway International Raceway) was something special. I knew it was Dave’s NSS race with the largest field and best drivers and cars. I looked at something like that as way out of our league and was extremely reluctant to commit.
So I replied that we had a new to us car and a young driver, just weren’t prepared and had a hundred other good reasons not to go. So he invited me into his office to talk things over. Of course, I was in for the full treatment, far more than I could ever imagine.
We talked of various things, of both racing and life during the discussion, and although he was the veteran and expert, since I had lived in Evansville more than 10 years before he did, I could say, ‘Back in the old days,’ and we both got a laugh out of that.
When he again pressed for a commitment, I pointed out that the motor had a Holley carburetor on top of it, not legal for NSS.
‘Don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything,’ said Dave. ‘You just come and race with us and everything will be fine.’ Still reluctant, however, I finally agreed.
September comes along and we’re in the pits at St. Louis. Except for the previous testing, I had not had a car at a drag strip in 35 years and for the driver, my son, Joe; well, it was his first time ever at a racetrack.
After I had talked with Dave about the where and when of tech inspection and the schedule and generally acting like a high school freshman looking for the team bus, we are moving down the empty staging lanes.
I was walking and he was riding his motor bike and there is silence for all of 100 yards or more, just the low hum of the motor. Neither one of us is saying anything because we each know there is a problem and neither one wants to be the first to bring it up.
Finally, in a tone that allowed no doubt about whose responsibility we were talking about, Dave asked me, ‘Have YOU solved YOUR carburetor problem yet?’ (Much laughter from the audience)
However, before I tell you how I replied, I need to tell you what I didn’t say. I didn’t say with a whine, ‘but you said I could run with a Holley carburetor.’
I didn’t say that because two days before, I had been thinking about the whole process and came to the conclusion that after he had treated me so well, with such respect and goodwill, that I sure couldn’t go into his house and put him on the spot.
Exactly one day before the race, I had gone to the parts store and stressing my financial budget, bought a legal unit.
So my answer was that we didn’t have a legal carburetor on the engine but had brought one with; that we hadn’t had time to put it on; that it was in the trailer but still in the box. And then for a final obstacle, I told him we didn’t have enough fittings and hardware and such to put it on.
Not hesitating for a second, he said, ‘That’s OK, just go to my trailer, Doug can help you with that,’ and zoom, he was driving away to do something else. (More laughter)
So I walked into Dave’s trailer with carburetor in hand, still looking like a freshman, and that was the first time I met Doug Duell. (Then I turned around and to Doug, who was in the podium background said, ‘And I’m sure that was the first time your dad ever did that to you!’ (And again the audience laughed)
To wrap up, we had a great time. We got the car tuned; we were runner up in class and went two rounds in eliminations. Dave got another car in the field and more importantly, two more NSS racers for life.
And so I leave you with this request.
In both your racing and other parts of your life, treat other people like Dave Duell treated me, not a long-time friend but a stranger. When a newcomer or youngster seeks instruction or comes to you with a question, please react with respect and goodwill.
Now both NSS racing and the world are better places because of the way Dave Duell treated me. And when we act in the same way, we also make the world a better place. In this way we can carry on his legacy.”
Post script (2011) – It was and is not my intent to portray Dave Duell as a saint; he was, of course like all of us, a human being with burdens and shortcomings. Others, including his family members, have said that he could sometimes be very demanding and difficult to work with.
The day after the banquet, I had the good fortune to meet and talk with Dave’s wife, Sharon, obviously the one person who knew him best. One of the truest recollections to come out of that conversation was that Dave had many aspects to his personality.
He was a skilled and intense competitor, with a car well-prepared in technology and as a driver, always a formidable opponent.
However, included as many others have also pointed out, was that he was a teacher; like a college professor who cares about his students but at the same time expects them to do their best work and imposes consequences when they don’t.
No one knows exactly what would have happened had I not brought that legal carburetor along, but in the end it does not matter. I am sure any problem, including finding that NSS car in the first place, would have been solved in some other constructive way with Dave’s integrity.
I will always believe in addition to the competitive skills necessary to be successful at winning races, Dave Duell was given the spiritual gift of love, respect and goodwill for all people and that as he approached his final days in this physical life, he grew even better in that spirit.
In his preparation letter for that 2005 race, Dave Duell wrote that the people are more important than the cars.
As I have worked in association with Doug Duell and other excellent people, including the other committee members of the NSSNA, John Grinwald, Clay Kossuth and Jim Netherland, during subsequent years to help grow and improve the sport, I have found that statement to be consistently true.
And that spirit of his will remain a truth that will continue to manifest every time NSS racers gather together at the Dave Duell Classic.
– Bob Wilkiewicz, National Muscle Car Association 7354 and 7355/Secretary, NSSNA
The first Psychotic ReAction is displayed during an off-season car show in Evansville in late 1964 or early 1965
The first PR resting in the pits at Greater Evansville Raceway (later Chandler Raceway Park, Chandler, Ind.) during the summer of 1965
Don unloads the second PR while one-half of me watches at Chandler, summer of either 1971 or 1972
Sunrise under the arch at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in March 2007
The third ‘Psychotic ReAction’ last went down a drag strip at Gateway (St. Louis) in October 2010. While on that pass, driver Jeff Meece was in the top 10 in the NMCA season points standings.
After the car was towed back to the pit, he reported a ‘blip’ just before the stripe.
I removed the spark plug from the No. 1 cylinder, water poured out the hole. It was time to push it into the trailer. Subsequent inspection revealed burned piston tops and broken rings in six holes, the worst in No. 1 where a ring remnant cut a scratch through the wall into the water jacket.
The car has been on jackstands since. The work of real life management goes on; the work of racing management goes on.
To that list of excellent people, now I need to add others, such as John Rousset, Doug Henderson, Dave Campbell, Larry Quinn, and especially Rich Berlisk.
But I intensely dislike making lists because as Don Meece and Dave Duell did with me, I consider every racer as a person worthy.
Will ‘Psychotic ReAction’ run down the track again? Perhaps. There is hope.
Building a new engine is the least of it. Building new relationships, a team, a sensible system takes time, sacrifice, motivation – how many words does it take?
Knowledgeable readers know what a demanding activity, I write lifestyle, drag racing is. That’s what’s needed, that’s the word – commitment.
Jeff has somewhat exited his exile, Joe is just beginning his; I continue my second. What will the sport look like at the end of mine, of his?
What have I learned? That I am a dweller on the doorstep; appreciate what you have now. That you can’t go home again. Don is retired and Dave passed away, almost 10 years now. And that people, both old and young, are more important than race cars.
The root meaning of nostalgia: Nostos, from Greek, ‘return to the native land.’ Algos, algea, algia from Greek, ‘suffering, grief.’ A 17th century dissertation by a medical student described the madness of military mercenaries who spent all their lives moving; wandering and roaming and trying to remember. Classified as a potentially fatal disease, ‘to die from wanting to return.’
Permanent painful yearning? Perfect description to me.
She said, ‘I hope you’ll come back someday.’ And just as the Harmonica Man replied, so do I, ‘Someday.’
Nostalgia Super Stock Inc.
Named for a song popular in the 1960’s and as an appropriate description of that decade, this third edition of ‘Psychotic ReAction’ is a 1963 Plymouth Belvedere two-door hardtop and a consistent performing Super Stock-era replica in its appearance and home garage/small shop construction, with just a touch of current technology.
Owners and Sponsors:
Owned by Still Rock Engineering of Waukesha, Wis. in association with Meece Family Motorsports of Evansville, Ind. / sponsored by K&R Investments of Waukesha, Wis. and Quaden Motors of Okauchee, Wis.
Don Meece, driver emeritus, is retired as construction manager for the scale division of Catepillar Corp. He drove the first two ‘Psychotic ReAction’ cars, the second a four-speed manual transmission combination.
Joe Wilkiewicz, who drove the car from 2005 until 2009 before giving up the seat to family responsibilities, is the youngest son of Bob Wilkiewicz and works as a security guard for Garda Corp.
Jeff Meece, is the youngest son of Don Meece, worked 18 years for Whirlpool Corporation and is now self-employed in entertainment and show business. He has continued the family’s long-time drag racing tradition as racers, managers and promoters, including considerable driving experience in elapsed time bracket dragsters.
The first Psychotic ReAction was a panel-painted 1963 Plymouth Savoy Max Wedge two-door post car, first raced by Don Meece and Bob Binnix in 1965 / The second Psychotic ReAction was a 1967 Plymouth Belvedere GTX, raced by Meece, Bernie Bartholome and Bob Wilkiewicz as an NHRA Super Stocker in the early 1970’s / the current car is a Max Wedge replica / factory built in Los Angeles with a 318 poly engine and manual transmission / first titled in Oregon / was idle 18 years in Wisconsin, then acquired by Tom Dickson of Oconomowoc, Wis. and rebuilt as a street/strip car / chassis and roll cage fabrication by Dave Zellmer of Big Bend, Wis.
When delivered by Dickson, the one color white car was powered by a 451 cubic inch low deck engine with Stage IV iron heads and a single 4-bbl carburetor / to comply with Chrysler Classic series rules, that motor was replaced with a high deck Chrysler 440, stroked to 493 by Kilpatrick Engine and Transmission of Waukesha, Wis. / that short block was re-machined and re-assembled in 2009 by Jeff Wick of Jim’s Car Shop in Fond du Lac, Wis. / Edelbrock aluminum cylinder heads / replica crossram 2×4 intake by A&A Transmission/ Mopar Performance flat tappet mechanical camshaft, .590 lift / Chrysler Torqueflite automatic transmission by Jim Rush / footbrake only / Chrysler 8 ¾ rear axle / 4.56 ratio / Chrysler Super Stock rear leaf springs, replaced by Calltrak system in 2009 / stock gas tank / era-correct paint and graphics applied in 2010 by Neil Barnes (Nitro Graphics) and Richard Duvall, Jr.
For ¼-mile, consistently runs on NSS/C 11.00 index at 120 mph / for 1/8-mile, can run 6.80’s at 100 mph /all-time bests, 10.74 at 124 mph and 6.852, respectively.
2005, class runner-up Monster Mopar NSS Nationals / 2006, class semifinalist and two-round eliminator NSS Nationals; No. 1 qualifier Great Lakes Dragaway Time Machine Nationals / 2007, Chrysler Classic Max Wedge series, 148 points 11th place; class champion at Norwalk, also class champion at Indy Goodguys and three-round eliminator Dave Duell NSS Nationals / No. 2 qualifier Houston Raceway Lonestar Shootout / 2008, Chrysler Classic series, 87 points; 2009, quarter-finalist Chandler NSS Shootout / 2010, runner-up Chandler NSS Shootout; runner-up NMCA Joliet NSS Eliminator; champion NMCA Joliet Super Bowl
Nostalgia Drag World – Story and photos courtesy of Bob Wilkiewicz