While Roger Rydell was drawn to his dad’s 1967 GTO, 1973 Monte Carlo and 1962 Impala as a youth in Lancaster, California, he was momentarily more drawn to a friend’s Volkswagen.
He can’t recall exactly which model it was, but he can recall that it was “beige with a big, square back,” and that he was often a passenger in it as his friend drove him to high school during the week, and raced from traffic signal to traffic signal against comparable cars during the weekends.
But before long, he discovered that he was more into cars like his dad’s GTO, Monte Carlo and Impala, and at the age of seventeen, he purchased a 1966 Chevelle and the parts needed for a four-bolt main small-block Chevy engine with high compression and a tunnel ram intake, which he built bit by bit with guidance when needed.
By his early twenties, he was building a big-block Chevy engine to replace the small-block Chevy engine, but before he could put it into his Chevelle, a friend with a dragster talked him into selling it to him in 1989. After that, he enlisted help from his friend, Mike Stewart, to help him build another big-block Chevy engine, but this time, the 452 cubic-inch piece would be enhanced by a Littlefield 8-71 blower and Enderle fuel injection.
“Because I was going to have a faster engine, I needed to have a better chassis and a better body, so I took the chassis from my 1966 Chevelle and put it under a friend’s 1967 Chevelle body, which was really straight,” said Rydell. “That was when I started to get into really fast racing.”
Indeed, Rydell raced to 8.70s at events near his Lancaster, California home as well as at Super Chevy events, but took a break from racing in the early 1990s to focus on his family. He returned to racing in 1996, with a new Keith Black Racing Engines big-block Chevy topped with Alan Johnson Performance Engineering billet heads and a Littlefield 14-71 blower that propelled him to high sevens, low eights at Street Car Super Nationals and other events through 2011.
“That’s when we decided to build this 1994 Camaro,” said Rydell. “A friend of mine was selling it for just $1,000 with no engine and transmission, and I was very interested in it because I felt that it would aerodynamic.”
The car, which was green at the time, had a few scratches here and there, but they were of no concern to Rydell, who had decided that he would be replacing the doors, hatch and front end with 2002 Camaro-appearing fiberglass pieces from Glasstek before having the whole car painted Blue Ray Metallic by Chris Kephart. He hired John Scialpi at Woppado Racing in California to install a 25.2 chrome moly cage, along with forty-inch Unlimited Products carbon fiber tubs and a custom rear-end housing featuring Mark Williams components. The shop also fabricated custom headers for the car.
Because Rydell was focused on other projects at the time, he and Scialpi agreed upon a leisurely build, and Rydell got the car back in the middle of 2015. At that point, he had the chassis and various brackets powder-coated.
“When the parts came back from the power-coater two weeks later, I had myself a nice little puzzle that I had to put back together,” said Rydell, with a sigh followed by a laugh. “It took me about six months to finish putting the car back together.”
When it was ready, Rydell gave it the Keith Black Racing Engines big-block Chevy, Alan Johnson Performance Engineering billet heads and Littlefield 14-71 blower he had previously used, but he had honed the engine block with torque plates, freshened the engine and given it a cam with more lift and duration.
“With no testing, we went to the West Coast Hot Rod Association race in the fall of 2015 at Auto Club Famoso Raceway in California,” said Rydell. “The car was pretty violent off the line, so we had a lot of tuning to do, but we ended up running 4.80s and making it to the final that weekend. Then, right after that, we replaced the Mike’s two-speed Powerglide we had in the car with a Mike’s two-speed Turbo 400 to calm down the launch, and went to our first NMCA West race, entered True Ten 5 and won after running 4.68 at 159 mph. We followed that with a runner-up and a 4.48 at the Street Car Super Nationals.”
The car, in Rydell’s words, “was a machine.”
“I knew the powerplant I had in the Chevelle was enough to get me where I needed to be, but unfortunately, the chassis was way overdue for an upgrade, and it made sense to move to the Camaro,” said Rydell.
Confident with the cruiser he had created, he committed to running all four NMCA West ProCharger Limited Street races in 2016, and finished as a runner-up at the first and second races of the year, the 5th Annual Nitto NMCA West Spring Nationals in April and the 6th Annual Lucas Oil NMCA West Coast Shootout in June.
“I came out of the gate swinging in 2016, and then we got a call to do ‘Street Outlaws’ in Oklahoma City,” said Rydell. “For that, we went from Mickey Thompson 29X10.5 non-W slicks mounted on Weld wheels to Mickey Thompson 35X16X16 slicks mounted on Sander wheels, changed the rear gears from 4.30 to 5.0 and made some adjustments to the car’s four-link. Our segment, which is the finale for the show’s eighth season, hasn’t aired yet, so I can’t talk about it, but it was quite an opportunity. ”
Now, Rydell, who finished second in 2016 NMCA West ProCharger Limited Street points, just behind 2016 champion James Lawrence, has his sights on 2017.
“James (Lawrence) is a very competitive guy who will do what it takes to win so he deserved the championship, but I know my car is a winning car, and I’m going to try very hard to get the class championship in 2017,” said Rydell. “I might even put a ProCharger F-3 and electronic fuel injection on the car for 2017. The roots-style blower I currently have makes 26 pounds of boost at the launch, and trying to manage that on a small tire is a handful. A ProCharger F-3 and electronic fuel injection would be more manageable and would be a winning combination in my Camaro.”
Owner and driver: Roger Rydell
Hometown: Lancaster, California
Occupation: Independent bread distributor
Class: NMCA West ProCharger Limited Street
Crew: Tony Manfrede; my daughters, Kaitlin, and Ashley, and John and Johnny Scialpi
Engine: Keith Black Olds big-block Chevy
Engine builder: I built it with machine work by Pettis Performance in California
Block: Keith Black Olds block
Rods: Aluminum BME
Cylinder heads: Billet Alan Johnson
Valvetrain: T&D rockers
Camshaft: 55 mm Isky
Carburetor or EFI system: Enderle mechanical fuel injection on alcohol
Power-adder: Littlefield 14-71 supercharger massaged by Woppado Racing
Fuel brand and type: Alcohol
Headers and exhaust: Woppado Racing-made headers and Flowmaster mufflers
Transmission: Custom two-speed Turbo 400 built by Mike’s Transmission in California
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Spec Rite 10.5 inch converter
Rearend: Housing by Woppado Racing with Mark Williams components and sometimes a Tom’s billet third member
Body and/or chassis builder: Four link. Built by Woppado Racing
Front suspension: Santhuff’s
Rear suspension: Santhuff’s
Front brakes: Mark Williams disc
Rear brakes: Mark Williams
Front wheels: Spindle-mounted by American Racing
Rear wheels: Double beadlock by Weld
Front tires: Mickey Thompson
Rear tires: Mickey Thompson slicks
Fiberglass/carbon body components: 2002 Camaro-appearing fiberglass doors, hatch and front end by Glasstek
Safety equipment: Fire suppression by DJ Safety Products
Vehicle weight: 3200 pounds with me in it
Quickest ET: 4.36
Best 60-foot: 1.08
Fastest mph: 177 mph
Sponsors: Mike’s Transmissions, Woppado Racing, Ross Racing Pistons and SCE Gaskets
Story by Mary Lendzion and photography by Mark Gearhart (from the March 2017 issue of Fastest Street Car)