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Golden Age—After it evolved from parts car to race car, Steven Wardlow borrowed this Nova from his daughter

Posted By: Steve Baur
Written by Ainsley Jacobs
Photography by Kevin DiOssi

 
A Chevy guy through and through, Steven Wardlow has wheeled many different rides over the years with many different partnerships. Now, he’s back in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street behind the wheel of a gold 1969 Chevrolet Nova that he commandeered, as it was originally built as a drag-and-drive ride for his daughter.
 
Growing up, Wardlow’s late father, Greg, inspired him to drag race through his involvement with a 1955 Chevy—which Wardlow took ownership of after his passing. When he was in high school, Wardlow worked at a local taxi company doing transmission repairs.

The fruits of that labor enabled the purchase of his first car, a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle, and started making passes down the strip not long after.

“I restored that car and put a small-block in it,” recalled the man, now 43, of his street car that ran in the mid-to-low-9-second zone. “Then it was a ’77 Camaro after that, and then a ’69 Camaro, and then I stuck with Novas.”
 

Wardlow picked up his green 1969 Nova as a roller from Chris Singleton in 2006. He quickly powered it up with a nitrous-inhaling, 522-cube engine and campaigned it over the following years in various classes, including X275 and NMCA Street Outlaw. Wardlow also raced often locally at Great Lakes Dragaway near his home in Wisconsin and regularly collected 7-second timeslips.
 
With plenty of event wins and solid results to his credit, Wardlow earned the opportunity to drive for others.

“I raced Dan Kroll’s car in Xtreme Street, and then my green car in Street Outlaw, back around 2010,” said the driver who attended select events; Wardlow finished fourth in NMCA Xtreme Street points in 2013.
 
He also spent a stint behind the wheel of Billy Adams and Phil “Corndog” Smith’s 1990 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am running in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street around 2014. An overall win at the NMCA season opener in Bradenton, coupled with a top qualifier position of 7.88 at 173 mph, set the tone for the entire season and Wardlow closed out the year as the runner-up for the 2014 championship points chase.
 
Around that same time, Wardlow, who restored GM muscle cars for about a decade, changed his career’s trajectory with a little initiative. Back then, Dave Klaput of Proformance Racing Transmissions owned the engine in Wardlow’s green Nova, and Wardlow knew that Klaput was looking to hire some help at his business…
 
“One day, while Dave was on the phone, I just pulled a transmission apart,” laughed Wardlow of his enterprising nature. “Dave came into the back of the shop and was like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ and I said ‘this is what’s wrong with it,’ and he paused and said ‘yeah, you’ll work out just fine.’”
 

Wardlow worked for Klaput for roughly 15 years, but went off to start his own business, Northern Performance Transmissions, around 2019. “I focused on that, stopped racing, and cut everything back significantly so I could put my kids through college,” said the dedicated father who still raced with Adams and Kroll occasionally.
 
Never one to sit still, though, Wardlow built a car for Randy Truhlar in his spare time during his tenure at Proformance.

“I bought a gold 1969 Nova to use as a parts car on his project, but I couldn’t bring myself to just junk it,” he stated of the designated donor that was in truly rough shape at the time. “So, I started building it with spare parts that I had laying around.”
 
Ironically, the car that sacrificed itself for another received the same treatment in kind. Practically just a roof and quarters with a rotted-away floor, Wardlow’s parts car underwent a painstaking restoration over the years with the intention of giving it to his daughter, Nicole, to race at Hot Rod Drag Week.
 
Working in-house at Northern Performance Transmissions, Wardlow shored up the all-steel 1969 Nova’s chassis with a new floor pan from The Parts Place and a 25.5 SFI-certified roll cage that he fabricated himself.
 

As the Nova was destined for street use with Nicole at the wheel commanding the 565ci engine that was installed at first, Wardlow specifically chose a combination of components to ease her transition into the full-size, fast door car while also maintaining its everyday driving manners. Coupled with a ProTorque converter, he built the two-speed Turbo 400 automatic transmission for reliability, durability, and driveability on both the street and the strip.
 
With nitrous being Wardlow’s preferred power adder, he cobbled together a kit from PKRE Racing pieces he had laying around, primarily because he felt the system would be a good stepping stone for his daughter to learn with.
 
“The front end is all Smith Racecraft stuff and we chose to set it up as a ladder bar car with parts from Chassis Engineering,” shared Wardlow, who also selected a Strange Engineering 9-inch rearend, brakes, axles, and third member, while Menscer Motorsports shocks were installed ta all four corners. “Mark [Menscer] has always been good to me. I did some research and development for him with my green leaf spring Nova, so it’s nice to continue that collaboration.”
 
Similarly, Wardlow opted to keep the Nova’s fuel system predominately stock with a standard MagnaFuel pump, conventional tank, and “nothing exotic.”
 
Once the Nova was running and driving to his satisfaction, he turned his attention to addressing its appearance. He handled all of the bodywork, which included removing the body panels from his green Nova [which were subsequently replaced with lightweight carbon fiber parts] and installing them on its gold counterpart.
 

Next, he fitted a fiberglass hood and bumpers from Glasstek, along with custom Lexan windows all handmade by Wardlow from sheets of polycarbonate.

“I wanted the windows to roll up and down, and it was just easier to make them myself than to find someone to do it for me,” he clarified why he chose to take on the task. “I built this car with what I had.”
 
The build, which originally started as a joke between Wardlow and some of his friends who didn’t think he could finish it out on a budget under five figures, was completed around 2016-2017.

“We kept putting different motors in it here and there to have fun and more cage and adding on over time,” he outlined of how the Nova progressed after its initial completion. “My daughter was 11 at the time it was done, and I wanted her to drive it in Drag Week. She’s 16 now, and I made my first pass in my dad’s car when I was 15, so she’ll be starting soon.”
 
In early 2021, though, Wardlow rekindled his partnership with Dan Kroll and the men wound up with a carbureted, 582ci big-block engine that they had already campaigned once before.

“This was the engine from his [Kroll’s] Mustang that he has sold. He bought it back because he wanted to go Xtreme Street racing,” explained Wardlow of how the collaboration was revived. “We picked it up, put it in, and two weeks later, we were racing.”
 
Ready, perhaps unexpectedly, to race at the 2021 NMCA season opener at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park, it was the first official “big outing” for Wardlow’s Nova. Although it was a thrash to make it happen, Wardlow and Kroll were able to arrive on the property early for testing and made roughly two-dozen passes in the week leading up to the race to get the combination sorted out and acquire some much-needed data.
 

With his daughter Nicole by his side, his nephew, Tristan Johnson, assisting with crew duties, and longtime crew man Dennis Equitz of Blitzkrieg Motorsports pitching in, the Nova ran 4.788 at 148.43 mph in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street qualifying to put Wardlow fifteenth in the group. Unfortunately, Wardlow wasn’t able to drive around Troy Pirez Sr. in the first round of eliminations. “He’s tough, I’ve known him forever,” Wardlow noted of his early exit to his friend. “Troy helped us during the week with testing, which was appreciated.”
 
Given that Kroll’s engine sat for a while, Wardlow took it upon himself to tear it down and freshen it up with new piston rings and bearings after the Florida shakedown. With it buttoned up once more, he transported the gold car to Atlanta Dragway in Georgia for the second stop of the NMCA season tour.
 
Wardlow qualified mid-pack, as his 4.756 at 149.20 mph put him 13th of 25 entries in the NMRA VP Racing Madditives Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street combined field. Again, though, Lady Luck wasn’t on his side when it came time to start eliminations—Wardlow spun and exited in the first round. 
 

Continuing with his season, Wardlow visited each event on the NMCA calendar and worked hard to sort out the car. He went rounds here and there and concluded the year at the NMCA World Finals in Indianapolis, Indiana. Although it was not a “stellar year,” Wardlow wrapped up 2021 with a 10th-place finish in overall championship points—a strong conclusion, considering the last-minute nature of the program and his long absence from class-racing competition.
 
In all his years of racing, Wardlow earned many local series event victories, but hadn’t yet scored a championship. So, he doubled down his efforts to make it happen and committed to another year in NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street.

“NMCA was the first organization that I’ve ever raced in or followed, other than local ones. It’s fun, we go to hang out with our friends,” he said of why he opted to continue with Nicole’s Nova in 2022.
 
He began in Florida once again, this time with plenty more data in his arsenal. When qualifying concluded, he had ranked ninth with a 4.790 at 148.61mph pass—not too far off of his personal best of 4.74-seconds.

“I improved to 4.75 in the first round and beat Brian Keep who is tough,” he recalled of his step up, which was short-lived as he spun in round two against Tony Orts.
 

Long before the season got started, though, Wardlow and Kroll began building a new engine for their entry. However, the manufacturing delays stemming from the pandemic meant parts weren’t readily available, and the 588-cube big-block Chevy wasn’t ready until after the season had begun.
 
Still packing the PKRE Racing nitrous and Wardlow’s two-speed Turbo 400 transmission, Wardlow assembled the Nova’s new 14:1 compression engine and filled the COMP Cams-equipped Dart aluminum bottom end with a Callie’s crankshaft around which GRP connecting rods and Ross pistons rotate. Atop each bank of cylinders sits a Brodix SR20 head fortified with a T&D valvetrain.
 
At the 14th Annual Scoggin-Dickey Parts Center, NMRA/NMCA All-Star Nationals presented by MAHLE Motorsport at Rockingham Dragway in North Carolina, Wardlow and the team got rolling on dialing in the new bullet. In qualifying, the best run of 4.763 at 150.63 mph put Wardlow 10th in the combined NMRA VP Racing Madditives Renegade/NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street field.
 
Wardlow started eliminations strong with a win in round one on a 4.894 at 148.41 mph, but his luck changed just as quickly and he spun not long after the hit in round two and went out to defending champion Joel Greathouse.
 

“This new engine will come out of the gold car and will be in the green one by the fourth race of this year,” he affirmed of his plans. “We put it in the gold car to shake it down since the green one isn’t complete yet, and we want to do what we can to chase the championship.” Additionally, Wardlow plans to convert the combination from carburetion to fuel injection when the Novas get traded out.
 
Looking ahead, Wardlow expects to continue campaigning his gold 1969 Chevy Nova so that he can chase the NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street championship title. However, he plans to switch back to his green Nova toward the end of the year and give his daughter back the car he originally built for her.
 
As if he didn’t have enough options to choose from already, Wardlow is also in the process of building a new NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street/Ultra Street car.

“It’s another Nova, of course, but more in the racecar realm,” joked the man who has mostly built and driven street cars in his past. “It would be great to be able to accomplish my goals this year and then back everything up next season in a new car.”
 
No matter what transpires, Wardlow is thankful to his wife of 15 years, Becky, who lets him chase his racing aspirations, and to Dennis Equitz from Blitzkrieg who helps all year long. Kroll, of course, gets a starring role in Wardlow’s gratitude as the two have a ton of fun working together. Most importantly, though, he’s thankful that his daughter Nicole has let him “borrow” her car until she’s ready to hop in and rip on it herself.
 

The Details

Owner/Driver: Steven Wardlow
Hometown: Delavan, Wisconsin
Occupation: Racing transmission builder 
Class: NMCA Edelbrock Xtreme Street
Crew: Dennis Equitz, Dan Kroll, Nicole Wardlow, Tristan Johnson
Car Make/Model/Year: 1969 Chevy Nova

Powertrain
Engine: Big-block Chevy 
Engine builder: Myself
Displacement: 588 cubic inches
Block: Dart Aluminum 
Bore: 4.560 inches
Stroke: 4.5 inches
Crank: Callie’s 
Rods: GRP
Pistons: Ross
Heads: Brodix SR20
Valvetrain: T&D
Cam type: COMP Cams
Carburetor or EFI system: Carburetor 
Power-adder: Nitrous
Fuel brand and type: VP Racing Fuels Q16
Headers and exhaust: Custom made by me
Transmission: Two-speed 400
Transmission Builder: Myself
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: ProTorque          
Rearend: Strange 9-inch

Chassis
Body and/or chassis builder: Myself
Suspension (Front): Smith Racecraft
Suspension (Rear): Chassis Engineering 
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering
Wheels (front): American Racing
Wheels (Rear):  American Racing
Tires (Front): Mickey Thompson
Tires (Rear): Mickey Thompson 
Aftermarket body modifications: Fiberglass Hood
Safety equipment: RaceQuip belts 

Specs
Vehicle weight: 3,200 pounds
Quickest ET: 4.74 seconds
Best 60-foot: 1.15 seconds
Fastest mph: 149
Sponsors: Blitzkrieg Motorsports, Northern Performance Transmissions, Dan Kroll Racing

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